Here’s a simple truth. It’s fun to drive a car that’s fun to drive.
That may seem silly, but let’s break it down.
First, cars have taken a back seat to trucks for years now as first SUVs and then crossovers replaced the family sedan as the vehicle of choice.
Second, fun often means power and that ebbs and wanes in popularity based on the price of oil.
Third, fun also means responsive handling and that frequently is achieved by engineers designing an overly stiff car that tortures your tushie.
So finding a fun car to drive is a rarity, yet Audi has absolutely nailed it with its new A4 sedan. I drove a crisp bright Ibis white Premium model that, contrary to its name, is the base A4. Mine was loaded with Premium Plus and Technology packages though, so more likely reflects a mid-level A4 in performance and feel.
Audi’s A4 is speedy, fun and sophisticated. It’s a joy to drive and ride in and has everything a driver could want, although once loaded it becomes pricey, like a BMW.
The A4 features a 2.0-liter I4 that is turbocharged and rarin’ to go. It launches from stops as the turbo pumps up its torque to a hefty 273 lb.-ft. and delivers 252 horsepower. Reportedly the A4 will do 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Pretty quick!
With Audi’s patented quattro system providing all-wheel drive plus the A4’s aggressive, but silky, 7-speed S tronic automatic, the power is perfectly applied to the wheels for maximum acceleration. In fact, the A4 feels light and only registers 3,626 lbs., not bad for a Teutonic performance-oriented sedan.
In Comfort mode the shifts, suspension and steering are moderately aggressive. But there are several drive select modes that allow the driver to boost the aggressiveness to his or her desired level. That’s where the fun really begins and the steering firms and shifting kicks up the power to its max.
Amazingly, no matter the mode Audi has created a firm well-controlled ride that makes the car feel perfectly tuned for even Wisconsin’s crumbling roads. There’s a jostle over big bumps, but never any discomfort. It’s like the car is thinking and adjusting instantly to make the ride exactly how you’d like it.
Suspension and steering also are responsive enough to make this possibly the best car I’ve driven this year for handling turns at speed. No body roll. The Audi feels planted.
Inside, the A4 delivers a sophistication that is not devoid of panache. Sure there’s soft black leather on the seats and doors, but that’s edged with a patterned aluminum trim on the dash and doors along with the console’s right side creating a jeweled look. The steering wheel is thick leather and there’s a gray headliner overhead.
You can adjust the visuals of the dash gauges too, although that feels gimmicky to me. Still, one of the options was clean and useful. And it was simple to figure out the radio and navigation screens. Congrats to Audi too for including eight radio channel pre-select buttons on the console for easy storage of your favorite channels. Most new electronic radio screens either don’t allow that, or make it so tricky you need an electrical engineering degree to make it happen.
Seats are well formed and comfy with power driver and passenger seats and dual memory settings for the driver’s seat. Front seats are heated and the test car adds heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel for $500. The rear seat is a bit short on legroom and would be cramped with more than two adult passengers in back.
Meanwhile the trunk is well proportioned and provides 13 cubic feet of cargo space and the rear seat folds in a 40/20/40 configuration. I’d say maybe another inch or so of that cargo space could have gone to the rear seat passenger accommodations.
Audi’s steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope number with all the usual buttons for radio, computer, phone etc. on the hub. They all make sense and I like the two roller switches, one for radio volume. These are extremely handy and I wish some other car makers would adopt the idea.
Power side mirrors will fold away, there’s an inside trunk release and blind-spot warning is standard as is a rear-view camera. Thankfully there is no lane departure warning system as Audi intends this to be a driver’s car, not an autonomous drone-mobile.
Other interior pluses include a large radio/nav screen atop the dash, lighted door sills, a frameless rearview mirror, large climate control knobs and an SOS system overhead for emergencies.
The test car also added the Premium Plus package for $3,800. It includes a host of goodies such as a fancy Bang & Olufsen surround sound system with satellite radio, heated outside mirrors, fancy 5-spoke wheels, LED headlights and parking system with sensors to help avoid dings.
A tech package includes fancier navigation system and adjustable dash gauges along with sensors to let you know if there are pedestrians or other objects around the car as you put it in gear. That adds $3,250 to the price.
Without all the add-ons the Audi A4 starts at a reasonable $39,400, plus $950 delivery charge. After all the doodads were added this one hit $48,850, which seems steep for a low-end luxury sedan.
But then it does drive great and has a sunroof and cool Google maps navigation system so you can see landmarks on the maps. Overhead the visors slide and there’s a volume control knob on the console, which I found myself using a lot.
Gas mileage is good too for a racy sport sedan. I managed 27.3 mpg in a relatively even mix of city and highway, maybe a touch more toward city. The EPA rates this at 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Premium gas is preferred, but not required and there’s an automatic stop/start system to turn off the engine when the car is stopped temporarily, a gas-saving feature.
Audi offers several trim levels and either front or all-wheel (quattro) drive. In front-drive trim the Premium model goes for $38,250 including delivery, the Premium Plus with AWD is $44,150 and the upper end Prestige AWD lists at $48,950.
Any way you look at the A4 it’s a driver’s car, its’s fun and it’s one of the best I’ve driven this year.
Hits: Speedy and fun to drive, great handling and power, plus good ride, drive select and AWD. Heated wheel and seats, sunroof, blind-spot warning, Google maps nav., visors slide, 8 radio pre-set buttons on console and good mpg too.
Misses: Rear seat a bit cramped, price when well equipped.
Made in: Neckarsulm, Germany
Engine: 2.0-liter I4 turbo, 252 hp
Transmission: 7-speed S tronic automatic
Weight: 3,626 lbs.
Length: 186.1 in.
Wheelbase: 111.0 in.
Cargo: 13.0 cu.ft.
MPG: 24/31 (EPA)
MPG: 27.3 (tested)
Base Price: $39,400
Invoice: $37,592 (includes delivery)
Premium Plus package (5-spoke Dynamic design wheels, all-season tires, alum. window surrounds, 3D Bang & Olufsen surround sound system, heated and auto-dimming power side mirrors, alarm, satellite radio, advanced key, Connect Care, heated 8-way power front seats w/memory, LED headlights, parking system plus, S line exterior), $3,800
Technology package (MMI nav plus MMI touch, Connect Prime & Plus, side assist and pre-sense rear, virtual cockpit), $3,250
Cold weather package (heated rear seats and steering wheel), $500
Test vehicle: $48,850
Sources: Audi, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage