Strap into the A4 yourself, and you’ll find the crisp new Virtual Cockpit making up the instrument cluster, and a large and equally beautiful display atop the center stack. Why do you need two nav screens? That’s like asking why your phone needs a screen at all; it didn’t, until it had one, and then you couldn’t live without it.
What makes the A4 special this time around is the fun you’ll have behind the wheel. This is — by far — the best A4 yet in that department. Even under heavy provocation, you’re not going to find any understeer, despite the fact that the whole engine block is still hung out over the front axle. The redesigned strut-type suspension adds another link to separate steering and vertical forces. The setup provides a great balance between comfort and handling, especially when paired with the optional adaptive damping system.
Part of the new Audi A4’s graceful driving character comes from its lighter weight. American cars won’t get the two biggest weight savings options — about 35 pounds from the manual transmission’s casing and another 35-ish pounds from the crankcase in the 1.4-liter four that’ll be the base engine elsewhere — but they’ll still weigh between 70 and 100 pounds lighter than the previous A4, depending on trim. Some of the biggest savings come from the brake system, where fixed aluminum calipers replace floating iron units for an 11-pound savings. The weight saved in the new A4’s forged aluminum suspension and the electromechanical steering rack bring the chassis’ weight reduction to a total of 35 pounds. Audi engineers found another 30 pounds or so by obsessing over small stuff throughout the car. The steering wheel rim, for instance, is now magnesium.
All this weight loss comes despite the fact that the 2017 Audi A4 has more equipment than ever, as Audi hasn’t forgotten that technology is what really sets it apart in this crowded segment. The optional Virtual Cockpit acts like your typical luxury sedan’s center console display: a brilliantly crisp (1440 x 540 pixel) and fast (60 frames per second) display. But the difference is it’s right in front of you and can be controlled from the steering wheel. The screen lets you access an impressive array for features, including Audi’s latest and greatest MMI interface, new apps, and detailed Google Earth maps, without reaching for and glancing at the center console. The Virtual Cockpit leverages the visual skills we all already have, no matter what kind of car we drive, and it does it in a way that’s so painfully obvious you wonder right away why everyone hasn’t done it already. But then, that’s the way of most great ideas.
The large, responsive center display (7-inch standard, 8.3-inch when equipped with navigation) added to the Virtual Cockpit display nets you nearly as much screen real estate as the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, with even smarter features.
On top of all that, there’s an optional head-up display. It also has crisp graphics, smart alerts, and all the information you’d want in front of your eyes. In practice, it’s basically redundant to the Virtual Cockpit screen just below it.
The center console’s touch-sensitive controller allows for quick, intuitive, and scroll-free text input via its capacitive-touch upper surface, and when scrolling does become necessary, it now scrolls the right way. Yes, that’s right, Audi has finally yielded to logic and stopped with the up-is-down nonsense.
The center screen won’t be completely redundant, either, as the passenger (or greedy driver) can use it to access not just the full suite of items available in the Virtual Cockpit, but both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, bringing all of the smartphone and app connectivity Apple and Google can muster. Audi is also planning an expanded form of Audi Connect that will include emergency roadside service, smartphone lock/unlock and status reporting, and smartwatch app functions.
Driving the 2017 Audi A4 through the Italian countryside near Venice, we discovered for ourselves how this display can aid rather than distract from driving. We’re able to keep a map of the overall route on the center screen while scanning a zoomed-in map on our instrument cluster to find curvier, less-trafficked roads. No more trying to futz around with a single display, cursing at your harried passenger’s incompetence as you speed through unfamiliar territory.
When we do hit congestion, Traffic Jam Assist keeps the pixel-fueled party going with the ability to follow the lane and control the vehicle speed from a stop up to 40 mph. The lane-recognition system works as well as most others we’ve tested, which is to say it had some difficulty even with well-marked lanes (Mercedes retains the edge here). The adaptive cruise control works flawlessly though. When the systems are working in concert, they take the bulk of the load off the driver in heavy-traffic situations. It’s worth at least 10 points on your blood pressure. You can even take your hands off the wheel, though you’ll get a warning to resume control after a handful of seconds.
You’ll save another 10 points of mercury—and possibly a life—with the Exit Assist system, which leverages the blind-spot detection sensors to scan for traffic approaching from the rear when you exit the car. If the car detects a threat, it will alert the driver or passenger by flashing lights in the door. The system activates once the A4 is stopped, and remains active for up to three minutes after the car is turned off. It’s a simple and obvious application of existing sensors and data, but its impact is potentially enormous. Brilliant.
In the U.S., at launch, much of the equipment mentioned above will be standard, in addition to a 4G LTE data connection and a rear-view camera. Must-have features like the Virtual Cockpit and navigation will be “priced to be easily accessible” to most buyers. Of course, there will still be opportunities to lay down extra cash, like for a 755-watt, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system.
Audi hasn’t yet released U.S. pricing, but expect that information, plus U.S. trims, features, and other details, closer to the car’s launch next spring.
No matter the final spec sheets, however, with all of this on offer (plus a bunch of cool goodies we won’t even get in the U.S. like GPS-aware pre-selection of gears, automatic slowing for off-ramps, and more), the Audi A4 makes a truly compelling case for your luxury sedan dollar. Is it smart? Sure. Fun? Without question. Boring? Never.
2017 Audi A4 2.0 TFSI Specifications
|On Sale:||Spring 2016|
|Base Price:||$40,000 (est)|
|Engine:||2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4, 252 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|Suspension F/R:||Strut-type, coil springs/multilink, coil springs|
|L x W x H:||186.1 x 72.5 x 56.2 in|
|Cargo Room:||17.0 cu ft|
|Towing:||1,700 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH:||5.6 seconds (est)|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|