Audi’s A4 takes the edge in the luxury segment

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News

Entry-level luxury sedans have crept up in price recently, but fierce competition between the automakers has actually made the models better values.

In the true luxury segment, the German trio Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz rule the roost. These companies compete bitterly for advantage between their A4, 3-Series and C Class sedans respectively. Then there are multiple contenders in the premium (would-be luxury) sector, including Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Lincoln and Buick.

Often the edge goes — for a while, at least — to the brand with the newest entry, which currently means the Audi A4. For 2017 the latest A4 stakes out slightly different ground from the previous model, with an extra emphasis on sporty performance and handling, plus a big dose of safety features and cockpit high-tech. The latter ties in with Audi’s new ad campaign, whose tagline “Intelligence is the new rock and roll” suggests that the company’s cars are smarter than the rest.

Though BMW and Mercedes would undoubtedly debate such a claim, the fact is Audi has established an enviable reputation for its slightly edgy, cool design married to advanced technology. The combination has worked well for Audi over the past few years: Sales have surged, topping 200,000 in 2015. For Audi’s U.S. boss Scott Keogh, the new A4’s arrival is timely as he aims to maintain the brand’s steep upward sales trajectory.

The car itself is redesigned and re-engineered from top to bottom. “This is the ninth-generation A4 and is completely different in feel to what you are used to with A4s,” notes Filip Brabec, director of product planning.

Though the look of the new model is familiar, there are styling details which give the car a crisper, sharper-edged overall appearance, says Audi designer Ruediger Muller. Among the key design cues are a side character line that runs from the front to the rear, and slimmer, more horizontal headlights that line up with the top of the grille. “It is typical Audi but done in a more precise way,” says Muller.

Inside the A4 a much more sophisticated instrument panel incorporates much of the same display and infotainment technology as the recently introduced Q7. That means inclusion of Audi’s “virtual cockpit” display, which turns the instrument cluster into a configurable digital screen that complements the existing large screen in the center of the dashboard.

Under the skin, the mechanicals of the 2017 A4 are thoroughly revised with a more powerful 252-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder (up from 220 horses), seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and all new five-link suspension system.

The engine is more powerful than its main rivals’ base units and covers the 0-60 mph dash in 5.7 seconds before reaching a top speed of 130 miles per hour. Most notable is the powertrain’s strong torque delivery (273 pound-feet at 1,600 rpms), which gives the car plenty of punch for overtaking or powering out of a slow corner.

In terms of value, Audi says the various A4 models, starting at $38,250, are well positioned compared to comparably equipped rivals from BMW and Mercedes, and cost three to four thousand dollars less.

The A4 is better looking, better equipped and better performing than its predecessor. That’s how it should be, but it’s also good news for consumers shopping in the luxury sector.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at