Audi, like rivals BMW and Mercedes, has done well with high-performance versions of its mainstream cars. Anything bearing the letter S before its designation is, you can be sure, a crisp-handling fire breather.
On the other hand, if there's an S somewhere later in the designation, you've stumbled on something else that Audi does well, selling cars with all the show, but not the go, of the high performers.
This is the S line, an upgrade package that's partly functional, partly for looks. Conventional wisdom is that "look-faster" packages such as these are best avoided because their advantages are few and their cost, plenty. But I'm not so sure if this can be said of the S line pack offered on the newly upgraded Audi A4.
I've been driving the 1.8 Avant wagon with the S line stuff and although it adds $6500 to the bill, I'd be ready to tick the appropriate box.
On the A4 Avant the package comprises leather sports seats with S line embossing, leather-covered armrests, brushed alloy inlays, door sill and interior badging, black headlining, a sports steering wheel, different alloys and bumpers, and front and rear spoilers.
The package ices the A4 cake. Leatherwork is superb, the seats comfortable and supportive.
The steering wheel makes me feel as though I'm just popping off to a track day, rather than the shops.
True, some items are bling, but very well done bling that oozes good taste and restraint.
The A4 Avant is already one of the best-looking wagons on the market, a design that flawlessly blends pretty with purposeful. These lines have been nipped and tucked to good effect in the 2012 facelift that includes reworking the front lights and fog lights, grille, bonnet, air intake, alloys, and roof aerial.
Inside is a changed instrument cluster, revised interior colours and inlays and refinements to various knobs and switches, including a new sound system joystick volume control and skip function, and a gearshift with "touch-sport" mode.
The facelifted A4 also picks up the 1.8-litre direct-injection turbocharged TFSI engine as its entry-level motive power, replacing the 2.0 TFSI. With 125kW on tap, the newcomer is slightly less powerful but torque is the same 320Nm and it's available from 1400rpm to 3700rpm.
It now takes just over an extra second to run 0-100km/h, 8.3 seconds, but with such flexible torque that's hardly an issue. What the 1.8 does do is provide outstanding fuel economy, almost 30 per cent better than the 2.0 at 5.8 litres per 100km overall. CO2 emissions are a mere 139g/km.
All of this makes for a really nice though not inexpensive package - at $80,400 for the S Line version - of function and form that might now be worrying those who have to sell the rival BMW 3 Series Touring wagon, the latest version of which arrives early next year. Not to mention the Mercedes S Class and some other higher-end Euros and Japanese competitors.
The bottom line: Audi A4's well placed to face its stiff competition thanks to an upgrade and a compelling S line optionBy Phil Hanson