"Truth in engineering" doesn't leave much room for emotion.
It’s difficult to accurately capture the essence of Audi. Of Germany’s Big “Three” luxury automakers, the Ingolstadt-based company is perhaps best known for its innovative engineering and the tech inside its cars. Unfortunately these factors don’t really give a car soul. Or do they? We recently had a week with the 2017 Audi A4 and spent much of our time trying to connect with it. This was surprisingly harder than expected. Most cars derive character from a few places. There’s the design of the exterior, for example.
The new A4 is not ugly or anything, but it's styling is more a step forward than a massive leap. It’s certainly not a carbon copy of the old A4. Both the front and rear ends have been redesigned to have a more striking appearance, with the lights and grille getting a sharper, more angular look. Weight is down by 66 pounds for AWD models and 99 pounds for FWD ones—our tester had a curb weight of 3,626 pounds—yet visually it appears as if muscle has been added. Unfortunately the styling still skews more towards subtle than striking. A car's personality traits are usually defined by extremes, both positive and negative.
The 2017 Audi A4 sits squarely in the center of the spectrum, although it does skew more towards handsome than average. It's certainly no knockout, though, and needless to say we had a difficult time making a superficial connection with it. However, behind the driver’s seat it was a different story. Under the hood of our A4 was a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine making 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. Power is routed through a seven-speed dual-clutch (S tronic in Audi speak) transmission. Front-wheel drive is available, but our model came equipped with the automaker’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The power split is 40-60 (front wheels-rear wheels), but that is adjusted as driving conditions dictate.
An adaptive suspension system is available, although our model didn’t come equipped with it. With a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds straight line speed isn’t this sedan’s calling card but it's still no slouch. As you’d expect its forte is holding tight lines on twisty roads. Some may lament the ability to get the back out—AWD stamps out some hoonability—but the ability to take corners tighter ranks as a glass half full scenario to us. Also worth mentioning are the four-wheel disc brakes with lightweight aluminum calipers. Those things offer serious bite. While the 2017 A4 is fun to open up at speed and mess around with in manual mode it really shines as a commuter, both in town and on the highway.
The ride is comfortable and quiet, unless you opt for the 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. (Then it’s just comfortable.) Rear space is somewhat limited despite the new A4 being longer by an inch and wider by 0.6 inches than its predecessor. The official mpg split is 24/31/27 and we averaged a combined 23 mpg. While we enjoyed driving the new A4 we have a hard time saying its soul is found on the road. It drives well in all aspects and we found ourselves enjoying it more and more as the week went on. But never did we experience a burning desire to just go for a drive or take the long road home. So if the Audi A4’s soul isn’t found in its exterior styling or under the hood then where the hell is it? How about its interior design and tech?
That’s a weird calling card for a car to have but damn it all if the new A4 didn’t blow us away with its clean cabin design and ridiculously thorough and organized infotainment center and digital driver’s display. Audi’s 8.3-inch infotainment center looks intimidating at first but cutting through the clutter is quick and easy thanks to the smooth design and a BMW-inspired control wheel. The 12.3-inch LCD screen on the dash, the automaker’s optional “virtual cockpit” feature, was also easy to navigate via steering wheel-mounted controls and contained a wealth of relevant driver info. Audi is known for its top-notch interiors and the 2017 A4 is no different. We expected as much as our tester carried a sticker price of $51,575.
The cabin is minimalist yet luxurious, with materials like brushed aluminum and leather found throughout. In true German fashion the layout’s focus is on efficiency. The design is driver-focused, with buttons pointed at the driver and sized perfectly for easy access. The interior materials were also cut and measured expertly. Good luck finding a spot inside the A4 that makes you think, “Why is that bit so damn big?” It sounds ridiculous to highlight these details but when you spend a ton of time sitting inside a car these things come to the surface quite quickly when done right and even quicker when done wrong. So, is the 2017 A4's soul inside its cabin? Eh, no. It's hard to form an emotional bond to efficient design and quality materials after all.
If it sounds like our soul search was a failure, it's because it was. We can't tell you why you should love the new A4. (It's too good to revile, we'll say that.) But after seven days with the car we found that it had grown on us in an almost unexplainable way. Its looks didn't make it stand out in any parking lot yet we still felt prideful walking up to the driver's side door and hopping inside. We didn't feel inspired to speed home from work or take the road less traveled but we still enjoyed being behind the wheel. The interior was one we loved looking at even if it wasn't flashy to the point of impressing first time passengers. The 2017 Audi A4 may be a soulless machine where engineering trumps emotion, but it's still a great car.