by Sebastian Cenizo
When it comes to compact luxury sedans, it has always been the BMW 3 Series that sets the benchmark, while the Audi A4 hustles for a piece of the pie, too. However, as Bavaria's favorite brand has pandered to global trends of increased luxury and technology, the competition has all but caught up in the handling department. One of the best examples of this is the Audi A4 quattro, a car that has grown into a truly impressive piece of kit. While it and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class both still have a little to learn in terms of true driving enjoyment, 2021's Audi A4 is more attractive than ever, despite only coming with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot and all-wheel drive. Is the A4 now one of the true segment leaders, or should you consider something else?
The new Audi A4 reviews the old model very lightly under the skin as last year's model got newsome fresh new looks. For the new model year, the sedan now comes with 13 horsepower more under the hood on both versions of its four-pot, thanks, in part, to a new 12-volt mild-hybrid system. Other updates include standard wireless Apple CarPlay and lane departure warning systems. The mid-level trim gains adaptive cruise control and some additional safety equipment while the top Prestige trim now gets standard heated rear seats. The A4 45 TFSI can now be equipped with a Black Optic package with either 18-inch wheels/all-season tires or 19-inch wheels/summer tires.
The Audi A4 quattro features handsome styling with LED headlights, contoured fenders, and a power sunroof. Models with the more powerful 45 TFSI engine feature an S line kit that is used to make the looks more aggressive, but all A4s come with dual-exit exhaust tips and LED taillights. Top trims get signature DRLs and even Matrix-design LED headlights, depending on how much you want to spend. 17-inch wheels are standard on the base model, but 18s and 19s are available too.
The A4 has one up on the BMW 3 Series with slightly longer dimensions. From end to end, the A4 measures 187.5 inches in length with a wheelbase of 111 inches. Height is 56.2 inches, but available sport suspension can lower the ride height by almost an inch. Width is 72.7 inches with the mirrors folded in and 79.6 inches when they're extended. Thanks to the addition of the new mild-hybrid system, we expect that the 2020 base curb weight figure of 3,417 pounds will likely rise slightly.
Just two no-cost color options are offered for the base A4 in Brilliant Black and Ibis white. Metallic options cost $595 extra and include Terra Gray, Florett Silver, Glacier White, Manhattan Gray, Mythos Black, and one vibrant shade in Navarra Blue. If you get the 45 TFSI engine option, more choices are available. Ibis White remains, but Turbo Blue and metallic Tango Red are also offered for the same $595. Daytona Gray pearl is also offered, but Terra Gray, Florett Silver, Manhattan Gray, and Brilliant Black are not available.
The A4 is now exclusively an all-wheel-drive model, whether you opt for the 40 or the 45 TFSI. The lesser 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is good for 201 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque while the 45 offers 261 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. No official acceleration claims are yet available for either version, but the 45 TFSI from last year with 13 horses less managed to get from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The 40 TFSI was estimated to complete the sprint in 7.1 seconds. However, luxury German automakers are known to be very conservative with these figures, so we expect that real-world times will be at least half a second lower, if not more. Top speed is expected to remain the same at 130 mph on both models. Unlike some rivals, a manual transmission is not available. Instead, all versions of the 2021 Audi A4 come with a seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic, but considering how well this unit operates, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The base version of the A4 makes 201 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbo four-pot, while the higher-output engine returns 261 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. This gives it more power than the 255-hp unit in the BMW 330i, but the Bimmer has more torque. The base version is not too bad, although you can feel the weight of the car holding it back from feeling truly rapid. In the 45 TFSI version, that eagerness to surge forward is far more apparent, and it's plenty to make drives on back roads fun. Throttle response is good, and the car has smooth power delivery, but you can definitely feel the lack of upper-range power as you progress towards the red line. Fortunately, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is a good companion for the engine, and shifts quickly and smoothly. Take manual control via the steering-mounted paddles, and the experience is no worse, with sharp changes and no jerkiness to ruin your mood. When cruising, the engine disappears into the background, and the transmission's shifts are barely noticeable. However, pushing the car does result in some noise emanating from the engine, which filters through to the cabin.
The A4 is perfectly engineered for the segment in which it competes. It manages to balance both a comfortable and well-poised chassis setup with enough ability to make twisty roads fun to drive. It takes corners with aplomb, exhibiting minimal body roll and only showing signs of understeer when you really overcook it. The steering also weights up nicely when you attack such corners, but some may find the lightness of the steering disconcerting when cruising on straight freeways. Nevertheless, the car accelerates, turns, and stops well, with only a rear-wheel-drive BMW offering more fun in the corners. Over corrugated tarmac or big bumps, the A4 is just as brilliant, soaking up imperfections with ease and never feeling harsh or floaty. Thanks to standard quattro all-wheel drive, the A4 is great at accelerating from the line and also gives drivers security when traveling over wet or icy roads. Overall, the A4 is not a Rolls-Royce or a Porsche, but for the segment it competes in, it stands out for trying to achieve the qualities of both these upper-class brands with style.
