It’s still every bit as lively and dynamic as diehard Audi fans expect it to be.
I’m not an Audi fan-boy, I insist. No matter what my colleagues accuse me of, I bring a completely neutral and unbiased opinion to every single review. It just so happens that the last few Audi products tested have impressed me to a point of wanting to put my own money where my mouth is. The successor to the B8-series model, the 2017 Audi A4 TFSI quattro has some pretty big shoes to fill. Its sporty predecessor, the S4 (reviewed here) has earned a place in my personal hall of fame, and that’s no easy feat. All new and riding on a completely new chassis this year, we were eager to see how the new A4 stacks up against seriously tough competition.
Though it may not look like a huge change, or even a full redesign, the new A4 (chassis code B9) is completely redone. Audi has never been about overly bold designs, rather opting for a more conservative take on their models. The A4 incorporates all of the standard Audi cues, including the large grille, LED daytime running lights, and stylish lines along the body. The taillights are LED as well, and do a little bit of an animation aiming outwards. I think it’s a grand design, and it will age just as well as the previous generation did. The A4 isn’t as aggressively styled as the current Mercedes-Benz C-Class (reviewed here) but it has a history of aging gracefully.
In tune with maintaining a humble stance while evolving appropriately, the A4 retains a 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder as its sole powertrain option. The V6 has been gone for a few years, but the 2.0T has now been massaged to produce 252 horsepower from 5,600RPM to 6,000RPM, and 273 lb-ft of torque, peaking between 1,600 and 4,500RPM. In this specification, with quattro all-wheel-drive, the A4 weighs just over 3,600 pounds. The new engine feels very responsive, and low-end torque is vastly improved over the outgoing model. The additional horsepower is welcomed, and the transmission does an excellent job at putting this power to the wheels.
Curiously enough, the regular A4 gets the seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission, while the performance-oriented S4 gets a sport-tuned eight-speed automatic sourced from ZF. On the outgoing B8 model, these were reversed, with the S-tronic reserved for the beastly S4. Regardless, the S-tronic is extremely responsive and remains one of my favourite two-pedal transmissions available, second only to Porsche’s PDK (reviewed here). Shifts are crisp and instantaneous, and the paddle shifters are perfectly responsive, if not a bit too small.
Included on our fully loaded A4 S-Line was Audi Drive Select, which alters throttle response, transmission shift points, and steering sensitivity between four levels. These levels are Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, and Individual. The last of these allows you to alter the engine/transmission, steering, and adaptive cruise control individually, tailoring the vehicle to your preferences. I spent a good portion of the week in this setting, with the engine and transmission set to “Comfort”, and the steering in “Dynamic”.
In this setting, the car is still decently peppy, while the steering weight is in its tightest setting. It’s still electrically assisted power steering, so there is zero analog feel here, but the A4 still feels Teutonic. Point it in any given direction and the car will corner as required. Pushing it hard into corners will result in either oversteer or understeer, depending on the setting, but it handles very well. The BMW 328i (reviewed here) is the handling benchmark in this segment, but the A4 feels livelier and noticeably more refined. I also prefer quattro all-wheel-drive to BMW’s xDrive system.
Our car was not optioned with adaptive dampers, so I was curious to see how the ride quality was compared to both the previous model as well as current competitors. The new A4 is buttery smooth over road imperfections, with the MLB platform absorbing bumps with no fuss and communicating minimal road stress to the driver. Overall operation is noticeably smoother than the previous car, and road noise is also minimal. Multiple passengers pointed out the quietness of the car, and what’s particularly attractive is that Audi has managed to eliminate any perception of speed without compromising the vehicle’s sporty personality.
Not only is the A4 smooth and easy to get along with, it’s very efficient despite the increase in power and torque. It still requires 91-octane premium fuel, but owners of the B8 2.0T online are regularly reporting 10L/100km or higher in combined driving. The majority of our test period consisted of city driving, with plenty of rush hour idling. No matter what we did, the A4’s on-board display showed an overall average of 8.7L/100km, and we saw a few highway jaunts displaying trip averages in the 6.8L/100km range. A switch to the eight-speed automatic rather than the S-tronic box would probably improve highway mileage even further.
The biggest departure from the outgoing A4 is on the interior, where Audi has pulled out all of the stops. The previous-generation car’s cabin was pretty high quality, but a few of the materials were hard and the gloss black finish throughout didn’t age all that well. The new model is much more luxurious, and the interior is designed around Audi’s new Virtual Cockpit, which is the centerpiece of the whole thing – we’ll get to this in a bit. The new climate control system is much easier to use, and the heads-up display uses a very German font and indicates speed and navigation directions with the utmost clarity.
Virtual Cockpit debuted in North America on the new TT S (reviewed here), and the dual-screen layout as featured here showed up with the 2017 Q7 (reviewed here). Simply put, this system allows the driver to see a full navigation map, Bluetooth connectivity controls, and audio information along with the trip computer in the instrument cluster. This prevents the need to glance over and look at the large center-mounted screen on the dashboard. Virtual Cockpit also ensures that the speedometer and tachometer are always displayed (their size can be decreased to be out of the way), and it’s a very easy system to get used to.
For the most part, we left the navigation map open on the Virtual Cockpit, leaving audio display to the center screen. This not only is great for knowing where you are at all times, but frankly also looks awesome. A4s sold in other markets around the world (including the United States) use AudiConnect, which allows the car to communicate with Google and use full satellite view within the instrument cluster. Canadian models will receive this in coming months, but it hasn’t been fully legalized here at the time of this writing.
Worth noting on our A4 is the spectacular Bang & Olufsen stereo on board, which now uses traditional USB ports instead of the proprietary Audi MMI cable. This latest version of MMI (Multimedia Interface) is the best ever, and uses very sharp graphics and an elegant hockey puck-shaped controller to browse the system. The car was able to index our iPod far quicker than many competitors, and the search function is quick and easy to use. The top of the controller also allows written text input via touch, which is a sleek feature.
As expected from the Germans, the safety suite in the A4 is right on par with its rivals, and one step ahead of the rest of the industry. The Adaptive Cruise Control is configurable, and very intelligent. Audi Pre-Sense (collision warning) is sensitive and warns the driver with a loud beep if it detects a stationary object or a vehicle ahead braking. Get any closer, and the car will automatically come to a complete stop – fortunately we didn’t have to sample this in our test. What’s new though is a 360-degree birds-eye view camera that’s one of the best across the industry, providing a clear high-definition view of the A4’s surroundings.
Audi has priced the A4 right where it should be for its class, with a starting price of $43,200. Our test vehicle was the top-trim Technik model with all of the S-Line goodies, including 19” wheels, Audi Drive Select, sport flat-bottomed steering wheel, and the nicest available seats. The Technik line starts at $50,600. S-Line ($2,250) also includes sport suspension, stainless steel pedals, brushed aluminum inlays, etcetera. The Advanced Driver Assistance Package ($2,000), Comfort Seat Package (ventilated seats, $1,350), Manhattan Grey Metallic paint ($890), rear window shades ($300), heads-up display ($1,000), and rear side airbags ($500) bring the total of our car up to just under $60,000. It’s not cheap, but it’s right in line with the rest of the segment.
The A4 is a great car on its own, but how it competes within its class is what will ultimately determine its success. The BMW 328i (reviewed here) received a refresh for the 2016 model year, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was all-new for 2015. Two easily forgotten contenders are the Lexus IS 200t and the Volvo S60 T5. What’s significant is that every single one of these cars is powered with a 2.0L turbo-four. I’ve spent a good amount of time with all of these vehicles, and as it currently stands, the Audi has the most refined powertrain (BMW’s N20 motor is very noisy), the most engaging chassis, and the best technology suite.
My personal favourite iteration of A4 was the B7 from about a decade ago. A close friend owns a supercharged S4 Avant in Nogaro Blue with a six-speed manual, and it’s just insane. The car has advanced considerably in a decade, but it’s great news for purists that it hasn’t lost a single ounce of its soul in the process. The 2017 Audi A4 TFSI quattro is a bit larger than its predecessors, but it’s still every bit as lively and dynamic as diehard Audi fans expect it to be, all while maintaining its grown-up, refined and Teutonic nature. The beefed-up S4 isn’t far off from our shores, and initial tests of that car reveal that it’s even better. For now though, the A4 fulfills all expectations and delivers a technology suite and overall driving experience that’s right at the top of a very competitive segment.