Leave it to the Lienerts to take Audi's performance flagship model, the 2001 S8, for a grueling test drive through Amish country in northern Michigan's Oscoda County. Over Memorial Day weekend, we hit several quaint bakeries, craft shops and feed stores, where our $79,825 black sedan stood out like a symbol of post-modern excess among the horse-drawn buggies, cotton dresses and white bonnets.

We didn't really need the S8's 360-horsepower V-8 to navigate this neck of the woods. But Audi felt compelled to keep up with some stiff European competition when it decided to market this sedan for the first time in the United States. The S8 goes up against such powerhouses as the BMW M5, the Jaguar XJR and the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG - all with $70,000-plus price tags.

Paul loved it. Anita is still griping about having to mop up soda pop from the cabin.

She: Even though I'm mad about the cupholders - or lack of them - on the S8, I'm still chuckling about the Amish guy who came over and talked to me while we were loading bird seed in the trunk at the feed store. Of course, being the strict safety gurus that they are at Audi, there's a huge orange emergency triangle mounted on the inside of the trunk lid. It's the same type of triangle you see on the rear of every Amish buggy. So he says, `Is that what you use when you want to go slow?' Hey, the Amish have a sense of humor. Especially when it comes to overpriced, overpowered German cars.

He: You'd have to have a sense of humor to appreciate the price of a fillup these days. We paid more than $40 to gas up the Audi's 23.8-gallon fuel tank with premium, and it wasn't even on empty. With the S8's EPA city rating of 15 miles per gallon, your wallet is going to take a pretty sizable hit if you drive a lot.

She: Let me finish my story about the cupholders. Here I am expecting a really pampered ride, and there's only one cupholder in the front seat of the S8. So I stick my Vernor's in the map pocket of the door, where, of course, it spills.

He: Talk about missing the whole point. I can't wait to read some of your e-mail from outraged enthusiasts. They're gonna laugh you off the planet. So why don't you want to talk about that sensational twin-cam 4.2-liter V-8, which is mated to a five-speed Tiptronic automatic and zips from zero to 60 in just over six seconds? Or the fact that the S8 stands out from the performance crowd with its standard all-wheel driveline? For the base $72,500 sticker, you also get high-performance 245/45ZR18 tires, speed-sensitive power steering, stiffer shocks and springs, a larger-diameter stabilizer bar and a sophisticated stability-control system that kept us proceeding smoothly and without incident in a pelting rainstorm on I-75. I have to say that, for a lot of driving over Michigan's crummy roads, I'd prefer the long-wheelbase A8, which has a more compliant ride. But the S8 has few peers when it comes to safe and secure high-speed driving.

She: Sorry, I never drove it that fast. And whenever I started to get nervous about how fast you were driving, I reminded myself that the S8 has eight air bags, including four side air bags, plus side air curtains. It also has standard antilock brakes and even a first-aid kit in the rear center armrest. And I did love the sport front bucket seats, which are heated and electrically adjustable with power lumbar support. And they're roomy, too. I was able to fit myself and two miniature schnauzers with ease into the front passenger seat for the 220-mile journey home. That's an acid test.

He: Those schnauzers are miniature in name only. And the true acid test is being in the same car with two dogs and a spouse for an entire weekend.

She: You're lucky we let you come with us. But back to the S8. I liked the heated rear seats and power sunshade, but they should have been included in the base price, not part of an optional $700 premium package.

He: I was impressed by the 200-watt Bose audio system, although I was puzzled that you have to actually turn the radio on before you can load or eject a CD. And that humongous trunk was pretty amazing.

She: My take on the S8 - too fast, too expensive.

He: I think I know where I could get you a deal on a horse and buggy.

Anita's rating: Acceptable

Paul's rating: World class

Likes: One of the world's finest high-performance sedans (Paul). Outstanding safety features and all-weather traction. Subdued, yet cushy cabin. Killer 200-watt Bose audio system. More trunk space than BMW 7-series or Mercedes-Benz S-class. Free roadside assistance for four years (Anita).

Dislikes: The world's worst cupholders (Anita). Total overkill (Anita). Stiff suspension, low-profile tires make for harsh ride on rough pavement. Takes itself way too seriously (Anita). VERY expensive to fill up the fuel tank. Styling looks fairly stodgy and dated.

Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger luxury sedan.

Price: Base, $72,500; as tested, $79,825 (inc. $575 destination charge).

Engine: 4.2-liter V-8; 360-hp; 317 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, Estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,914 (Rates may be higher or lower based on coverage, driving record.)

Where built: Germany