The 2017 Audi A4 advances its sport-sedan credentials in lots of incremental ways, but the virtual cockpit drops the digital mic.
The sport-sedan niche is full of great cars. It’s not just a 3-Series game anymore, not with the ATS, the C-Class, and the Q50 grabbing plenty of laurels of their own. The entire class oozes credibility, even before the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia have had time to make an impact.
Count the Audi A4, available in a dizzying array of Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige trim levels, in with this talented crew. In the past two decades, the A4 has taken Audi's reputation for taut styling and good road manners, and elevated it with lots and lots of technology. It's an easy 7.8 out of 10 overall for us. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
How can the completely new 2017 A4 keep the kudos coming? With progress on all fronts, particularly the digital ones.
2017 Audi A4 styling and performance
The Audi A4 isn't adventurous outside, but inside, the virtual cockpit vaults it into the future. It wears an aero-smooth body that doesn't venture too far from the outline that Audi's applied since the A4 was new in 1996, but the details have been progressively crisped up and refactored. The new grille has a more geometrically pleasing look, the front end a more athletic stance, the rear a more pronounced wedge.
Inside, the A4 wraps tomorrow's technology into a cabin that's spartan in the most pleasant way. The strong horizontal theme of the dash harks back to the Audi 4000s of the '80s, from the trim strip of vents that bisects the cabin to the toggle-switch controls that govern the climate control. The subdued cockpit makes the A4's digital displays stand out in even higher contrast: on most models, a wide, high-resolution display switches dynamically from navigation to instrumentation while a center panel follows duplicates and augments that information. It's Boeing-grade interfaces, drilled down to the mainstream sport sedan realm.
Audi's clarified the A4 lineup over time, to the point where the new car only offers one engine available in two states of tune. With its turbo inline-4 and choice between manual and dual-clutch transmissions, the A4's powertrain makes perfect sense for the road ahead.
The late introduction A4 Ultra serves as the entry level, efficiency-oriented model, offering only one configuration and two trim levels: 190 horsepower, the dual-clutch automatic, and front-wheel drive.
The more mainstream, and pricier, A4 boasts 252 hp, but it offers either the 7-speed dual-clutch or a 6-speed manual and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. It's smooth and strong, with 0-60 mph times well below 6 seconds, and a nice, raspy 4-cylinder engine note to its credit. Shifts are mostly neat and clean, and the occasional low-speed hitch is a good reminder that Audi's slushy CVTs of the past are thankfully history.
Excellent straight-line performance by the A4 still nets fuel economy of up to 37 mpg highway—and the A4 makes big strides in ride and handling, thanks to a stiff new body structure and its first-ever adaptive dampers. Its five-link suspension has been redesigned, its electric power steering re-geared, and its brakes re-sorted to give the A4 road manners that come close as can be to the outgoing S4.
We have yet to drive the A4 Ultra or the manual transmission A4.
We've put hundreds of miles on cars with the available sport-suspension tune, with the adaptive suspension, and with summer tires; the A4's capable road manners shine through, even if the steering doesn't deliver copious amounts of road information. It's blessed with composed and responsive handling that doesn't quite have the precision of an ATS or Q50S, but does outpoint those rivals in ride quality. It also has driver-selectable modes for the transmission, steering, throttle, and dampers that can be tweaked individually—a control freak's delight.
2017 Audi A4 comfort, safety, and features
Audi has solved its rear-seat issues in the 2017 A4. It's always offered snug, comfortable front seats with long-distance space and support. In the past the A4 slacked off on back-seat accommodations, with a low cushion and not much knee room. The new car's extra inch of wheelbase and additional head room make it perfectly capable of carrying a 6-foot passenger behind a 6-foot driver with some knee room to spare. The trunk is large and regularly shaped, and small-item storage is good; there's even a semi-secret chamber to the left of the steering wheel, big enough for a couple of water bottles.
The IIHS has named the A4 a Top Safety Pick+ with good scores and advanced safety tech, but the 2017 Audi A4 pushes the autonomous-driving envelope with a suite of safety add-ons. All A4 sedans come with a rearview camera and Bluetooth; options include lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-follow capability up to 40 mph, and a warning system that pings if you open a door into oncoming traffic. Surprisingly, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking remain an option on most versions.
The new A4 is priced from just below $36,000, and for that, Audi makes a statement with technology and features. All cars get Drive Select, a sunroof, leather, power front seats, 17-inch wheels, and premium audio with Bluetooth audio streaming. All-wheel drive is available on all versions. Premium Plus models add 18-inch wheels, parking sensors, and a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, while Prestige editions have a head-up display, surround-view cameras, and navigation. LED headlights, ventilated seats, and adaptive dampers are among the major recommended options.
Undoubtedly, it's the A4's splash of technology that will drive home its reputation for advancing the sport-sedan niche. Virtual cockpit aside, the A4 also links effortlessly to smartphones, and offers a high-speed, in-car data feed by subscription. Its new infotainment system accepts input from voice, steering-wheel controls, even from letters traced on its console-mounted rotary dial.
The new A4 will even talk to your smart watch and will let you lock and unlock it via a mobile app. We're a long, long way from where we've come—and the new A4 does its part to move smartly toward new horizons.