By Gary Heller

The Daily Item

SUNBURY — Want a comfortable small car that can burn rubber, carve corners and look good in front of the country club?

Then look at the Audi S4.

The compact sedan I tested packed a V-8 capable of hurling the S4 from zero to 60 in 5.3 seconds.

Not that I tried that, honest.

The S4 roared along country roads like a sports car, thanks to Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system, 18-inch wheels and specially tuned suspension systems. Handling was superb. The Servotronic power steering system provided an excellent feel of the road.

And the looks?

Well, you either like Audi styling or you don't, but to my eye, the exterior had a lean, masculine look and the interior — with comfortable, two-tone Recaro sports seats — was flat-out handsome.

Like all Audis, the S4 carried a hefty price tag: $54,900 with all of the toys. Its 4.2-liter engine was rated at 340 horsepower, and it gulped premium gasoline at a good clip. The car is rated at 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on highways, but I averaged slightly less than 20 during the test week.

Be warned: this car is subject to a $1,700 gas guzzler tax.

In fact, before I considered an S4, I would at least try an A4, which is the same size with much smaller — yet still powerful — engine choices.

The test week included a Saturday drive from Sunbury to Elizabethtown in Lancaster County and then on to Easton in Northampton County for family visits before returning home. In total, I was in the car more than five hours, but they were spent comfortably.

The test car came with a $1,000 Bose premium sound system, including Sirius Satellite Radio. It also featured a standard glass sunroof, climate control and heated seats.

I used the cruise control for some of the longer stretches of highway, but shifting through the gears was easy and fun.

Standard equipment included ABS, electronic stabilization, brushed aluminum trim and heated outside mirrors.

Options on the test car included a $1,950 navigation system and related electronics, which I didn't use.

Competitiors includes the BMW M3, the Mercedes-Benz C55 and the Cadillac CTS-V.

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