SAN DIEGO, California — Remember that whiz kid at the high-school science fair, the one who put your potato battery to shame with his grilled-cheese-making, dog-walking, CPR-performing robot? That’s the new 2017 Audi A4, and right about now BMW should be looking at its starchy 3 Series wondering, “Why couldn’t we think of that?”
It’s this same tech-savvy kid who, now that he’s grown up and landed a well-paying gig, Audi is recruiting into the driver’s seat of the new 2017 A4. Audi tells us that this whiz kid and his cohort now make up 75 percent of the active car-buying public, and eight out of 10 of these millennials want a premium or luxury car. Given that they’ve been raised on a steady diet of technology, it makes sense that the 2017 Audi A4 looks to get their attention with infotainment, driver-assistance, and safety advancements.
Reeling in the tech junkies
The headlining tech, of course, is Audi’s new Virtual Cockpit. Available as part of the tech package on Premium Plus models and up of the 2017 A4, the handsome interface is the focal point of the new car’s interior. Functionality is even more impressive than the crisp looks. It’s a breeze switching between navigation and music menus without taking your hands off the steering wheel or turning your eyes away from the road. Forget hunting through labyrinthine menus. Everything just works naturally and intuitively right down to digital speedometer and tachometer needles that mimic the real deal, and we weren’t shocked to hear an entire Audi graphics team was devoted to the development of this single feature.
Just as in the new Audi Q7 SUV, the 2017 Audi A4 also employs a new 12.3-inch video screen in the center stack as a display for the latest MMI infotainment software. The rotary command wheel on the center console remains useful and easy to control, but the updates to the Audi Connect system take things to new heights. When it became clear that my co-driver during our cruise in San Diego needed something stronger than fresh air to beat back the waves of a nasty cold, we simply wrote “C” and then “V” on the MMI’s Google search bar. From there it was simple as selecting one of four CVS pharmacies nearby, and we were even able to add one as a stopover on our pre-programmed driving route. We never once reached for our iPhones, despite the fact that the A4 has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built-in.
Prestige models of the 2017 Audi A4 can be had with a suite of 21 driver-assistance systems. The familiar blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and emergency automatic braking are on the list, but Audi also peppers in a few bright ideas it cooked up as part of its research into autonomous piloted driving. Turn-assist prevents you from being clipped by oncoming traffic while making a turn by gently applying the brakes if the car senses an impending collision. Traffic-jam assist should cut down the frustration factor during stop-and-go commutes, and the A4’s adaptive cruise-control system will automatically slow down the car if you have an upcoming turn programmed into the navigation system. There’s even a new exit-assist feature, which will cause the interior lighting trim to flash in bright red as a warning should the car sense that you’re about to open the door into an oncoming car or cyclist.
A snappier wardrobe for the new semester
The whiz kid is also back from summer vacation with some tasteful new threads. Of course, the revised exterior design of the 2017 A4 doesn’t appear drastically different than the last A4, even though the new car has a wheelbase that is 0.5-inch longer while the body measures 1.0-inch longer and 0.6-inch wider. Audi is going for timeless subtlety rather than the sex appeal of the Mercedes C-Class or the boldness of the Lexus IS.
Such modest design clarity carries through into the interior treatment of the 2017 Audi A4, although the look does ratchet up the sportiness compared to previous generations of this car. Horizontal lines give the cabin a sense of greater width and substance. The materials are totally consistent with what we’d expect from Audi, with standard leather-upholstered seats and plenty of aluminum trim. Climate control is handled using the same touch-sensitive toggle switches and 3D digital display unit that we’ve seen in the Audi Q7.
Unfortunately none of the test cars available to us came equipped with wood trim, so we’ll have to wait and see how the A4 measures up against the C-Class and its gorgeous black burl walnut. Even so, it’s safe to say that the A4 is comfortable and pleasant to spend time in and surely a notch above the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, and Lexus IS in design and refinement.
Trying out for the varsity squad
Underneath the new wardrobe, the A4 has also been hitting the gym and passing on spaetzle so it can deliver a more athletic driving experience. Audi says the car now can boast best-in-class driving dynamics. It all starts with a weight reduction of as much as 99 pounds for front-wheel-drive models (66 pounds less with all-wheel drive). Chassis updates alone account for a reduction in unsprung weight of 46 pounds, mostly by using aluminum. For example, the substitution of fixed-type aluminum brake calipers for the former floating-type iron items also account for a savings of 11 pounds.
Meanwhile, a selection of upgraded chassis components starts with steering links that connect to the center of the front wheels, which help deliver a more precise feel through the steering wheel. The placement of the motor for the electric-assist system on the steering rack has been optimized for the same reason. The five-link front and rear suspension filters out unwanted road harshness, and the use of high-pressure, gas-charged monotube dampers on cars with the standard mechanical suspension deliver better wheel control on uneven pavement. The rear suspension links even incorporate deflectors to reduce aerodynamic lift.
Working out with the new A4
We think the 2017 A4 deserves varsity status. No matter how we lashed the 2017 Audi A4 around San Diego – even on the cold, wet road to the 6,142-foot summit of Palomar Mountain east of the city – the car maintained perfect balance in the corners. Selective self-locking differential and stealthy brake-actuated torque vectoring banish the A4’s once much-loathed understeer into oblivion. Gone is the old brittle ride quality. The brakes bite right at the top of the pedal travel to give you fantastic confidence, and we never felt them fade even on the steep way down the mountain from the famous astronomical observatory.
The base model A4 with the standard dampers proves to be a capable athlete, although when you get it out of its comfort zone on urban highways it can prove to be a little sluggish when the road calls for quick directional transitions. For those who like to take the long way home, we recommend the optional adaptive dampers to tighten things right up. We’re told a non-adaptive sport suspension will be available soon.
For all this, the revised steering for the A4 still leaves plenty to be desired. The A4’s helm feels predictably light outside of the Dynamic mode for the chassis calibration, but even then the added heft to the steering effort doesn’t cure the steering’s disappointing lack of feedback. The rack-and-pinion system’s 15:9:1 ratio also feels a touch too slow to us, although this is something the upcoming S4 will address with its available variable-ratio rack. For now, the rear-wheel-drive Cadillac ATS need not worry about having to airmail its handling crown to Ingolstadt.
And although we wish the 354-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 for the forthcoming S4 model would just get here already, the 252-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder here in the 2017 Audi A4 is a welcome consolation. It pulls hard and responds quickly in concert with its slick seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Excitement definitely dies off in the upper reaches of the rpm range, but the four-banger sounds surprisingly spirited getting there. Nevertheless, we still think the 240-hp turbo four from BMW is superior, despite how far the driving enjoyment of 3 Series has fallen in recent years.
Even non-whiz kids will be choosing this car
No doubt the 2017 Audi A4 has stiff competition. But this thoroughly revised version of Audi’s mainstream sedan can hang with the pack across the board – styling, technology beneath the bodywork, and pure driving enjoyment. Not to mention the fact that no other car in this class can touch the appeal and functionality of the technology within the A4’s cabin. When it comes to the sport of everyday driving, the 2017 A4 is an enticing all-rounder, and even though it’s German, we think it’s a worthy first-team All-American.
2017 Audi A4 2.0 TFSI Specifications
|Engine:||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/252 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD sedan|
|L x W x H:||186.1 x 72.5 x 56.2 in|
|0-60 MPH:||5.6 sec|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|