Official EPA estimates for the 2021 A4 sedan have not yet been released, but the all-wheel-drive model from 2020 achieved 24/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. Thanks to the recent addition of a 12-volt mild-hybrid electric system, we expect these gas mileage figures to improve slightly. With a 15.3-gallon gas tank, the 2021 A4 should be able to comfortably exceed 420 miles of range with mixed driving.
The A4 has a simple but lovely interior. Base models get a seven-inch driver info display, but mid- and top-level trims feature a 12.3-inch configurable driver info screen that looks brilliant. In the middle of the dash is a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display while the vents separate the screen from physical knobs for adjusting the tri-zone climate control system. Leather upholstery adds style, but an available leather and Alcantara upgrade makes the cabin sportier. Space in here is good too, with all occupants able to sit comfortably. Additional features like standard heated front seats and a ten-speaker sound system round off a great cabin.
The A4 seats five individuals, but the middle of the rear bench is best suited to kids, especially if the other rear passengers don't want their legroom infringed upon. Headroom is good back here, even if you're around the six-foot mark, while the front occupants get standard eight-way power-adjustable seats. The driver has all controls in easy reach and has a good view of all corners of the car. Thanks to an adjustable steering wheel and added lumbar support for the driver, spirited maneuvers never leave you feeling aloof or out of control.
As standard, the base 40 model comes with Brown Walnut wood inlays while opting for the 45 engine will see you get Grey Oak natural wood inlays as a free option too. Color choices for the upholstery include Atlas Beige, Black, Okapi Brown, and Rock Gray. All of these come with Granite Gray stitching, except for Black, which comes with Rock gray stitching. A black headliner with unique black upholstery costs 500 bucks on the top- and mid-level trims with the 45 engine, and is not available elsewhere. A Sport package that adds a black cloth headliner and Aluminum Ellipse inlays is available for $750 and also adds sport seats and lower suspension.
The A4 sedan is naturally not as capacious as a wagon, but it's not bad for the segment either. Although the BMW 3 Series offers more trunk space with 17 cubic feet, the A4's measurement of 12 cubic feet of volume is better than the Genesis G70 can manage. A couple of medium-sized suitcases can be squeezed in there with relative ease, but the 40/20/40-split-folding back seats can always be tumbled to accommodate any extra stuff you can't fit in the trunk.
In the cabin, each door gets a small pocket for storing a bottle of water or a wallet, while the glovebox and a smallish center armrest bin can take care of other pocket contents. An area ahead of the gear-lever houses your phone while four cupholders throughout the cabin ensure that everyone can stay hydrated.
The A4 is well equipped in standard form, with a seven-inch driver info display, forward collision alert with low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, keyless ignition, rain-sensing wipers, automatic LED headlights with auto high beams, cruise control, heated mirrors, and a power sunroof. Also included are eight-way heated front seats, ambient lighting, tri-zone climate control, and the obligatory rearview camera. Other available features include blind-spot monitoring with vehicle exit warning and rear cross-traffic alert, a 12.3-inch configurable driver info display, wireless charging, keyless entry, a hands-free trunk, navigation, adaptive cruise control with traffic sign recognition and traffic jam assist, lane keep assist, parking sensors, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, a surround-view camera, park assist, a head-up display, and Matrix-design LED headlights.
All Audi A4 sedans come with a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display running Audi's intuitive and attractive MMI interface. Ten speakers are standard along with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, two USB ports, Bluetooth, and HD Radio. Available upgrades include SiriusXM satellite radio, two rear USB ports for charging, navigation, and a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. Easy to understand and navigate, quick to respond, and with clear and stylish graphics, this MMI system is almost as good as BMW's iDrive, if not on the same level. In addition, the audio quality is great, even without the upgraded B&O setup, although bass fanatics may demand the pricier system.
Thus far, the updated Audi A4 seems to be an exemplary car in terms of reliability, having been subject to no recalls for either the 2021 or the 2020 model years.
In the event of any issues, the A4 comes with limited and powertrain warranties that provide coverage for the first four years or 50,000 miles of ownership. Complimentary scheduled maintenance is also included for the first year or 10,000 miles.
The A4 excels when it comes to safety too, earning the maximum five stars in the NHTSA's crash ratings for the 2020 model year. While the IIHS has not yet subjected the 2021 Audi A4 to reviews for safety, but 2020's version achieved the best possible overall score of Good in each crashworthiness test.
As standard, the base A4 is equipped with lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers, a rearview camera, forward collision alert with low-speed autonomous emergency braking, and six airbags. Two additional rear side thorax airbags are optional, along with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and vehicle exit warning, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist and traffic sign recognition, lane keep assist, a surround-view camera, parking sensors, a head-up display, park assist, and Matrix-design LED headlights. Moving up to the mid-range Premium Plus or top-of-the-line Prestige automatically adds most of these features.
