Our world is on the cusp of some remarkable automotive breakthroughs. Just on the horizon, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, fully autonomous systems, and anxiety-free zero emission powertrains will transform how we get from A to B. We stand to gain the safest, most environmentally friendly, and connected vehicles ever imagined. But we aren’t there yet.
Today, our cars mix intelligent driver assistance systems with human error, connectivity with distraction, and efficient engineering with petrol-burning engines. Our reality doesn’t sound all that great, until you change your perspective. Instead of concluding that we haven’t achieved a perfect picture of modernity, consider that we’re actually at the pinnacle of our current technology.
The 2017 Audi A4 embodies the latter state of mind. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is the most efficient representation of an internal combustion motor, its driver assistance systems are advanced without being overbearing, and its convenience technology looks and feels cutting edge.
Refined inside and out
The ninth generation Audi A4 is significantly improved beyond the well-loved eight-generation model, but you’d never guess from the exterior.
The compact luxury sedan’s physique is sharpened and dimensionally larger, but its design language strongly resembles previous years. Cues from the all-new Audi Q7 like its slotted hexagonal grille, trapezoidal intakes, slender taillights, and pronounced character line find their way into the 2017 A4’s panels. My tester adds 18-inch dark gray five-spoke wheels and aluminum high-gloss window surrounds to contrast brilliant white paint. It’s a confounding balance of subtlety and boldness, and boy does it look good.
Inside, metal and leather intertwine in elegant shapes. Narrow air vents from the center console to the passenger window create a sense of width while the driver’s side is dominated by Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display. Less cohesive to the cabin’s artful appearance is an 8.3-inch infotainment display mounted to the dash. A marginally less intrusive 7.0-inch unit comes standard, but neither monitor can be tucked neatly into the dash like other Audis. While the new TT forgoes the center screen, Audi presumes A4 owners will more regularly host passengers in need of amusement.
Related: 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus Review
As part of the $3,250 Technology package, Virtual Cockpit features a customizable screen with speedometer, tachometer, Google Maps, media settings, and vehicle information shown at 60 frames per second. Controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel command the driver display, while Audi’s updated MMI system is accessed via four toggles (toggles make everything better), a scroll wheel, and a touchpad to draw-in navigation inputs. MMI is about as simple and intelligent as infotainment systems come, but Audi also offers Android Auto and Apple Carplay for those who prefer smartphone functionality.
Convenience features aside, the cockpit is comfortable, spacious enough for four large adults, and contemporary. Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels add segment-topping features, but even the entry-level Premium model is equipped with ample luxury for the money.
Beneath its modest bodywork, the 2017 Audi A4 houses one tremendous brain. It’s not just smart for its class, it’s smart for the industry. The A4’s Prestige trim boasts advanced autonomous driver aides that help ease the pain of traffic and could potentially avoid a nasty collision.
In addition to now-familiar technologies like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, cross-traffic alert, and low-speed braking assist, the ninth generation A4 introduces Turn Assist and Exit Assist – firsts in this segment. These programs target two common sources of accidents by adapting current radar and camera-based sensors. Turn Assist works by calculating whether you have enough space to make a left turn based on approaching traffic. If the system deems your maneuver is dangerous, the car will apply braking to stop you. Exit Assist monitors incoming vehicles and cyclists as you open the door, and will flash warning lights to prevent incident.
I first experienced these systems during the 2017 Q7 launch, but their availability in one of Audi’s most affordable models shows how the brand prioritizes safety. Expect to see this tech in every new Audi before long.
Can brains and brawn co-exist? Yes – in fact, Audi’s engineering intellect enables the A4’s performance potency.
Despite the A4’s extensive interior equipment and larger size, it loses between 70 and 100 pounds (depending on trim) compared to its predecessor. Big contributors to the A4’s leaner figure include a new braking system with fixed aluminum calipers, a forged aluminum suspension, and an electromagnetic steering rack. Capitalizing on the weight loss, Audi’s updated 2.0-liter turbocharged motor now makes 252 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. These figures represent gains of 32hp and 15 lb-ft.
An improved power-to-weight ratio makes the 2017 A4 feel much quicker off the line than its predecessor, especially when equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive. Acceleration is a hoot, but the A4 really shines on the twisties. An updated five-link suspension, matched with Audi’s malleable Drive Select adaptive damping system flattens the sport sedan through every bend. Alas, engagement remains limited. Even when ripping though Audi’s seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission and streaking through corners, the A4 doesn’t incite emotion.
Perhaps it’s the competency of Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system, which distributes torque so efficiently that traction loss is nearly impossible – even with stability control turned off. Maybe it’s the artificially weighted, yet listless, electric steering. Whatever the clinical culprit, there’s still plenty of fun to be had behind the wheel of the 2017 A4. Don’t expect the shenanigans of a rear-wheel drive sport sedan, but do expect impressive precision. Those hankering for a more captivating drive should probably hold out for the upcoming S4.
Consumers shopping compact luxury sport sedans have abundant choices. BMW’s 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class are the 2017 A4’s most formidable foes, but Cadillac’s ATS, Lexus’ IS, and Jaguar’s new XE would also love to steal Audi’s lunch. BMW, Jaguar, and Cadillac’s flavor of performance will undoubtedly woo the most enthusiastic of drivers, while Mercedes-Benz and Lexus battle for style and comfort-focused commuters. Each model has its merits, but all except the Jag have gone a couple years without major update.
The ninth generation A4’s technology, advanced as it is, has the shortest shelf life. The current rate of innovation dictates trend-setting safety and convenience features will debut every few years. For now, though, the A4’s aluminum construction, Virtual Cockpit, and autonomous systems hold a clear edge over the compact luxury competition.
It’s hard to argue with the 2017 Audi A4’s proposition. Sleek styling, formidable performance, sophisticated safety features, and high-value packaging check all the right boxes. The new A4 is a smart buy for anyone sizing up the $40-50K sedan market.