The Audi A4 is the German automaker’s moneymaker, so there has always been a lot riding on its well-balanced, Teutonic shoulders.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Seven-speed DCT
Fuel Economy: Official MPG not available yet
Pricing: Not available yet
Since 1972, more than 12 million A4s have been sold (including the Audi 80), which means Audi can’t screw this up. But these days, it’s really tough for Audi to screw anything up (let’s imagine this as a time before “DieselGate,” OK?). The 2017 Audi A4 is a solid luxury compact sedan that has features and driving dynamics that trick you into believing it is a much more expensive car.
The fifth-generation A4 has been redesigned from bumper to bumper. As a whole new generation of the model, very little has been carried over from its predecessor. In fact, Audi says the A4 is 90 percent new or re-engineered. Despite this, Audi has been criticized for being too conservative with the A4’s design, but the design is actually brilliant.
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Not pulling a reality show stunt where they take a mousey mouth breather with a neck beard and some extra chins and turns them into Daniel Craig, the A4’s transformation is more subtle. Like seeing Daniel Craig six months ago at the gym versus seeing him at a movie premiere. He looks sharper, he’s a bit leaner after his workout, he’s wearing a good suit and damn, he cleans up nice. Similarly, the A4’s lines have been sharpened up without looking obscene, it is also leaner after some weight loss, and damn, it cleans up nice. The A4 is clean, classy and handsome.
As the moneymaker, the A4 can’t be a huge design departure from the A4 people know and love. It still has an unmistakable A4 silhouette, and that’s exactly why this is a good design.
By introducing new design elements on hot cars that people lust after like the R8 and TT, and then slowly moving them downmarket to the cars that people can actually afford, Audi has a brilliant strategy. People will like the A4 because it has the same gorgeous LED headlights, slick sequential turn signals, and digital instrument cluster as the R8 and the TT. Audi really packed the A4 with features normally found in its more expensive cars.
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Part of the reason why this redesign is also impressive is that the A4 spent some extensive time in the wind tunnel, so it is more aerodynamic than ever before. Audi says that at 0.23, the A4 now has a better drag coefficient than a Prius and a Tesla Model S. Along with some engine enhancements and a huge weight loss, this means the A4 is also 21 percent more fuel efficient than its predecessor, despite having larger dimensions.
I showed a photo of the new A4 to a bunch of people who don’t know a lot about cars. The first thing they all told me was, “Woah, those headlights are amazing.” The second thing they said was, “That looks like an expensive car.” Mission achieved, Audi. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but expect it to start just above the US$35,000 mark.
A Leg Up on the Competition
If you look at the A4’s biggest competitors, the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes C-Class, you can already see how Audi has one upped them all. When the new C-Class was launched this year, it pushed the boundaries of what could be expected from a compact luxury sedan. Audi took that as a sign to push things even further. BMW is now lagging behind, and although it has all the right driving dynamics, the 3 Series is old news now, with its dated interior and lack of technology and safety equipment. The A4 leads with the amount of technology it has and its competition should be getting a bit antsy.
What is so fantastic about the new A4 is that if you want an A8 but can’t afford it, get an A4. This used to be an impossible comparison, but this new generation model seriously ups its game. In fact, Audi claims that the A4 now has comparable NVH levels to its executive-level A8 sedan. Driving the A4 around Italy, it was hushed, smooth and there wasn’t a rattle or squeak to be heard.
How Does the New A4 Drive?
The biggest difference in the A4’s drive is a newfound lightness. In some models, more than 243 pounds have been sacrificed, scrutinized and chopped. Thank heavens, because the A4 actually drives like a small car again. This new lightness makes the biggest difference in how the A4 feels on the road. It feels quick and compliant, balanced and sure footed.
All of these attributes can be felt in Comfort mode, where the A4 is competent, but doesn’t feel too different from a Honda Accord. Dynamic more is where the A4 feels in its natural element. In Dynamic mode, the A4 comes alive, and its steering is well weighted, responsive and tight. The car is more willing to play and more eager to make you smile. This would be my default driving mode unless I was stuck in traffic. It feels fantastic – not a track monster or a 911 chaser, but it feels energetic and even bubbly, something that was lacking from previous A4s.
Driven on the twisting roads of the Italian mountain countryside and through the roundabouts and small streets of little Italian towns outside of Venice, the A4 (regardless of whether it was a front-driver or had quattro) feels confident, staying flat in corners, and displaying a respectable turn of speed with barely any lag when the road opened up.
The A4 gets seven engine options in total, three TFSI gas engines and four TDI diesels, but Audi hasn’t yet confirmed which engines will make it to North America. The turbo 2.0-liter TSFI four-cylinder is a sure bet, though, so it will be the volume seller here, and a diesel was supposed to make its way over for the first time in an A4, but given the recent DieselGate news, the future of that engine is up in the air.
