If there was any doubt Audi AG was a top contender in the German performance league, it should now be erased.

For 2000, the company provides a serious dose of horsepower to practically every model in the range, in the effort to dispel the one perception that's hung with Audi for years: that its cars just don't have the power to compete with BMW and Mercedes.

For '00, Audi will enhance its entry-level A4 range with the S4 performance model. The A6, though undeniably stylish, has been plagued since its launch with a reputation for sluggish engine performance. The A6 line now enjoys the addition of two new DOHC powerplants: a 250-hp, twin-turbocharged 2.7L V- 6 and a 300-hp 4.2L V-8 borrowed from the flagship A8.

Both new A6 engines drive all four wheels, as quattro is standard in the line. In addition, the A6's new 2.7L V-6 can be mated with a new 6-speed manual transmission. Audi believes the added horsepower credibility will bring the return of the A6 as "the effective center of gravity" in the Audi lineup.

The addition of the new high-power models, coupled with rising quality, will most likely grab some sales from the automaker's competitors in Munich and Stuttgart - and Audi of America executives couldn't be happier.

In August, U.S. deliveries rocketed 59.3% above like-1998, making it the importer's best August ever. Calendar 1999 sales are up 42.7% on year-ago. And most models are enjoying double-digit growth so far in 1999.

Audi of America Vice President Len Hunt is projecting calendar 1999 deliveries to reach 60,000 units. That would top 1998's results by 30% and represent Audi's strongest year since its 1985 peak, when it sold slightly more than 74,000 units in the U.S.

Audi believes its enhanced '00 models will prove so popular with buyers that calendar 2000 sales may surpass even Audi's 1985 high-water mark of more than 74,000, hit prior to the unintended sudden acceleration scandal that torpedoed Audi's reputation and sales. A performance like that would represent one of the decade's most strident comeback stories. As recently as 1996, Audi posted deliveries of only 27,379 units.