The Car Connection Audi A4 Overview
The Audi A4 has been the brand's hallmark sedan since the 1996 model year, when it replaced the old 80/90 compacts. Today the A4 family includes the high-performance S4, the Allroad wagon, and the stock-and-trade four-door sedan.
A new A4 arrived for the 2017 model year and largely carries over into 2018 aside from some streamlining of models and a few more standard features. It takes on competitors like the Cadillac ATS, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti Q50, and Mercedes C-Class.
MORE: Read our 2018 Audi A4 review
The A4 family also calls other Audis relatives: the A5, S5, and RS 5 coupes and convertibles share its running gear. It also counts the Q5 compact crossover as a distant relative.
The new Audi A4
The new Audi A4 arrived in the U.S. in spring 2016 as a 2017 model. It remains about the same size as the previous car, but has lost weight thanks to better construction and a lighter all-wheel-drive system. An A4 Allroad wagon with a raised suspension and standard all-wheel drive is also available, and a high-power Audi S4 is available for those looking for something a little sportier.
The new car looks very much like the previous model, but it grows a bit in most external dimensions. It's based on a new architecture that underpins the Audi Q7, and will eventually encompass all Audi's mid-size vehicles. The new platform permits the A4 to drop some weight—Audi claims it's as much as 264 pounds lighter than the prior model.
A new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder became the first powertrain available in the U.S.-spec A4 and it's available in two different flavors: The standard A4 puts out 252 horsepower, while the more efficiency-oriented A4 Ultra serves as the entry-level model with 190 hp. The Ultra and the front-wheel drive standard A4 come exclusively with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, while the A4 Quattro (that's Audi-speak for all-wheel drive) offers either a 6-speed stick shift or the 7-speed automatic.
An S4 model returns, with a turbocharged V-6 engine under the hood replacing the former supercharged V-6.
Redesigned five-link suspensions are used front and rear, and Audi says the tuning results in a "significant increase in comfort with accentuated sportiness." The Audi Drive Select system with adjustable shocks, steering, and throttle will be available as an option. The power steering is a newly developed electromechanical system with an available dynamic mode that varies the ratio based on vehicle speed and steering angle.
Inside, the A4 adopts some of Audi's latest infotainment technology. A 12.3-inch digital instrument panel is available, as is a new Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system with touchpad input. Safety features now include lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warnings with automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality.
For 2018, heated seats were made standard on all models, while Premium Plus trim levels gained a Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Prices range from about $36,000 to well over $55,000.
Audi A4 history
For almost two decades, the A4 was the brand's entry-level vehicle in its American lineup. But with the arrival of the A4's smaller A3 siblings, the A4 is no longer the baby of the family.
Since 1996, when it first arrived as the replacement for the Audi 80/90 lineup, the A4 has been seen as a slightly sportier alternative to traditional luxury cars.
At first, it wasn't a pure success: The 1996 A4 offered a wheezy 172-horsepower, 2.6-liter V-6 with a 5-speed manual transmission or optional 5-speed automatic (with Tiptronic manual control on some models). Performance with this engine was just adequate, particularly with the added weight of quattro all-wheel drive. At least it sounded good and was very smooth. In its second year, the A4 grew stronger with a 193-hp, 2.8-liter V-6 that moved it with more authority. Its base engine, a 150-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (dubbed 1.8T) ended up being the real star, however. It offered a more sprightly feel than the V-6 because of its accessible torque and better fuel economy.
Size was an issue, not just with the Audi, but also with its German rivals. Many shoppers forgot how small the A4 was until they got inside—or tried the back seat. At just 178 inches long, the 1996 A4 wasn't much longer (or any larger inside) than a contemporary Toyota Corolla. It had a winning interior with a rich feel, mostly because Audi was way ahead of most other luxury automakers, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW, when it came to interior appointments. That included the introduction of items such as a navigation system before most other compact luxury sedans were offering one.
Avant (wagon) models of the A4 were offered from 1998 until 2012, and mirrored the sedan offerings, though they offered a bit more versatility thanks to flat-folding back seats and the wide-opening hatch. The Allroad replaced the A4 Avant, using the same body on slightly higher suspension and with off-road-evocative body cladding.
For 2000 and 2001, the limited-edition S4 offered a 250-hp, twin-turbo V-6 and quattro all-wheel drive.
Audi extended its lead with the A4's redesign for 2002. It brought with it a completely new, more athletic look on the outside. With this generation, the A4 was fitted with a 170-hp version of the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine or a 220-hp, 3.0-liter V-6. Audi offered an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) for several years, but it was only offered on front-wheel-drive versions of the A4 (quattro models had the manual or a 5-speed automatic). Overall, the CVT was serviceable, just not especially satisfying from a performance standpoint.
Audi introduced a Cabriolet (convertible) version of the A3 in 2003. It used a soft folding top and was made safer with a pop-up roll bar and side airbags. It was offered with a choice of front-drive and a CVT or all-wheel drive paired with an automatic transmission through 2009. The A4 Cabriolet was subsequently replaced by a Cabriolet version of the A5, which arrived in 2010.
The Audi A4 was completely redesigned for 2009, and rode on an all-new platform. All post-2009 Audi A4 models equipped with all-wheel drive received Audi's latest version of the quattro system, which sent more power to the back wheels and appealed to those who wanted more performance alienating all-weather buyers
The S4 returned for 2010; it was fitted with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 333 horsepower, teamed with a dual-clutch transmission, and an available Drive Select system that let drivers tailor transmission, steering, throttle, and suspension settings through Normal, Comfort, and Sport modes.
In the years since it was new on the U.S. market, the Audi A4 has grown about 10 inches in length and has a wider, more spacious interior. Back-seat space remains a bit tight for taller adults. Front seats are another story altogether. The Audi A4 has offered very comfortable, supportive ones for years, and it remains one of the best smaller sporty sedans for tall drivers. The A4 received a mild horsepower boost for 2016, up to 220 horsepower.
A facelift was applied for the 2013 model year, when Audi also fitted its latest infotainment and telematics services, including Audi Connect, which turns the car into a mobile hotspot. Also available: an optional navigation system that incorporates Google Earth and Google Street View data, displayed on a gorgeous LCD screen, for one of the best GPS experiences available.
Instead of offering the sport wagon in the 2013 model year with other revamped models, Audi instead chose to import the Allroad, a wagon with higher ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive. The Allroad is basically an A4 Avant with body cladding and more standard features. It lacks the manual-transmission option of its Avant forebear.