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2007 Audi RS 4 Compact Sports Sedan

What was tested? 2007 Audi RS 4 ($66,000).

Options: Premium package ($4,700).

Price as tested (including $720 destination charge and $2,100 gas-guzzler tax): $73,520.

2007 Audi RS 4 Compact Sports Sedan

MENA, Ark. -- It's just after daybreak on the mountain roads of western Arkansas, and I'm having one of the most disappointing moments of my life.

This is supposed to be a heavenly time, seeing how I'm driving an amazing, 420-horsepower sedan from Audi through one of the most beautiful landscapes in America. It's the perfect place to test the limits of this $73,000 chunk of German engineering with ridiculously wide tires, cross-drilled brake discs the size of Montana, and a V8 engine that could rattle windows for miles around. This should be my dream come true.

Only it's not. I can't see a darned thing because I'm driving through low-hanging clouds, forcing me to go 15 mph in a car designed to travel 10 times that fast on the Autobahn. It's my own, personal hell.

Finally, the road starts to descend through the clouds and I see a little bit of sunlight. As soon as I can tell what's in front of me -- lush hills splattered with ribbons of asphalt stretching to the horizon -- I stomp on the gas to see what this car can do.

Instantly my kidneys are pinned to the back of the Recaro driver's seat as the V8 starts to howl, screaming with joy as it celebrates an escape from automotive Alcatraz. Its primal yell echoes down in the valley below, waking up any poor souls who wanted to sleep late this Saturday morning. Finally -- finally! -- my dream is coming true.

The Audi was created for moments like this. Called the RS 4, this four-door machine is more closely related to a race car than to the boring things you see parked at the grocery store every day.

Its body looks relatively mundane, with the same basic, classy lines of the Audi A4, but beneath those familiar curves lies a very unfamiliar monster.

Everything about the RS 4 was designed for speed, pure and simple. The big, 4.2-liter engine uses the same direct-injection technology as Audi's all-conquering Le Mans race cars. Virtually every part on the RS 4 was checked to reduce weight, including through the use of an aluminum hood and body panels. It has an advanced all-wheel-drive system that transfers power to the pavement with a mind-blowing level of grip, even on damp roads. It has a wonderfully firm suspension that keeps it perfectly composed through high-speed sweepers, letting the driver know exactly what each wheel is doing at any given moment.

Of course, with 420 horses on tap, it helps to have good brakes. With eight-piston calipers on the front brakes -- that's right, eight -- and huge discs at all four corners, the RS 4 doesn't just stop quickly. It stops so fast you'll want to check the windshield to be sure your brains aren't splattered across it.

If there's a downside to this car, it's that it's very difficult to drive slowly. And I mean that in two ways.

For one, it has so much power and such a responsive drivetrain that it punishes every little mistake you make. If you let out the clutch just slightly too fast when pulling away from a stoplight, the car jerks forward so suddenly that you hardly know what happened. This isn't a car you'd want to drive Grandma in ... unless you wanted your inheritance a tad early.

For another, it's designed to travel so wildly quick that you lose all sense of how fast you're actually going. Traveling 80 mph in the RS 4 literally feels like traveling 30 mph in an average car. Even when you reach speeds well into the triple digits, it still feels like a normal car does at 50. It's really, honestly that stable.

I could tell you how fast the RS 4 drove on those Arkansas roads.

But I won't. You simply wouldn't believe me.

Pros: It's an enthusiast's dream car. Everything about it is designed for speed. It even comes with a built-in lap timer.

Cons: It's difficult to drive at legal speeds.

RATINGS (1-10)

Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 8
Handling: 10
Ride: 3
Comfort: 4
Quality: 10
Overall: 10