At first glance the move up from Audi’s A3 to A4 might not appear like a very big step, but don’t let the larger cars’ stylistic similarity trick you into thinking there’s little difference between the two.
While the A3 is exceptionally well finished for its more compact luxury class, plus plenty sporty and nicely featured, the move up to the D-segment-sized A4 brings with it an entirely new level of spaciousness, luxury and performance.
For starters the 2018 A4 provides more interior space for driver and passengers, thanks to more front to rear legroom, greater width for shoulders, elbows and hips, and considerably more headroom, especially in back. With the driver’s seat positioned for my five-foot-eight frame I found more than six inches in front of my knees when seated behind, plus plenty of space for my feet, and about four inches remaining above my head. That means taller folk measuring six-foot-two and above should have no problem fitting comfortably in back.
Likewise, the A4 Quattro’s trunk is 90 litres larger than the A3’s at 480 litres, which is sizeable for its class and made even more accommodating via ultra-convenient 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. If you need yet more cargo capacity, the base front-wheel drive A4 allows for 490 litres of gear-toting space. The trunk is finished nicely too, with high quality carpeting up the sidewalls and on the seatbacks, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner.
Of course, you’ll find much more luxury and refinement inside the cabin, with expected D-segment upgrades including fabric wrappings for all roof pillars and soft-touch synthetics across the entire dash top and instrument panel, while unlike the smaller A3 both front and rear door panels receive high-grade pliable padded finishings from their topmost uppers to their lowest extremities.
That’s about it for plush plastics however, with the lower dash, glove box lid, and sides of the lower console disappointingly made from high quality textured harder composites. I can’t say this is par for the course as some others do this better, but Audi more than makes up for this slight shortcoming when it comes to digital interfaces and switchgear.
My top-line Technik tester meant that the Audi Virtual Cockpit came standard, an otherwise optional feature that’ll be sure to put a smile on any car enthusiast or tech zealot’s face. It’s a driver configurable TFT instrument cluster that provides clear resolution, superb graphics, wonderful depth of colour, and plenty of features, one of which simultaneously makes the centre-mounted multi-information display larger and surrounding digital dials smaller by pushing a steering wheel “VIEW” button, thus providing better visibility of key functions like the navigation system’s detailed mapping system. The Virtual Cockpit proves not all TFT gauge packages are created equal, with the A4’s my choice for best in class.
The 8.3-inch infotainment display atop the dash is excellent too, although there are many more segment challengers for top spot in this category. Audi’s display is the current en vogue fixed tablet style, standing on its own above the centre stack. Unlike most in the class, the MMI system only allows actuation via a console-mounted rotating dial with a gesture sensor on top, plus a set of surrounding buttons, whereas competitors are either adapting to direct touchscreen functions in conjunction with such secondary controls, or dropping the costly dials and buttons altogether.
I can understand why some owners wouldn’t want front passenger’s drive-thru-greased fingerprints mucking up the lovely display, but in reality the vast majority of us are so intrinsically connected to our smartphones and tablets that it’s only a matter of time before the A4’s secondary hardware is relegated to the past.
Of note, even Audi has already done so with its new 2018 A8, and after watching some video of that car’s incredible new infotainment system, and living with Volkswagen’s more intuitive new 6.5- and 8.0-inch touchscreens that allow tap, pinch and swipe gesture controls directly on the screen, not to mention finger proximity sensing capability, it’s a change that will certainly be welcomed across the entire Audi lineup. On the positive the current system incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, the former absolutely worth syncing up to and, no fault to Audi, the latter still needing more work.
While I’ve criticized the MMI system’s switchgear for existing at all, I can’t very well dis it from an execution perspective. It’s all top-tier componentry, finished in lovely anodized aluminum and substantive matte composites, much like the A4’s remaining buttons, knobs and toggles that are amongst the industries best. I especially like the artfully designed auto climate control interface, while the metal and leather T-shaped shifter is as much a monument to good industrial design as the beautifully thin spokes of my tester’s S Line Sport package enhanced flat-bottomed steering wheel.
