Even though we had the 2017 Audi A4 for only three months, it started to feel like part of our family, a comfortable fit for our life, but still somehow special in a way we appreciated everyday – despite any little quirks and flaws.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo
Output: 252 hp; 273 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 5.7 seconds
Curb Weight: 3,626 lb. (1,645 kg)
Cargo Capacity: 13.0 cu. ft. (368 L)
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 24 city, 31 hwy, 27 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.8 city, 7.6 hwy, 8.6 combined
US Price: Starts at $34,900; $54,250 as tested ($950 freight included)
CAN Price: Starts at $38,500; $59,495 as tested ($2,095 freight included)
Perhaps because it has been so hectic over the past few months that it quickly grew so familiar, putting on over 6,000 miles of commuting, comparing, shuttling the kids around and even a short road trip up to ski country.
Through all that, there have been barely any complaints, but I’ll get them out of the way right up front.
The only real mechanical flaw in the A4 is its low-speed maneuvering behavior – when just leaving a light, or switching from reverse to drive, the throttle and transmission are very slow to get power down to the wheels, making fine adjustments parallel parking or a three-point turn a bit tedious and frustrating at times.
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As far as the interior goes, the split-personality of the Virtual Cockpit and dashtop MMI can cause a bit of hesitation before deciding which interface might be quicker for any particular task. Because some functions are only available in the MMI via the control knob (destination entry, saving presets), it soon became my default instead of the more efficient and hands-on-wheel Virtual Cockpit in the gauge cluster. Those new to Audi’s interiors may find all the information available slightly overwhelming at first, but it’s totally worth the learning curve.
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Power & Performance
At no time during the past three months did I find myself wanting for more power in the A4, and the sport suspension and 19-inch wheels gave it that sporting flavor I crave in any car I drive.
Although it’s a fairly typical 2.0-liter turbo that we see everywhere in this segment and in the Audi and VW lineup for over a decade, Audi has worked hard to keep it at the forefront in terms of power, efficiency and refinement, though it rumbles every time it restarts with the auto start/stop system, so it’s not the most refined execution of this technology.
What does sound great is the engine under full throttle, a gruff rumble that matches its sporty side. After that initial lag, it very quickly finds traction and gets into its power band, its 273 lb-ft of torque available from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm and the 252 hp kicking in at 5,000 rpm. It lives up to its soundtrack too, and between the quick-shifting dual-clutch auto and quattro all-wheel drive, it launches to 60 mph (or 100 km/h) in less than 6 seconds.
Features Editor Sami Haj-Assaad took the A4 out and came to the same conclusion about the powertrain, saying: “The engine and transmission are well sorted out, and the way the AWD spits you out of intersections and onramps is very entertaining.”
While the performance was better than I was expecting, mileage was a mixed bag. On our one extended highway drive, we saw almost 30 mpg both ways, which is excellent for my driving and the middle of winter on wide winter tires. However, for the life of our test, which was mostly commuting into the city and around the suburbs, 23.5 mpg (10.0 L/100 km) isn’t all that impressive for a small sedan.
Practicality and Comfort
While my time in a variety of vehicles has pampered me with a variety of options, it is the simple practicality of the crossover that I often miss most. There is no getting around the low roof of the A4 when leaning in to buckle and tighten the strap of my son’s car seat, never mind crawling around in there to install it.
Aside from the low roof expected in a sport sedan, the A4 is a model of practicality, with enough legroom in the back seat for adults, and plenty for the kids in their car seats. There is even enough width for a smaller adult to squeeze between the car seat and booster, but the large hump in the floor ruins legroom for that middle passenger.
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The seats proved comfortable in daily driving and even on a longer drive, and despite the firm ride of that sport suspension, it never got tiresome or jittery. The cabin also remains quiet and serene even at higher cruising speeds, making it easier to appreciate the superb Bang & Olufsen sound system.
While the trunk won’t hold a candle to a wagon or crossover, it is sufficient for this class with 13 cubic feet (368 L), but Audi will sell you a lifted wagon called the Allroad if cargo space is more important to you than the sporty drive. It’s a bit sad to me that Audi no longer sells the Avant body style (and that’s not just lip service, I actually own a wagon, an A4 Avant as a matter of fact), but that’s a sob story for another day.
When we embarked on this long-term test, we wanted to see if the A4 could compete with the best in the segment, and we were fortunate enough to line up a tough pair of tests against its German rivals, the C-Class and 3 Series.
Against an evenly matched C-Class, the Audi showed its value and quality, even if the Benz was the smoother, more luxurious riding of the two sedans.
The 3 Series, of course, has been the benchmark in the segment for generations, so a chance to gauge the A4 against this segment leader was the test we were most eager to perform. We secured a modestly equipped 330i that lived up to BMW’s reputation for engaging dynamics, but also surprised us with its slick iDrive setup. Although it was a few thousand dollars cheaper, the fully loaded A4 cost only a little more, offering better value, and came together as a more well-rounded package with a slight edge in quality.
Technology and Quality
Beyond the stumbles of a two-screen infotainment system, Audi’s integration of technology in a comfortable cabin were a joy to explore, from the handwriting recognition on the control knob to one of the best adaptive cruise systems I’ve ever experienced.
Although News Editor Sebastien Bell was aggravated by the lane-keep assist tugging the wheel against his hands, I quite enjoyed ‘studying’ it at every opportunity and seeing exactly how tight a curve it could steer around while merely gripping the wheel ready to take over should it stray.
I was thrilled to have a 360-degree parking view, as well as warnings on the backup camera for crossing traffic when backing out, and also flashing lights on the door for approaching traffic that might clip your door if you were to open it suddenly.
While all this technology is new and headline-grabbing, it is the sturdy, understated quality of the A4’s cabin that was probably most appealing to me. Every switch and button operates precisely and with a reassuring click, and everything your hands and body comes in contact with is covered in quality materials with the right amount of padding. The A4’s S-line steering wheel was a study in perfection, the perforated and smooth leather a grade or two above the competition and the contours perfect for keeping your hands at 3 and 9. I have long appreciated Audi’s tilt and slide center armrest, but the clever use of the shifter as a place to balance your wrist when using the MMI controller is new, and it too is wrapped with superb perforated leather.
The Verdict: 2017 Audi A4 Long-Term Test Wrap-up
Four months was too little time in the A4, and I’m certainly going to miss its driving dynamics as we move on to a far more practical long-term tester. The driving aids and cabin technology in the A4 are impressive, the practicality is on par with segment leaders, and the performance finally makes a leap to match the best in its class, without throwing comfort out the window.
Some people might find the A4 too conservative in its design, or the interior too simple, but anyone looking for a small sedan with a balanced mix of luxury, technology and quality with a generous serving of sport would be wise to test drive the 2017 Audi A4.