Audi calls its re-engineered 2017 A4 the best-performing version yet, though it took nine generations. Under its new, more elegantly styled skin is an autocross of sophisticated electronic sensors for near-piloted driving, but it’s also is a balanced driver’s car of mean intensity.
The A4’s electro-mechanical steering is a standout for its sensitivity and precision, but the car control — with the magnetic ride air suspension — pulls up smile after smile as all-wheel drive teases the driver to push harder through the next corner. The quattro all-wheel drive system has a self-locking differential that can send up to 70 percent of power to the front wheels and 85 percent to the rear. Braking is absolute and smooth from vented disc brakes — 13.3-inch rotors front and 13 inches rear.
The driving experience has a seat-of-the-pants, rear-drive feel when used in “Dynamic” mode. And the Hankook Ventus Evo summer tires are accommodating enablers. On a vigorous run along challenging back roads, I could not get a whimper from the tires. So obviously, I wasn’t driving hard enough, but the A4 made such testing safe and sane.
Sold in front-wheel or all-wheel drive in three trim levels, starting prices range from $38,250 to $46,850 for front-wheel drive and $40,350 to $48,950 for quattro all-wheel drive. (Pricing includes the $950 freight charge from Neckarsulm, Germany.)
The MSRP is $1,400 more than the 2016 model — but that’s for a larger car with more standard features. Among them: keyless locking and push-button ignition, rearview camera, virtual cockpit, acoustic windshield, leather-trimmed upholstery and smartphone interface (CarPlay or Android). Safety features include pre-sense city pedestrian safety braking system, xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights and dynamic LED taillights with dynamic turn signals.
Today’s tester, a top-line Prestige quattro model, was $54,275, which included all the factory options except the $750 Sport package and rear side air bags, $350. As equipped, the price is equitable to the competition.
Audi says the A4 is the most connected car in the segment, which includes the Acura TLX, BMW 3-Series, Jaguar XE, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Lexus IS.
Under the skin, a vast number of sensors weave a foundation for assistance systems that are just a sensor away from piloted driving. Among the available technologies: traffic jam assist, which detects hands on the wheel and uses slow-speed adaptive cruise to follow traffic. Turn assist will alert to and prevent a left-turn crash by a tap on the brakes. And vehicle exit assist monitors danger from behind.
Supporting systems include a front camera and radar, front ultrasonic sensors, rear radar and rear ultrasonic sensors and a top-view camera.
The new model has a lower and wider stance. The car is an inch longer and about a half-inch wider, but the weight was trimmed by 99 pounds in front-drive cars and 66 pounds in the quattro models. The new lightweight suspension and brake parts saved 46 pounds. The curb weight is 3,626 pounds.
A low 0.27 coefficient of drag was achieved, in part, by repositioning the mirrors, and adding fascia air intakes and underbody spoilers.
All models have a 252-horsepower, turbocharged and direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 273 foot-pounds of torque at its peak from 1,600-4,500 rpm. Audi cites 0-60 mph acceleration in 5.7 seconds for the quattro and 6.1 seconds for front-drive. Fuel economy for quattro models is 24 mpg city, 31 highway and 24 combined, using the recommended premium fuel. I was averaging 26 mpg into the low 30s.
The interior has a horizontally layered dashboard with air vents that stretch across the entire width. The air is diffused and does not hit you directly. Touch-predictive buttons light up when a finger gets near and some buttons light up to help you find the right one.
Audi’s virtual cockpit, a 12.3-inch digital dashboard, is a dramatic and clear electronic display that replaces traditional analog gauges. It is engaging to view and helpful to the driver for its intuitive display. In Google Maps mode, there was a reassuring element to see my house and neighborhood.
Sightlines are open over the hood and over the shoulder. And there are plenty of convenient charging and storage areas.
The raised back seat has a butts-down, knees-up position to maximize legroom of 35.7 inches. The center position is slim (the seatback folds 35/30/35) with footroom complicated by a tall center tunnel and vent console (with controls for fan, seat heaters and a 12-volt plug). The 13 cubic foot trunk is broad with a low liftover and cargo tiedowns.
There are slim lines of distinction between the sedans in this segment. The A4 is more techy with Audi’s engineering DNA for determined drivability.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage