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First drive: S-Line turns it on with turbo

Fun, fun, fun of the autobahn: The S-Line adds a welcome dose of fun to the once formal and refined A4 range.

Audi wants to hook tomorrow’s S4, S6 and S8 buyers today

Audi logo17 Feb 2004

AUDI has added more powerful A4 1.8 Turbo variants as part of its new S-Line package of affordable go-faster models in Australia.

Available in four-door sedan and Avant wagon configurations, the A4 S-Line uses an uprated version of the 1.8-litre 20-valve turbocharged four-cylinder engine that powers the continuing A4 1.8T.

Power now rises from 120kW to 140kW at 5700rpm, while torque jumps 15Nm to 240Nm between 1950 and 4700rpm. This contrasts to the regular A4 1.8T’s 120kW/225Nm maximums, which are also produced at the same engine speeds as the S-Line engine.

The 0-100km/h sprint is seen to in 8.3 seconds by the 1475kg A4 S-Line sedan, 0.2 seconds ahead of the 1530kg Avant S-Line.

A six-speed manual gearbox is the only S-Line transmission available, while Audi’s trusty quattro permanent all-wheel drive system with a Torsen centre differential underpins both models.

This means the S-Line wagon is the first A4 Avant fitted with a manual gearbox as well as 4WD (the $54,250 front-wheel drive 2.0 Avant utilises Audi’s lauded CVT automatic transmission), but it won’t be the last.

In May the S4 Avant joins its just-released S4 sedan sibling, with quattro all-wheel drive, a six-speed manual gearbox and a powerful 253kW 4.2-litre V8 engine as part of its $130,000-plus pricing. Not coincidentally, at first glance the S-Line bares a strong resemblance to the S4, with its 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/45 tyres, subtle body kit, revised front and rear bumpers, rear spoiler and S-Line decals.

Sports suspension, sports seats, leather and Alcantara upholstery and an upgraded audio system are also part of the package.

These are apart from regular $47,400 A4 2.0 features such as anti-lock brakes with brake assist, dual front airbags, front side airbags, side front and rear head airbags, electronic stability and traction controls, fog lights, climate control air-conditioning, a trip meter, cruise control, power windows, electric mirrors and a CD player.

All this should help the S-Line lure loyal buyers into the Audi ‘S’ fold, which stems from Audi’s specialised engineering department “quattro GmbH”.

It has been developing high-performance and customised Audis for over 20 years and was also instrumental in the company’s more recent competition success.

Audi dominated 1980s rallying with the iconic Quattro Coupe, European touring car racing in the 1990s and a hat-trick victory at the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race from 2000 to 2002.

Models such as the current A4-based S4, the S6 and RS6 from the A6, and the A8-derived S8 - as well as overseas classics like the Porsche-built Audi 80 Avant-based RS2 of the mid-‘90s – are the fruit of the quattro GmbH loins.

With relatively keen pricing, the company hopes to create a package that will eventually act as a stepping-stone to higher-end sports-orientated Audis such as the S4, RS6 and upcoming A8-based S8 models.

AUDI S-LINE PRICING:
A4 1.8T quattro S-Line sedan: $69,500
A4 1.8T quattro S-Line Avant: $73,100

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

RIGHT now Audi’s A4 is a little like the supergroup U2 was in the 1980s… highly accomplished, of indisputable quality but perhaps a little too refined and middle-of-the-road for younger and more hardcore fans.

It must be galling then that BMW’s standard-bearing E46 3-series can so effortlessly be all things to all people, as ably demonstrated by the youth-baiting 318i with its superb Valvetronic four-cylinder engine as well as the rock star M3 supercar. So here’s Audi’s game plan. The 253kW S4 A4-rangetopper addresses the latter while the new S-Line is the A4’s much-needed lifeline to the young, funky and upwardly mobile.

And the first impressions are very favourable. For one thing, the S-Line looks like an S4. The chunky bumpers, fat wheels shod with sexy alloys, subtle body kit and rear spoiler do the trick, while not crossing the line marked “gauche”.

Following a fleet of S4s as well as S-Lines over a 100km-plus cross-country drive on a variety of challenging roads soon required even the keenest Audi trainspotter to look twice before identifying which was what.

Inside it’s a similar story. Since the A4 cabin is a yardstick for quality, design and ergonomic comfort, the S-Line’s sports seats and steering wheel are tasteful enough not to upset the harmony, while adding a touch of sporty intent.

The test car was an A4 S-Line Avant. It injected a respectably offbeat accessibility and practicality to the sporty package, like the way the crowd-pleasing One ballad on U2’s Achtung Baby album is a welcome respite from the frenetic energy of the songs preceding it.

There were neither rattles nor hums from this Hun despite the firm though well-damped ride, although the tyres are prone to transmitting a low-res drone over some surfaces.

After all this, you could be excused for assuming that the S-Line’s performance might seem a little anti-climatic, seeing as it resides in the gentler, easy-listening side of the Audi S stable.

The reality is a pleasant surprise. The 140kW 1.8-litre turbo four-pot loves a rev and will swing effortlessly to the 6000rpm-plus red line with 1970s key-party ease.

You’ll need to stay in the 5500rpm hot zone if it is mid-overtaking zip you’re hoping for, because below 3000rpm the acceleration is a little languid, but you won’t mind because the upper rev limits are an enjoyable place to be.

And here’s a suggestion: turn off the traction control nannies and instead rely on the natural balance of the quattro all-wheel drive chassis for fast, undiluted exits through tight corners and roundabouts.

Only a smoother-shifting six-speed manual gearbox would have bettered the overall pleasantness of the driving experience.

Sure, BMW regulars may turn their noses up at the usual de-sensitised feel of the Audi’s steering, but the S-Line’s helm is still a responsive, rewarding place to be to everybody else. And nobody will dispute the pulling power of those eager brakes either.

There’s no doubt the S-Line adds a welcome dose of fun to the once formal and refined A4 range.

It is perhaps surprisingly accomplished against the superb though sober BMW 325i and 320i Touring the sedan and Avant compete against respectively, and it does provide the added all-weather assurance of the all-wheel drive system.

For the money and performance on offer, the A4 S-Line sends out an Achtung Baby! warning to its rivals. Much like the once moribund U2 did for fans back in 1990.

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