These two driver-machine interfaces connect through to a wonderfully reactive drivetrain and chassis, the A4 amongst the D-segment’s most enjoyable four-door sport sedans thanks to strong yet smooth straight-line performance and superb handling dynamics combined with ample comfort. The numbers for the all-wheel drive Quattro model read 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder, which doesn’t make the A4 quickest in its class yet still provides plenty of jump off the line.
The German carmaker mixes this top-line engine with a six-speed manual or its recently redesigned seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch automatic, which delivers ultra-quick shifts and smooth, linear operation, this latter transmission standard with the base front-wheel drive A4. That entry model makes do with 62 fewer horsepower and 37 less lb-ft of torque resulting in a 7.4-second jog to 100km/h instead of the Quattro model’s 6.0-second sprint, but it’s a smart choice for those wanting a more leisurely, luxury-oriented ride with a focus on fuel economy.
The base engine is good for a claimed 8.6 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.6 combined, which is excellent for its class, while the more potent powerplant and six-speed manual combination gets a rating of 9.9 city, 7.1 highway and 8.7 combined, and as-tested auto/AWD combo 10.0, 7.0 and 8.7 respectively.
Quattro AWD hooks the A4 up nicely at takeoff, even when soggy or snowy weather hampers road conditions, while standard steering wheel paddles add that critical level of engagement that buyers in this class crave. Despite not being the most powerful in its category, the A4 is one of my favourites to drive. It’s deceptively quick, while its compliant suspension defies its accomplished road holding. The A4 might just deliver the best balance of performance and comfort in the entire D-segment, while its well-insulated cabin ensconces driver and passengers in a hushed, calming environment benefiting further from a near industry best 0.23 coefficient of drag, its peaceful quietness only interrupted by the occasional high-revving mechanical note, sporty exhaust blip, or if suited up in Technik trim, superb 755-watt 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound quality.
Technik features not yet mentioned include power-folding side mirrors, a 360-degree Top-View surround camera, ambient lighting with custom colour selection, rear cross-traffic alert, Audi Side Assist that detects approaching vehicles from both sides and behind, Pre Sense Rear pre-collision that warns of potential problems coming from behind, an exit warning system that alerts of traffic or bicycles coming from behind when opening your door, and Audi connect assistance and security services, which is an impressive load of features for just $50,200 with the manual or $51,800 with the auto.
My test car’s gorgeous set of 19-inch five-spoke V-design titanium-finish alloy rims on grippy 245/35 performance rubber was a clear sign of its $1,700 S Line Sport package, which along with items already mentioned includes a sport suspension with a 23-mm drop in ride height, S Line stainless steel doorsills, stainless steel pedals, unique S line interior trim with brushed aluminum inlays, front sport seats with powered lumbar for the front passenger, and a black headliner, while Audi also added $800 ventilated front seats.
The A4 Technik pulls plenty of other features up from lesser trims, including full LED headlights with auto high beams and automatic leveling, proximity access, a heated steering wheel, auto-dimming side mirrors, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, a universal garage door opener, the larger infotainment display and MMI touch controller, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, a foot-activated trunk release and more from $43,500 mid-range Progressiv trim, and S Line exterior styling, fog lights, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tri-zone auto climate control, satellite radio, leather upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable heated front seats, four-way powered driver’s seat lumbar, a power moonroof, an aerated glove box, tire pressure monitoring, Audi pre sense basic, Audi drive select, all the usual active and passive safety equipment, and much more from $39,600 base Komfort trim.
Safety in mind, Audi offers a $2,100 Advanced Driver Assistance package featuring adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, active lane assist, Audi’s pre sense front and pre sense city automated braking systems, traffic congestion assist and traffic sign recognition, all of which qualify it for an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, while the NHTSA gave all A4 trims a best-possible 5-star safety rating, and further noted it has zero recalls, zero investigations, and zero complaints.
Zero complaints: Yes, that’s how I’d sum up my test of this 2018 A4 Quattro too. Perfect? Not quite, but it’s easily one of the nicest sport-luxury sedans on the compact luxury market.