The new Audi A4 is one of the most praised vehicles on the road. From generally positive reviews, to reviewers calling it the best car Audi’s ever made, it’s fair to say that it’s been a critical darling. And, honestly, I’m not sure why. You probably shouldn’t listen to those reviews, because it isn’t the best car the company’s ever made, and hearing that might disappoint you when you get into what is a very good car.
First and foremost, the new A4 isn’t the best car the company’s ever made. That’s ridiculous. The R8 is better. To be fair, the A4 is probably easier to live with, but kale’s better for you than a burger, and I know which I’d rather have. That said, there are one or two things that the two cars share in common, like an uncluttered interior that’s all aluminum and dark leather. I could see an argument for calling it a little bare, but to my mind, it’s just clean.
The gauge cluster, meanwhile, is replaced by Audi’s much lauded digital cockpit, which is as excellent as everyone says it is. Between the passengers, meanwhile, there’s another infotainment screen that’s not touch sensitive. I’m made to understand that this is unforgivable to some, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. Maybe it’s because I have long legs and like to sit far back from the steering wheel, but whenever I come across a dash mounted touch screen I feel like it’s ever so slightly out of reach. That means that I have to lean forward, which is annoying. Then I have take my eyes off the road to find anything, since the need to point and slide and tap with precision means that I have to look at the screen, and that’s dangerous. In the A4, on the other hand, a broad rotary knob—onto which you can draw letters and swipe—is always within reach. It also means that the menus on the screen can by cycled trough, and grow, making them easier to find and click on from the corner of your eye. It seems that Audi, like the rest of the automotive world, has decided that it will move on to touch screens in future, but I categorically do not approve. This is one of the easier systems to use, and I’ll be sorry to see it go.
In the back, the extra seats are also very un-R8. With a comfortable seating position and ample leg room, there’s almost no room left for an engine back there, so instead Audi have mounted a mill with only four cylinders up front. How novel. Pumping out 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, it still gets the A4 moving, and with a suitable amount of urgency (60 is achieved in 5.7 seconds). And the warm feeling of having the wheels fore and aft moving you along make this car feel confident and powerful around corners. It also means that when the snow falls, and you find yourself in an empty parking lot at 1:00 am, you can A4 all kinds of sideways, pretending you’re Walter Rohrl in Monte Carl, which is all I’ve ever really wanted out of a car.
Even though it’s about 100 lbs lighter than the previous model, this new A4 isn’t exactly a featherweight, weighing in at 3,600 lbs. Crucially, though it doesn’t feel heavy. The brakes grab and hold, and you never feel like they’re losing against the car’s mass. As a result, unfortunately, they are a bit vague, and pulling up to a stop smoothly requires some finesse. Around the corners, too, you never feel the A4’s weight. It feels nimble, agile, quick. It’s no race car, but it’ll get you around a twisty road faster than Johnny Law would deem appropriate.
On the highway, meanwhile, as with all German cars, the A4 is right at home. It achieves any sensible speed (and likely more) with total ease and confidence, whooshing you across great distances in comfort. It is let down, though, by its lane assist. I’ll freely admit that I don’t really like any lane assist function, but this one is so bad that it actually made me angry. I think that’s mostly because of the way it alerts you to the fact that you’re straying from your lane. Rather than giving you a big rumble of the wheel, the steering wheel kind of jerks. It feels uncannily like hitting soft gravel or snow. It reminds me of that feeling of being grabbed at by the soft shoulder and pulled toward the ditch, which isn’t a feeling I like much. Until I figured out how to turn it off, it kind of ruined the car for me. With it off, though, all was well again.
The A4’s blind spot monitoring system, on the other hand, is the best I’ve ever encountered. Instead of a small light in the mirror, Audi have mounted a big light on the inside of the mirror assembly. The light is clear and much more visible than other systems’. It manages to be easily visible while not dazzling you, and the result is increased awareness of the road around you. It’s perfectly executed and it should really be the standard.
Ultimately the A4 is an excellent car. My fuel economy wasn’t all that great, but it wasn’t particularly bad, either at around 28 mpg, according to the car’s computer. It’s not the best thing Audi’s ever done, and I’m not just saying that to have an opinion. You really shouldn’t go into a dealership expecting that, because you might be disappointed by what is a very good car.
As an added bonus, this same car is part of a long term test that contributor Jonathan Yarkony is currently undertaking, so we’ll have fairly frequent updates on this car’s performance over the next couple of weeks.