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New Car Test - Audi A4 S-Line

Nothing groundbreaking but an attractive step up from the everyday A4 quattro Turbo.

By Michael Knowling

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The Audi A4 quattro Turbo has never been a breathtaking performer but it has always been a solidly built and classy compact sedan that offers genuinely useable performance. The newly introduced A4 S-Line carries over all those qualities and takes a very welcome step in the direction of the S4 – at last there’s something bridging the conventional A4 Quattro Turbo and the $130,000 S4 V8.

The S-Line is essentially an A4 quattro Turbo featuring the same sort of enhancements you’d expect from the aftermarket - except the S-Line’s modifications are seamlessly integrated from factory. The S-Line package adds 17 x 7.5-inch alloys wearing 235/45 boots, an exclusive body kit, sports suspension and a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard. Oh, and output from the DOHC, 20-valve, 1.8-litre turbo four has also been increased from 120 to 140kW.

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Don’t think for a moment those extra 20kW transform the S-Line sedan into a road rocket – Audi quotes 0 – 100 km/h in 8.3-seconds, which is nothing to get too excited about. But more important in real world driving situations are the generous Newton Metres available from low revs – there’s 240Nm all the way from 1950 to 4000 rpm. This strong torque spread together with an aggressive electronic throttle control strategy gives the S-Line impressive punch for small accelerator inputs. Ease the throttle down to about 25 percent and the turbocharged S-Line surges forward with the performance sparkle of a big V6. This makes pulling out into traffic, overtaking and lane hopping extremely fuss-free and safe.

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But then – when you need all-out power – the 1.8-litre turbo engine doesn’t deliver the goods to back its part-throttle performance. From about 4500 rpm to the low 6500 redline, the S-Line’s acceleration plateaus – it feels like there’s a dramatic boost drop-off at high rpm.

The S-Line’s driveline includes a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard - but is a 6-speed ‘box really necessary? With such strong torque across the majority of the rev range there’s little reason to have so many ratios on offer – the S-Line proves the point by effortlessly accelerating away from traffic shifting from first to third to fifth... Clutch operation is light and the gearshift action is fine, though slightly notchy.

Fuel consumption during our test averaged 10.5-litres per 100km – not bad considering our driving style. Note that the 9.3:1 static compression ratio and turbocharging mean 98RON unleaded is essential. Fuel tank capacity is 66 litres, giving an urban range of more than 600km.

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Grip from the quattro all-wheel-drive system and the S-Line’s big 235/45 tyres is more than ample given its 1455kg kerb mass and 140kW output. This is a vehicle with tremendous surefootedness and safety. Apart from the occasional touch of understeer – which is caught by the ESP system – the S-Line is very nicely balanced. This is indicated by an equal yowl from the outer front and rear tyres when you’ve got it dancing through a fast corner. Interestingly, though, we did notice the doors rattling around in their frames and a steering column clunk when tackling chopped or corrugated surfaces.

The A4 S-Line’s sports suspension delivers a very firm ride – any firmer and it would border on uncomfortable. Vertical accelerations over bumps are very rapid and controlled, but sharp bumps – such as poor road surface joins – can cause some harshness. Aluminium components are used extensively in the double wishbone front suspension and trapezoidal-link IRS.

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The assisted rack and pinion steering of the S-Line is sensitive at centre – perhaps a result of the low profile tyres. This gives the car an agile feel in urban conditions but at higher speeds we wish there was more on-centre weighting. Steering feel is also minimal.

The S-Line’s four-wheel disc braking system – with ABS, EBD and brake assist – performed well during our road test.

Onboard, the S-Line offers good comfort and an overall feeling of solidity – but it does miss out on some fairly basic features and it doesn’t offer a great deal of rear passenger space.

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We were amazed to jump into the driver’s seat of this $70,000-odd vehicle to find no electric adjustment of the lower cushion or backrest – this is offered (with memory settings for the seat and mirrors) as an extra cost option. Also absent are steering wheel controls for the audio system – this is very noticeable since the head unit’s volume control is an arm-length away.

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Aside from these absentees, the S-Line cabin has all the features you’d expect. There’s dual zone climate control, cruise control, a central LED display (for ambient temperature, range and audio frequency), sports leather steering wheel, S-Line scuff plates, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking and immobiliser. Six airbags are distributed through the cabin.

The S-Line’s standard 10-speaker Chorus tuner/CD stacker is impressive – there’s plenty of bass and very little distortion when cranked up. We wouldn’t bother with the optional Bose sound system upgrade unless you’re a dedicated audiophile.

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The S-Line also comes with high quality leather trim featuring aluminium inserts as standard. The sports-spec seats are reasonably comfortable and the fronts come with electric lumbar support. Front seat accommodation is comfortable but rear seat passengers are not so lucky – foot space and headroom (for those 6-foot tall) are both limited. The A4’s high sill line and dark interior colours also contribute to a feeling of claustrophobia. A first aid kit can be found in the centre armrest.

The A4 sedan’s boot offers a generous volume and is expandable thanks to a split fold rear seat backrest. Unfortunately, bulky items are difficult to squeeze in due to a small boot aperture. Lift the boot’s false floor and you’ll see Audi hasn’t skimped on the spare wheel – it’s a matching 17-incher.

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Step into an Audi showroom and the S-Line instantly grabs your attention over a normal A4 Turbo. The big five-spoke 17-inch wheels and 235/45 tyres, a slightly lowered stance, sports bumpers, rear boot lip, fog lights and S-Line badging are a brilliant dress up. Nobody would object to the aesthetics. Note that the A4 body shell is fully galvanised and the S-Line sedan has a 0.31 Cd.

But are the S-Line’s sporty trimmings enough to justify its price?

At $69,500 ($73,100 for the Avant) the A4 S-Line is $9000 more expensive than the everyday A4 Turbo Quattro. We reckon 9k isn’t too bad considering the extra trimmings and how well they integrate to the base vehicle. Items such as sunroof, parking sensors, Xenon headlights and aluminium exterior trim are available as extra cost options.

Compared to other brands, the Audi S-Line is no rip-roaring bargain but it is competitively priced – about half of the competition is dearer and the other half is cheaper.

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Verdict. This is an effective up-spec of an already proven and popular vehicle. Include it on your list if you’re in the market for a prestige compact sedan with some performance.

Why You Would...

  • Punchy part throttle performance
  • Solid overall feel
  • Grippy and stable
  • Looks great
  • An affordable step down from the S4

Why You Wouldn’t...

  • Lack of top-end performance
  • Limited rear space
  • Poor access to boot
  • Steering lacks feedback

The A4 S-Line sedan was supplied for this test by Audi Australia.

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