The 2017 Audi A4 isn’t likely to change your life, but that’s OK. If anything, that was probably the point.
Some cars are supposed to set your heart racing after the first turn, and others have the delicate task of performing lots of tasks admirably and sort of blend into the background. Not boring, but just not noticed.
The new A4 does pretty much everything well, without any fuss. But what if you want a shot to your pulse?
Anodyne, for your convenience
Audi sedans haven’t exactly been known for styling controversies in a generation and the story continues with the 2017 A4. It’s an A4, but a little different somehow.
Which is good if you’ve generally liked the A4. Among cars in its class, it’s neat without being too conservative. Among the BMWs and Mercedes and whatnot, it’s clearly an Audi, though, so that’s saying something for brand identity or whatever they’re calling it these days. All over are details of Audi’s clean design mantra, such as crisp LEDs that come on most versions and metal accents sprinkled around.
The trouble is that it’s not particularly noticeable as a new Audi. Park it next to an old A4 and the lights are certainly sharper and the body ever so slightly trimmer, but not much else. With A4s so ubiquitous now in certain parts, did you really think they’d mess with success? Actually, yes. Because that grille looks like it’s taller than the actual front of the car.
None of this should be a deal-breaker, though. An A4 won’t provoke controversy, which is why they sell so many of them.
The interior, however, is bound to get more attention. It’s cool and clinical sometimes, but Audi fans likely wouldn’t have it any other way. The company has apparently let its designers loose creating more adventurous interiors in the name of incorporating technology.
The Audi Virtual Cockpit makes its appearance here and comes on most models. It continues to be a staggering good display of information, even if its responses didn’t seem as sharp as the Q7 I drove last year. Better still is the MMI system that hides a lot of information without being too overwhelming.
Most of what you touch for the tech feels good, but some of the switches and controls don’t feel like $50,000. Yeah, this is a $50,000 A4 2.0T. I haven’t completely gotten over it.
At least it isn’t overly compact, like A4s of old. Four adults won’t be in need of any more space, and the trunk is pretty commodious. But shorter drivers may need to get familiar with all of the adjustments in order to see out of the car confidently. At 5-foot-10, I never found the right driving position and the side mirrors are annoyingly small.
The A4 has certainly grown, but there’s no reason it should feel big. But that kind of sets up the way it drives.
It’s a tale of two A4s. Get adventurous and its tenacity and capability will mostly impress. Day in and day out on your commute, you likely won’t notice it.
Most buyers opt for the Quattro versions with their all-wheel drive, which is probably what you should get if you want the full A4 experience. With a meaty 252 horsepower coming from the 2.0-liter turbo four, it likes to be driven quickly. Go hard on the accelerator and there’s little evidence the all-wheel drive is busy shifting power around and the speed rapidly rises. There’s so much grip, too. And the ride is tuned pretty correctly even without the optimal adaptive dampers and with the up-sized tires that come in the Sport Package.
Fuel economy was impressive on the highway, easily averaging north of 30 mpg. But around town, it seemed stuck just below the 20mpg mark. I'd have to consider sacrificing some power for the promised efficiency of the fuel sipping A4 Ultra model.
The dual-clutch transmission works great in this application, as most do, with snappy shifts that keep the turbo on notice. It sort of blends into the background as the miles roll on,. It rears its head again around town, though. In stop-and-go traffic it works like a light switch in delivering power, so it takes practice to make smooth starts no matter what mode you’re in. The touchy throttle doesn’t help matters, either.
Questionable visibility is hurt even more by a turning circle that verges on the nautical. Three-point turns became screaming affairs more than once. Use of the parking sensors and cameras is a must. You’ll get a lot of exposure to the steering feel this way, or lack thereof. And it doesn’t get any better when you’re going faster, either.
The A4 is secure to drive, thanks to the chassis and all-wheel drive, but you’ll never feel inclined to play with it much because of lifeless steering that dials back the confidence.
The nagging impression, though, was that a $50,000 A4 should feel more stirring. Having driven one with the optional adaptive dampers and without the sport package, I find little reason to spend the extra money. As a driver’s car, the A4 could be so much more but never delivers. And it irritates more than expected to ignore the lack of enthusiasm.
Earlier this year, I drove the A4 for a day and thought it was the $40,000-$50,000 sedan I’d go home with if I were in the market for such a car and I wanted the appearance of getting my life together (and not a journalist who usually attempts to write and eat at the same time). The A4 is so complete and hard to fault objectively, striking a nice balance between comfort and sport, timeless design with modern updates.
Living with it for a week, though, I had a hard time forming an opinion about the A4. Sure, it’s what I’d recommend to those looking for a car in the class, but more than a few things about it irked me day-to-day – the battleship-grade turning circle, odd visibility, jerky slow-speed responses and the lack of occasion for $50,000.
All of this would make me consider the comfortable, cheaper but ultimately worse Volvo S60. A Buick dealer would make a compelling case for the still-sound Regal GS these days. And then there’s a BMW 3-Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class with an attractive lease special down the street.
These thoughts will be floating around just before you decide to do the right thing and sign for the Audi. It isn’t faultless but then what is? Face the fact that $50,000 is just what good cars of this class cost these days and the A4 won’t disappoint with what it really excels at. The power, space, controls and relative ease of use will make it reassuring rather than exhilarating.
You say you want excitement, but what you really need is something that has its act together.
Photos: Keith Moore/Carscoops