In review, the Audi A4 is very good at being good. It doesn't excel, and it doesn't disappoint greatly in any meaningful regard. It handles well and feels good to drive but is not as exciting as a BMW. It has an average trunk capacity and a clean but simple cabin. Its looks are neither offensive nor heart-stirringly gorgeous. It has good specs as standard, but too many options can become pricey. On that note, why is satellite radio optional but a ten-speaker sound system is standard? Overall, the A4 is just plain good. This is a car that you buy when you want to be sensible. It will do everything you ask of it with poise and precision so long as you respect its limits. Basically, this is the car to get when you want the approval of your significant other. It's neither a wastefully opulent car nor a Scrooge-like cheap one. In this segment, that's pretty much ideal.
In base Premium form, the A4 goes on sale for an MSRP in the USA of $39,100 before a $995 destination charge. Opt for the more powerful engine option on this cheapest model and you'll add $1,800 to the price of the new Audi A4. The mid-level Premium Plus trim retails for $43,800, but the stronger engine is cheaper here, at $1,300. The top-level Prestige trim is the most expensive in the range and has a base price of $49,400. However, the more potent engine adds a cost of just 400 bucks on this trim. Fully loaded, Audi A4 prices can easily get to the $60k mark.
Three trims are available in the 2021 A4 lineup in the US: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. Each comes with quattro all-wheel-drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic S tronic transmission. Each also comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a 12-volt mild-hybrid electric system that helps produce 201 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. All Audi A4 models have access to the same engine with a better tune that sees it develop specs of 261 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.
The base Premium model comes with 17-inch wheels if you opt for the 40 TFSI engine and 18s if you choose the 45 TFSI. It also features a seven-inch driver info display, ambient lighting, LED headlights, a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system, keyless ignition, lane departure warning, tri-zone climate control, and heated front seats.
The mid-level Premium Plus builds on the base model with a 12.3-inch driver info display, a hands-free trunk, parking sensors, keyless entry, adaptive cruise control with active lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, and wireless charging. This model also features 18-inch wheels as standard with 19s available.
The top-level Prestige adds to the Premium Plus with navigation, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, lane keep assist, a head-up display, traffic sign recognition, traffic jam assist, dual-pane acoustic glass, heated rear seats, Matrix-design LED headlights, and extended ambient lighting.
Models with the 40 TFSI engine feature a regular Audi body kit, while those with the 45 TFSI engine get an S line kit as standard.
The base model has access to a Convenience package that adds SiriusXM satellite radio, keyless entry, a hands-free trunk, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and vehicle exit warning, wing mirrors with memory, and driver's seat memory. Parking sensors and a heated steering wheel are also included here. A Sport package is available on the other two trims and adds sport front seats, lowered sport suspension, and a black headliner. The front passenger also gets four-way lumbar adjustment. Also available is an S line interior package that blends Alcantara and leather with brushed aluminum inlays and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. At the time of writing, no pricing information for these packages was available.
As is often the case, the Goldilocks model in the lineup is the one right in the middle. The mid-level Premium Plus trim is enhanced with a 12.3-inch driver info display, 18-inch wheels, keyless entry, wireless charging, satellite radio, parking sensors, a hands-free trunk, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and vehicle exit warning, and driver's seat and wing mirror memory functions. This model also has access to navigation, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, and lane keep assist. Other options are available too, but we think these are all you need for a comfortable and capable compact luxury sedan.
Audi's biggest problem in this segment is, and always has been the BMW 3 Series. However, for the budget-conscious, the Audi is far more appealing than the Bimmer. The cost of the Audi A4 starts at $39,100 while the BMW 3 Series asks for at least 41,250 of your greenbacks. In base format, both come with a 2.0-liter turbo-four, with the Bimmer producing 255 horses compared to the Audi's 201. It also produces more torque with 294 lb-ft. Upgrading to the more powerful version of the A4 will give you 261 hp under your right foot, but the Bimmer comes as either a RWD or AWD car while the Audi is only available with quattro. The Audi has a smaller trunk too. For those who want more fun, the Bimmer is also available in M340i guise, with a 3.0-liter turbo straight-six B58 engine sending 382 hp through the wheels. However, this inflates the price significantly. Overall, the A4 is a sensible and capable sedan, but the Bimmer has a bigger trunk and is much more fun to drive.
A much more affordable alternative than either German option is the Genesis G70. It starts at just $36,000, substantially below the Audi A4's price - but there are reasons for this. The 2.0-liter turbo in this car sends a strong 252 horses to the rear wheels, but it's thirstier and returns an average of five mpg less than the Audi on all the EPA's cycles. It also has a smaller, 10.5 cubic-foot trunk. Additionally, it only comes with dual-zone climate control, a seven-inch display and less headroom and legroom in the back. The infotainment system is also not on par with those in its German counterparts. Still, a 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V6 with 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque is an exciting proposition, especially when it costs less than 50 grand. That said, we still prefer the A4 overall. As a driving companion, the Genesis is a better prospect, but the A4 is far better overall.