The all-new A4 doesn't look spectacularly different at a glance. But in close, where it matters, everything is new, and everything is better.
— San Diego, California
Audi sweated the small stuff when redesigning the A4. You can see it by looking at an exterior view of the sedan, and tracing the path created by the shut-line of the hood. That precise cut – creating a wide, flat lid that looks more like custom coachbuilding than mass production when it’s raised – develops into a deep, straight shoulder line that crosses the doors, creases the fuel filler door, bleeds into the rear light clusters, and then integrates into the rear deck.
The understated piece of industrial design is more remarkable for the attention its execution required from the engineers. The elegant hood line necessitated an opening mechanism that is both complex and fascinating to watch, and no doubt took countless hours of engineering to bring to life.
All that attention to detail is visible if you’re compelled to look, up close. But from a 50-yard view the A4 has evolved conservatively from its previous generation. The three-box sedan wears a crisper suit of sheet metal now, wider and longer, but the headlights and the grille are perhaps the only immediate changes that a layman will see right away. This styling restraint is compelling when you consider what a runaway sales success the previous car was, but it does stand in stark relief versus the erotic approaches of brands like Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
What says luxury to you? Is it lavish curb appeal or the allure of constant excellence? How you answer that question may very well inform how you view the 2017 A4 relative to the Mercedes C Class, for instance.
Mechanically the story is similar to that of the design: freshness couched in familiarity. The A4 once again makes use of a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under it’s broad hood, but this power plant is distinct from the one it replaces. Output is up to 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque (over 220 hp / 258 lb-ft in the previous version). Equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive (a front-drive version is available) and the S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission, that motivation pushes the A4 to 60 miles per hour in a very respectable 5.7 seconds.
Output is up to 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque (over 220 hp / 258 lb-ft in the previous version).
On the road it’s that torque figure that translates best to physical action. All of the twist is available at 1,600 rpm, allowing for the execution of crisp passes on the highway or, when you feel a bit daring, overtaking on two-lane roads. Dip into the throttle fully and the exhaust will even reward with a growling engine note, despite its silent operation under lesser loads.
The DCT transmission is swift and smart, too. Using the steering-wheel mounted paddles reveals almost immediate response to input, and a nicely mechanical click on gear change. The seven ratios seem like just enough for the automatic mode, too, as I hardly experienced any ‘hunting’ behavior when using the fully automatic mode. Together, engine and transmission make a nicely updated A4 powertrain, more compelling than the last version, but hardly unfamiliar to those used to the old setup.
Audi has taken a significant amount of weight out of the new A4, despite its increased exterior dimensions – 99 pounds on front-drive cars and 66 lbs on AWD cars. Critically, much of this diet is down to use of aluminum in suspension components. The removal of unsprung weight and five-link independent suspension, front and rear, translates to a really responsive vehicle on the canyon roads outside of San Diego. Turn-in is crisp, directional changes at speed are rapid, and of course the car grips hard when I dial up the throttle on corner exit. Cars fitted with the optional, lower sport suspension and three-way adaptive dampers are likely to be more athletic still.
Audi has taken a significant amount of weight out of the new A4, despite its increased exterior dimensions – 99 pounds on front-drive cars and 66 lbs on AWD cars.
There are those for whom a “sporting” car will always be a rear-wheels-driven car, but the fact is this A4 won’t require much compromise in fun factor, day to day.
It is in the “everyday” test, in fact, where the new A4 not only excels, but also distances itself from its predecessor. To call the in-cabin experience “very livable” would be a huge understatement – it’s a wonderful place to spend time.
To start, forget the canyons. Our drive route included not only canyons, but a few stints on the freeways that surround San Diego. The A4 felt more in its element here than it did in the hills, with a completely hushed cabin at speed, and a firm-but-settled ride quality. Forget any other tech, turn up the optional “3D” Bang & Olufsen stereo, and you’ll find a wonderful environment in which to crush miles.
Of course Audi didn’t leave it there. The A4 can be ordered with pretty much all the same gadgetry as the considerably more expensive Q7 that just launched.
The rockstar of the options list is Virtual Cockpit; a central display unlike anything in the automotive world. Its fluid graphics are rendered at 60 frames per second, creating a map/navigation experience that is not only easier to use, but beautiful to look at. Impressively, Audi’s navi system makes use of industry-standard, commercial traffic data, but also crowd-sourced data, when accounting for route calculation.
There is also a central infotainment screen, and the latest generation of Audi’s lauded MMI system. The controller here is a knob with left/right function/options buttons (a layout mirrored in the steering wheel controller), that felt quite natural for me to learn. My guess is veterans of other, recent Audi products won’t need much in the way of a tutorial. The controller is topped off with a touchpad that easily and naturally accepts hand-written characters as a means to navi entry or search – Audi’s system allows you to simply search for your destination, ala the Google mode. In a great twist of functional design, the very chunky looking shift lever doubles nicely as a hand rest here, so my big paw had somewhere to recline as I scratched out “Ballast Point Brewing…”
The controller is topped off with a touchpad that easily and naturally accepts hand-written characters as a means to navi entry or search
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the newest Audi – a company deeply down the road of autonomous driving technology – comes correct with a dizzying host of driver assistance systems. In fact, I was told that there are no fewer than 21 such systems on this car, and that number might even be soft (you know when Germans get tired of counting the figures are big). New stars for the 2017 model year include “Side Assist” which alerts you, as you start to open the door, if there is a bicyclist or perhaps a careening food truck, headed your way. Probably the most useful, non-emergency assist function, however, is the low-speed-follow (down to 0 mph) feature on the adaptive cruise.
If you care to look closely, you’ll see that Audi has paid a tremendous amount of attention to the details of the A4. From the frameless interior accents (these are seriously cool, especially with wood trims) to the upward-inclined door handles. So it’s no wonder the company has precision in terms of pricing, too.
The $37,300 starting MSRP is a bit of a misnomer, because that is the sticker for the front-drive car, and why buy an Audi without Quattro, right? But, assume AWD and some popular options packages, and you’re in the $45,000 blast zone occupied by the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes C Class. Frankly, you can’t make a bad choice amongst the three, but if you get down with subtle styling and advanced tech, the Audi will be the strongest contender. Certainly, there’s enough available content to get the A4 well beyond $50k – one of my test cars was $53,550 – but my guess is that most people find a happy compromise of options below that level.
On a glance, from a block away, the generational change from the last A4 to this car may be hard to spot. But up close, where it counts, Audi compels with a finely honed luxury sedan. All those small small steps forward add up to pretty long leap.
|Engine||Turbocharged 2.0L I4|
|Output||252 Horsepower / 273 Pound-Feet|
|EPA Fuel Economy||NA|
|0-60 MPH||5.7 Seconds|
|Top Speed||130 MPH|