We recently read a comment that the Audi A4 has become so refined and smooth – perhaps overly so – that why not just pocket the cash and get a Toyota Camry?
This is a shopping decision that faces us in many places in modern life.
Is that fancy artisanal sprouted bread really worth three times the price of the generic loaf at the local grocery? The freshly barista-poured Peaberry better than smudgy carafe of regular at the neighborhood donut house?
And now we have an all-new Audi A4.
Are we buying?
Well, this may not be as easy at is sounds. First of all: the 2017 A4's design. If you liked the previous model, you’ll love the new one. But if you were hoping to wow your friends with your 2017 A4, they might not notice. The changes are subtle outside - to the point where its LEDs are the best clue.
We don’t mind that one bit. Audis – at least the A4 – have never been shouty like other sport sedans. There is a little added aggressiveness to the new design, especially the LED head and taillights, and it looks like the dry-cleaners have put a nice clean crease on the lines. Our tester in Ibis White with the S-line trim and sporty 18” 5-spoke, came off confident and reserved.
While the changes might not catch the eye, there’s even less to catch the wind. The A4’s impressively low 0.27 coefficient of drag means it slices through the air like a Ginsu knife.
Inside, there’s more to get excited about. Like the TT we recently tested, the A4 features Virtual Cockpit, a large 12.3-inch TFT screen where you’d expect to find traditional gauges. And like the TT, it serves up a beautiful image, letting you supersize the speedo and tach so you can concentrate on that info, or minimize them to take in the ultra-sharp navigation display.
Unlike the TT, the A4 also features a tablet-like screen in the center of the dash, so you can parse out the information, and let your passengers share in on some of the fun.
Like all Audi’s in recent memory, the A4 makes your visit memorable with high quality materials including real aluminum, presented in subtle, sculpted shapes. It looks like it would be at home in Dwell Magazine.
More than a style statement, the controls that fall easily to hand feel good when they get there, with a solid heft, and easily-recognized shapes. Thanks to the redesign, the front seating area is a bit more spacious, and those in back enjoy some extra legroom. Audi sweats the details, and it shows.
One detail missing on our tester was the optional Sport Package. While we found the seats comfy, we were so impressed with the optional Sport Seats in our TT, we were sad not to find them here. For $750 you not only get glorious thrones for your royal posterior, you also get a swanky black cloth headliner, 4-way lumbar support and perhaps most importantly, a sport suspension. Bargain.
Even without the Sport Pack, the A4 will keep the driver entertained.
In normal, around-town driving, the Audi is serene and silent. Limo-silent. Bentley-baiting silent. The steering is light, but direct. Our tester’s optional 19-speaker, 755-watt, 3D Bang & Olufsen Surround Sound System easily filled the cabin, and all was right in the world. You can’t ask for a better commuter.
Well, actually you can. And Audi has the answer. Optional Adaptive Cruise Control with Traffic Jam Assist provides gentle acceleration, braking and steering guidance up to 40 mph in congested traffic. When traffic clears, set the cruise control and the car monitors where you are using GPS and map info, and automatically slows for sharp turns. Pretty amazing.
And for $1,800, surprisingly affordable. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the top-of-the-line A4 Prestige, which would have added over $7,000 to the base price of our tester.
Though we didn’t have Otto the Autopilot handling our daily slog, there was still plenty to enjoy with our A4.
Like we noted in our TT review, Audi knows how to build strong turbo fours, and the A4 punches a hole in the air with 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter turbo pulls hard and gets angrier as you rev it, with a nice snarl as you reach the redline.
Replacing last year’s 8-speed auto is a 7-speed Dual Clutch, and like parent company’s VW DSG, it snaps off shifts with authority, and responds incredibly quickly when you ask for a lower cog. Best of all, special tuning means it’s smooth and refined around town, making it a best of both-worlds choice.
And if that world is slick, snowy, or just plain twisty, Audi’s superb Quattro all-wheel drive system is there to save the day. Like the TT, the system selects a rearward bias in normal driving, giving better steering feel, and allows the A4 to turn into corners precisely and confidently.
All this enjoyment comes in standard comfort setting. Put the Audi Drive Select into Dynamic mode, and things really get interesting. The steering firms up, the engine and transmission come to life, and the conservative sedan takes off its necktie and pops open its collar.
Lean on it, you find the magic of years of German engineering and craftsmanship. This is an easy car to drive very quickly, and probably makes you look like a better driver than you probably are.
Which gets us back to that question we asked earlier, whether a Camry wouldn’t make you just as happy. In the sense that they’re both 4-door sedans, whose job is to get your around comfortably and quickly, the Toyota does an admirable job.
But the Audi offers more. There’s a depth and a subtlety underneath that efficient veneer. There’s a tactile sensation in the steering and the ride. Precision. An advanced level of communication. Like we said, Audi doesn’t shout at you, but instead conveys loads of information in quiet, measured tones. Some may just not have the ear for it.
If it does speak to you, there is a premium to be paid. Our tester started at $39,400. Adding the Premium Plus Package brings you into luxury land, and adds $3,800. Another $3,250 will be removed from your checking account for the Technology Package which includes the Virtual Cockpit TFT screen we love so dearly. A mere $500 means those in back enjoy heated seats and the driver enjoys a heated steering wheel. All tallied, our A4 carried a sticker of $47,900.
Over at Bavarian Motor Works (or is it Werks?) the 330i starts at $38,750. Add all-wheel drive, and you’re at $40,750. Purists that we are, we'd probably just stick with the rear wheel drive on Bimmer. Loaded up, it prices out comparably. The 3-series is more the pure performance sedan. You lose a bit of the composure and calm of the Audi, but trades off greater driver involvement. It’s a matter of taste.
Mercedes would be your other player, and here we’d go for the C300 4matic, which starts at $40,950 and builds from there. Like the Audi, the Benz is more of a luxury car with a sporting side, while the C300’s styling inside and out is more adventurous, which is either a pro or con depending on what you like. Get careless with the options though, and it can get pricey.
Like the TT, the A4 seems to be the value player in its segment.
Lots to think about.
As we sit back and sip our Peaberry, munching contentedly on a nice piece of artisanal toast, we know the new Audi A4 in just better than normal cars.
You definitely get what you pay for -- in the A4 that means stellar drive manners and a tech-showpiece of a new cabin.