Since 1995, more than 40 per cent of Audi’s sales can be attributed directly to the A4 family of vehicles. For those keeping track at home, more than 756,000 of them have been sold in the last 21 years, helping Audi to capture 24% of the Premium B-segment sedan market share here in the states, against rivals like BMW’s 3-series and Mercedes Benz’s C-class. Simply put, this is one Audi has to get right if they wish to continue breaking sales records.
When the B9-generation of Audi’s A4 officially premiered last June, the car’s design left Audi faithful somewhat divided. Fans hoping for something a bit more striking with the new A4 were perhaps the loudest of the bunch, passing off the B9 as merely an aggressive redesign. Those who saw the B8 generation as an exceptionally elegant design, on the other hand, took comfort in the new car sharpening a shape already far ahead of its time. Our own feelings on the new car are somewhat complicated, finding ourselves somewhere in the middle as George mentioned during his first drive piece late last year. Based on conjecture alone, it seems that Audi’s ‘safe play’ with the new A4’s design was anything but.
Move past the visual similarities with the previous version, and a more aggressive head and tail light shape are perhaps the most immediately noticeable changes, giving the vehicle a much lower, wider appearance even though its overall width and length have changed by just .5 and .7 inches, respectively. Take a closer look though, and you’ll notice the myriad changes found within the A4’s details. The side mirrors have moved down onto the doors. The hood has evolved to a larger clamshell design, helping to accentuate the already pronounced ‘dynamic line’, which runs from head to tail light. It’s mostly subtle, sure, but the result of these changes is undeniable, allowing the A4 to have a drag coefficient of just .27- the lowest of any vehicle Audi’s ever produced.
Climb inside the newest A4, and you’re greeted by an interior which shares relatively little with the vehicle it replaces. A new horizontally layered, wrap-around dash features a driver-centric layout, putting each control within quick reach of the pilot. As in the Q7 and A8 before it, the A4’s gear selector doubles as a comfortable resting place for your wrist, allowing for easy operation of the MMI controls. Moving up the center console, the new A4’s climate control operation is a system of rocker switches, with vitals displayed on a TFT screen, cleverly made to look much like the previous generation’s digital readout. The wrap-around front air vent seen in the Q7 also makes an appearance, providing the passenger with a constant stream of ambient air, diverting 15% of total flow from the main vents, to be exact. Each trim piece is decidedly upscale as well, featuring 3D Optic design, each option with its own unique texture. And while all of that is certainly impressive, we can’t help but feel like it all plays second fiddle to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
In the A4, the optional Virtual Cockpit comes in the form of the same 12.3″ TFT LCD display found in the Q7, TT and upcoming R8, featuring 1440 x 540 resolution, 24 bit color and refreshing at a rate of 60 frames per second. As in the Q7, Audi’s MMI infotainment system is displayed across two screens, allowing for a wealth of information to be displayed at a glance. Yes, the second display is ‘fixed’ as opposed to retractable like in the A3, or even ‘sunk’ like what was found on the previous A4, but Audi certainly has a good reason for doing so. You see, their teams found that retractable screens were rarely ever, well, retracted. Seeing as there really is no reason to make something complex for complexities’ sake, they simply decided to make the switch. Of course, personal opinions will vary on this, but we think it looks quite a lot better than some of their competitor’s stick-on nav units. For those who have reservations about Virtual Cockpit, a traditional gauge cluster is still available, but you’ll need to opt out of the Technology Package.
Once out on the road in the new A4, any doubts that the B9 is simply a re-skin are quickly cast aside . The new, third-generation 2.0 TFSI engine produces a best-in-class 252hp and 273lb-ft of torque, capable of propelling the A4 to 60mph in 5.7 seconds. Shifts from the completely reworked 7-speed S tronic gearbox are quick and smooth, though it may be a bit too eager to downshift at times for our like. Thankfully for those who enjoy rowing their own gears, the latest A4 will be available with a proper manual, although we have been told that it’s launch will be a bit later in the product cycle.
Handling is greatly improved as well, due to a combination of weight savings (front trac is 99lbs lighter than the B8, while cars with quattro drop 66lbs), an innovative 5 link suspension both front and rear, and wheel-selective torque control, which helps to slow certain wheels in order to improve dynamic response. Amplifying each of these changes is an improved Audi drive select system, boasting improved response between driving modes, in addition to the variable steering torque, throttle response levels, and transmission shift points we’ve come to expect. With the brand new dampers, ‘comfort’ still retains the plushness we know and love, but dynamic has the ability to transform the driving experience more than ever before. Ride quality comes much closer to what you’d expect from a dedicated ‘sport suspension’ (which also happens to be available, although we didn’t get the opportunity to sample); connected, firm, but never harsh, and still a good deal softer than an aftermarket coil-over or lowering spring. It’s important to note that Audi also offers a ‘standard’ suspension on the new A4, but after driving it back to back with an ADS car, you’d be best to just cough up the extra money for adaptive dampers.
As with all A4s before it, the B9 is a dish best served sporty. The base seats, for instance, while very supportive and comfortable with supple leather hides, frankly look a bit out of place in the new A4, and lack the enhanced adjustability offered by the sport seats. Downright handsome 19″ Audi Sport 10-spoke wheels have been made available, and when coupled with the now-standard S line bodywork on Premium Plus and Prestige level cars, the B9 is elevated to a level of aggressiveness unattained by previous S line versions, most directly comparable to the B6 generation’s A4 Ultrasport. Put all of it together, and it’s really not that much of stretch to see the vehicle as somewhat of an ‘S4-lite.’ And that’s before anyone from the aftermarket has laid a finger on it.
The newest A4 will be available at dealers later this month, and after our short time with the car, we’d say it’s more than capable of picking up where the previous generations have left off. Check out our full gallery of the 2017 Audi A4 below.