BY JOHN COLE (THE TIMES-TRIBUNE)
It’s been two decades since the Audi A4 breathed life back into the German automaker’s stateside presence.
Following a now-debunked “unintended acceleration” scandal involving Audi sedans that allegedly took off even with the brake depressed, the performance division of Volkswagen looked like it might be done for in the US market.
The A4’s winning combination of Teutonic engineering, sporty performance, a luxurious interior, solid construction and then-competitive pricing (they then undercut similar German models from Mercedes-Benz and BMW by thousands of dollars) put Audi back in the running with American buyers, however.
Audi put its bread-and-butter sedan under the knife for the 2017 model year, yielding a car that’s sleeker, quicker, more fuel-efficient and techier than the previous model, which was in itself is no slouch in the compact premium sedan segment.
What the big news? Well, for starters, there’s the mainstay 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine making a stout 252 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds (370 Newton-meters) of twist. The EPA estimates the engine will deliver 24/31/27 miles per gallon in city/highway/combined driving with the standard automatic transmission and front-wheel drive or FWD (subtract a mpg or two for all-wheel drive or AWD Quattro models).
Audi also offers a less-powerful version of the turbo four making 190 hp and 236 foot-pounds (320 Nm) of torque while delivering an EPA-estimated 27/37/31 mpg in city/highway/combined driving.
All A4s receive a seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission (essentially an automated manual tranny that operates like a standard automatic). AWD Quattro models can be had with an optional six-speed manual stick shift. This new set-up results in a car that’s quick enough to keep up with der Joneses. Audi estimates a 5.6-second run from stop to 60 mph in the FWD model, a number that felt spot-on from where I sat.
Other changes for 2017 include a longer list of standard safety and technology features like intelligent cruise control, pedestrian and vehicle collision warning and braking systems, rearview camera, Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity, and other items.
Evolutionary exterior changes
Changes to the exterior are largely evolutionary — the new car sports sharper creases and leaner lines than the previous version, and the brand-identifying front grille has become more trapezoidal in shape.
The interior is where Audi got busy for 2017. The comprehensively redesigned interior is comfortable, capacious and exudes an elegant, high-tech feel. The completely redesigned center console-mounted MMI infotainment system improves on what already was one of the most user-friendly interfaces in car-dom. Combined with the front-and-center LED display mounted atop the dash and optional Virtual Cockpit display, the new A4 comes off as a gadget-packed tour de force.
There are three trim levels — Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige — that are offered with FWD or Quattro systems and powered by the more powerful (and thirstier) turbo-four, while the Ultra trim level gets the more fuel-efficient engine.
Pricing starts just shy of the 40-grand mark and quickly spirals upward with trim appointments and options packages. Base A4’s are well-equipped with standard xenon headlamps, collision mitigation systems, sunroof, heated sideview mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats with lumbar settings for the driver, tri-zone climate control and more.
Our tester was a midpack Premium Plus Quattro with the S-Tronic automatic tranny. Its list of goodies included auto-dimming and power-folding sideview mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, driver’s seat memory, 18-inch alloy wheels, performance S-Line exterior bling, parking assist system and a thumping Bang & Olufsen Surround Sound system. The asking price for all this Germanic wonderfulness ballooned to a sobering $47,900, though — a reminder that like all premium-level rides, Audis ain’t cheap.
The new A4 excels in terms of handling and passenger comfort. Suspension tuning strikes a good compromise in delivering a smooth, quiet ride and inspiring corner-carving confidence. Steering response is very precise with nicely weighted effort and excellent feedback.
The S-Tronic picked its shift points quickly and seamlessly. I managed to squeeze out 24.6 mpg during a week of combined driving.
The firm and supportive front seats are all-day comfortable, while the split-folding second row offers enough room for adults on short hops. The 13-cubic-foot trunk is about average for the segment.
A4 2.0T Quattro Premium Plus
The 2017 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0T Quattro Premium Plus is a four-door five-passenger compact luxury sedan with base/as-tested prices of $39,400/$47,900, respectively.
Engine and transmission: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, 252 hp, 273 foot-pounds of torque, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
EPA estimates: 24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, 27 mpg overall.
The good: Powerful and reasonably fuel-efficient turbo-four engine provides plentiful acceleration; top-drawer cabin design; smooth and quiet road manners; nimble handling and AWD surefootedness; room up front and in back for adults; spacious trunk; solidly screwed-together chassis feels built to last; tech galore; intuitive multimedia interface.
The bad: Required a bit of contortion to slide my ample frame into the driver’s seat; four-banger buzz; options quickly jack up the asking price.
Bottom line: With its completely redesigned A4, Audi continues to help set the bar for well-engineered German automotive luxury and performance.