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wheels car of the year 2012 best premium saloons: Audi S8 and BMW 335i

There were many contenders for the large premium saloon award, but in the end, there was only ever going to be one winner; the Audi S8. This big, bold beauty is like a five-star hotel on wheels. Nothing else quite matches it when it comes to luxury and speed.

We were blown away that something this big can move this quick. 0-100kph in just 4.2 seconds is borderline supercar territory and a figure most sportscars would be ecstatic with. But, it’s at its best when the road is straight.

When it gets twisty, then the 2,050kg S8 begins to struggle, even though the adaptive air suspension does its best to keep things steady, it still suffers from body roll. Not that you will want to carve up a mountain pass in this, but there’s nothing like 520bhp and 650Nm of torque to blast you out of a corner.

This thing is armed to the teeth; that 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo packs an almighty punch. It also brings efficiency to the table, thanks to several fuel-saving technologies including cylinder on demand, a recuperation and a start-stop system. But best of all, it emits a delightful growl every time you prod the throttle, while gear shifts are hardly detectable.

The ZF eight-speed automatic really is a delight, and it sends power to all four corners, giving the S8 tremendous grip and traction — but due its size and weight, it doesn’t like changing direction in a hurry. The flagship in Ingolstadt’s saloon fleet, it is loaded to the hilt and boasts adaptive cruise control, Audi side assist, Audi lane assist, night vision assistant with pedestrian highlighting and more.

If you ever tire from the raucous exhaust note (which we highly doubt), then you can always call on the highend Bang & Olufsen 1,400-watt sound system with 19 speakers for a concert hall-like experience. When Audi was designing this car, the brief was simple: cut fuel consumption and make it even more fun to drive. Have they done it? Well, it wouldn’t have won this award if we didn’t think so…

Best preium saloon BMW335i

Jaguar XF, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Chrysler 300 SRT8, Lexus GS… All great cars that you can get for around the same money as a BMW 335i, usually much less.

But why would you do that to yourself? Why would you decide to buy anything other than a BMW 335i? (Although you would have a strong case for yourself if you decide to get a BMW 328i with a puzzlingly good 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot good for 250bhp at the rear wheels instead).

All those aforementioned cars have four wheels, four doors, seats for five occupants, boots, windows, engines, transmissions, warranties… The new BMW 3 Series has all of that too, just more of it, more of everything. Well, not more wheels and doors, that would just be silly, but more handling, more performance, more feel from the perfectly balanced chassis (now lighter, too) and electro-assisted steering, more ride comfort despite it being made in Munich, which used to be German for ‘rides on wooden blocks’.

More price too, but with the latest F30 generation 3 Series, BMW has created quite possibly the greatest ever compact sports saloon. Ever. In 335i guise — you can choose from four new trim levels as well, but Sport is the sweetest, with racy red trim and M Sport detailing, wheels, etc — the 3 Series comes with a 3.0-litre turbocharged engine lazily putting down just over 300 horses to the rear wheels, with a shrug of its shoulders.

That’s as unstressed as they come, and this supremely balanced engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission demolishes 0-100kph in 5.5 seconds — that’s the same as a drop-top E46 M3.

And then you encounter a corner and the 50:50 weight distribution makes you go, “Whaaa? This is a family saloon? Where are the M badges!?” They are all there, in spirit. The sixth generation F30 3 Series is so good, the only thing that could possibly beat it one day, is the seventh generation 3 Series.

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