2017 Audi A4 first drive review Page 2

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The A4 delivers on better interior room and comfort for all passengers. It's moved to a new architecture--Volkswagen's MLB, which will underpin a new family of vehicles from the A4 to the new Q7, to the next generation of A6 and A7.

Audi and its parent company, VW AG, have built this component kit with stronger body sections and more flexible packaging in mind, while trying to keep a check on curb weight. Initial specs show they've succeeded: the new A4 is an inch longer than the last version, with 0.7 inches more between the wheels. It's also a half-inch wider. In all, though it's grown to near the size of the old Audi 100/200 sedans, it is said to weigh less than the prior A4--between 70 to 100 pounds less, depending on drivetrain configuration, even with added standard equipment.

Interior specs are better in most dimensions, and in the real world, the A4 feels more spacious, too. Audi claims gains of an inch in headroom and 2.6 inches in front shoulder room, and says it has the longest cabin in the class. In the vehicles we drove, the impression of space was very good, coupled with better shaping and contouring to the sport seats.

It's even better in the back seat, one place where the previous A4 fell down against rivals. The last car had a low, short cushion that helped its headroom figures; the new one has excellent back-seat space, with a higher and longer bottom cushion for better comfort. Six-footers can sit behind six-footers with a touch of knee room to spare.

Storage gains are marked, too. The A4 has big cupholders sitting ahead of its shift lever, and a more usefully shaped center console bin. There's a secret and probably unauthorized bin where the fuse panel should be--down and to the left of the steering wheel, it's big enough to accept a couple of water bottles. The vast trunk holds two roll-aboards and two backpacks easily, without stacking anything, and it's a squared-off, regularly shaped space too, with covered hinges.

As usual, Audi's precisely designed interiors reflect a lot of attention to seams and panel fits. I'm no fan of display screens that don't tuck into the dash, but the A4's TFT display looks more firmly affixed. Wind noise is low thanks to low drag, and though the A4's cockpit doesn't land the visual knockout of the new Mercedes C-Class, the refined and restrained trim combinations I saw were uniformly handsome and tasteful.

2017 Audi A4

2017 Audi A4

Enlarge Photo
2017 Audi A4

2017 Audi A4

Enlarge Photo
2017 Audi A4

2017 Audi A4

Enlarge Photo
2017 Audi A4

2017 Audi A4

Enlarge Photo

Safety and tech

Audi's putting a big emphasis on the A4's next-generation infotainment and connectivity features. The virtual cockpit aside, the A4 now has standard smartphone connectivity. It also has a new version of the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) that factors in a roller-controller with a scratchpad surface for handwritten input; LTE data connectivity; and either a seven-inch or an 8.3-inch display screen on the dash. The resolution on the larger screen is breathtaking--no more output from the standard rearview camera that looks like the lens is covered in mud.

The A4 also gets the latest driver assistance systems, everything from forward-collision warnings with automatic braking, to adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic assist, lane-departure warnings and lane-keeping assist, automatic parking assist and attention assist. The adaptive cruise has traffic-jam assist, a stop-and-go function that can follow cars in the lane ahead at speeds of up to 40 mph. As we've experimented with these systems, we've found it's possible to drive long distances with all the lane-assist features engaged, and drive in a proto-autonomous mode.

New functions include a lane-turn assist, which signals a warning if you're about to steer the A4 left or right into oncoming traffic; and exit assist, which scans the lanes behind the front doors and sounds a warning if the doors open into busy traffic. Audi's connected services also add on a smart-watch app interface, and all A4s will come with a limited set of smartphone-app features including remote lock and car status checks.

Any first drive of a European vehicle has to circle around the features we won't get in the U.S. The list here is relatively short--aside from smaller gas and diesel engines and summer tires, we won't be getting the Avant wagon (an Allroad successor is all but certain, instead), and for now, a manual transmission.

The U.S. lineup should include Audi's usual Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige trim levels, with all cars coming standard with power features, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, and smartphone connectivity. Major options will include all-wheel drive, an S-line appearance package, the adaptive air suspension, full LED headlights, and a stunning Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system with 19 speakers and 755 watts of output.

The new A4 arrives just as its sport-sedan niche is exploding with exceptional new nameplates--many of them lacking the broad appeal of today's Audi emblem. It's extraordinarily competitive, and the new Mercedes C-Class in particular has eclipsed some of the newer arrivals with its standard air suspension and turbocharged engines, not to mention one of the most attractive interiors of any vehicle.

The A4 has made progress for sure, but before we proclaim just how much, we want more seat time to get a better read on its road manners.

The A4 goes on sale after the first of the year. Pricing hasn't been detailed, but a modest increase over today's figures is expected.

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