I spent my driving time in the new A4 with the well-equipped Technik trim with quattro and a front-drive, more basic Komfort model. Both were powered by the turbo 2.0-liter TSFI four-cylinder with a healthy 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, and both were paired to a seven-speed S tronic transmission. The engine feels robust and is more powerful than the one it replaces, but combined with the A4’s lighter weight, the car just feels so lithe.
The transmission has a tendency to judder slightly at low speeds and from a stop, giving you a slipping sensation for a fraction of a second before it catches and finds the correct gear. This isn’t a huge deal because it happens so rarely and it sorts itself out quickly. Once underway, the seven-speed DCT is smooth like a Daniel Craig as James Bond pickup line. Gear changes are quick and imperceptible, and it always seems to know what gear to be in to keep the engine in its sweet spot. Passing slower cars is quick, with the transmission not afraid to drop a gear or two if needed.
Beautiful Interior Filled With New Tech
Inside, the driver and passengers are treated to more headroom and legroom. This is amazing because the new A4 is bigger but actually weighs less than it used to. Of course, living up to Audi standards, the interior is lush, covered in tasteful materials, and is tightly screwed together. There are generous storage cubbies, and there’s even a perfect little slot that holds the key. I’m not a huge fan of the rocker-style gear selector; You push a button to park, and rock the joystick-like shifter back and forth to put the car into gear. I prefer predefined gates for each gear, so this just seems like a useless innovation to me, but that’s where my complaints end.
Although there is still no touchscreen, Audi has made its MMI interface with its rotary knob controller much more user-friendly by using fewer buttons and by making the scroll wheel more intuitive: Scroll clockwise to move down the list and counter-clockwise to move back or left. Bless. This makes the biggest difference. The rotary wheel also has a touchpad on top where you can type letters into the system by drawing them with your finger. The touchpad also recognizes pinch to zoom gestures for maps. The system makes it easy to do tasks like pair a phone via Bluetooth, find a radio station or input a navigation destination. There is also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
The A4 will also come with LTE and Wi-Fi, a great addition that allows the car to use Google Earth for its maps display and use real-time traffic updates. There is also a Qi inductive charging box in the center console that will wirelessly charge compatible smartphones.
The highlight of the interior is the 12-inch TFT “virtual cockpit” dashboard display, which is fully customizable and can be configured to display whatever information you want. It looks fantastic without being distracting, and combined with a colour head-up display that has all the relevant information you could need, you never have to take your eyes off the road for too long. One of the great things about the HUD is that its height can be adjusted by a control to the left of the steering column; other systems require you to adjust it though the infotainment system, which is always a headache.
One of my favorite features is the 360-degree camera that gives you a full view of what’s happening around the car. You can toggle between different views with the touch of a button, and this is great for low-speed maneuvers like navigating a tight alleyway or parking in a small spot.
New Safety Features
Audi says its new A4 has 33 driver assistance features. Many of there features are laying the groundwork for piloted driving. Here are some highlights:
-Adaptive cruise control: Uses radar and cameras to keep a safe distance between you car and the car in front. You can adjust how many car lengths you want to keep away from the car in front. It is very easy to use and works seamlessly.
-Traffic jam assist: A take on adaptive cruise control that basically drives the car in stop and go traffic, keeping a safe distance between you and the car in front.
-Predictive efficiency assistant: Uses radar and GPS to display an icon on the dash and the HUD to tell a driver to let off the gas because they will be stopping or slowing down soon. This helps increase fuel efficiency.
-Active lane assist and side assist: Helps you stay in your lane and prevents you from drifting into other lanes by warning a driver with a rumble, audio or visual cue. If the driver doesn’t take action, the car will provide a gentle steering correction.
-Cross traffic assist: When backing up out of a spot, lets the driver know if there are people or cars coming from the left or right of the car.
-Other notable features include: Pre-sense city (detects pedestrians or other cars to help avoid collisions), parking assist, exit warning, turn assist, collision avoidance assist and camera-based traffic sign recognition.
The Verdict: 2017 Audi A4 Review
The 2017 Audi A4 is a car I would buy (if I weren’t on a journalist’s salary), and this a car I would recommend to anyone shopping this segment. If I had to choose between a BMW 3 Series, a Mercedes C-Class or an Audi A4, the A4 wins my vote. Less snobby than the Benz and less common and douchey than a 3 Series, the A4 has more swagger, more technology and just gives me better vibes.
The sedan does a really good impression of a more high-end car like its A8 big brother. Its balanced and agile driving, luxurious interior, sophisticated chassis, mature yet bubbly disposition, long list of available safety features and technology make it a segment leader. I can’t wait to see what the S4 will be like.
The 2017 Audi A4 will be available in early 2016, with pricing and fuel economy to be announced closer to its official launch.
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