The most notable update to the 2021 Audi A4 is the addition of a 12-volt mild-hybrid system, as well as the replacement of the basic front-wheel drive setup in favor of cross-board AWD. Both the base 40 and higher output 45 variants receive this upgrade, plus a small power bump — not necessarily one that either version needs. My tester is packing the larger version of the 2.0-liter Audi I4 turbocharged engine, which now produces 261 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.
The A4 45 might not be as decent a sports car as the peppier S4, but it can still take off. Between the mild hybrid system and the engine’s low-torque, this four-door will jump off the line like the dog who just heard the word “outside,” especially if you switch from the standard Comfort mode, which softens the throttle in order to highlight the smooth, efficient ride. The mild hybrid system does a great job in the background, helping to cut the engine off early in idle as it starts up again smoothly. The seven-speed automatic transmission is a bit slow to respond in certain situations, but other than that, it’s guaranteed to hang around behind the scenes. Light steering and easy-to-adjust pedals enhance the experience.
The 2021 EPA rates the A4 45 at 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, numbers I have no problem achieving, even in overall winter conditions. The confusing thing is, though, that the EPA rates the outgoing 2020 A4 with all-wheel drive on the highway at 32 mpg, so… where are the upsides from the mild hybrid? A slight electrification sure adds benefits like extended shutdown, but according to Nutrients, that extra piece of mechanical complexity is a wash.
The ride in my test machine is a little on the hard side, but that’s by design. Not only does this car have 19-inch aluminum wheels ($800), which limits sidewall size and prevents loosening on bad roads, but it also rocks a $250 sport suspension that makes driving fun more engaging by flattening maneuverability. Those looking for a more comfortable ride will want to skip these packages, but they don’t go very far in one direction; The experience is still frustrating enough on good roads.
Even if you don’t specify the larger wheels, there are still ways to spice up the 2021 Audi A4. This car also carries the $500 Black Optic package, an affordable upgrade that ditches the chrome exterior in favor of a glossy black finish. The latest 2020 update does wonders for the A4, giving it a softer face that fits better in larger displays like the A6 and A8. It’s still on the anonymous side, but the low key isn’t a bad thing; Besides, there’s still a fun boom here and there, like the miniature light show that happens in the matrix-style LED headlights (part of the top of the Prestige trim) every time I lock or unlock the car.
The interior does not escape the possibility of overcharging either. For $500, Audi will offer a flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum rims and sport seats wrapped in leather and Alcantara. It’s a sharp little combination that adds an amazing amount of visual appeal for little money. The seats are supportive without being cramped, and warm leather or warm fabric is always better for me in the winter than cool leather. There’s plenty of room for the Gumby’s six-foot frame up front, and the lack of a “sports” cut-out roofline means the rear seats aren’t too rickety, though legroom is a little cramped.
My biggest complaint about the interior has to do with the storage space, or the lack thereof. The 12-foot trunk is more than enough for one or two people, but it lags behind competitors from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, even if only a little. Internal storage options are also limited; The tall but not so spacious thermos has trouble fitting the small cup holders without bumping into the dashboard controls, and the door pockets aren’t wide enough to handle either. The armrest folds down to reveal a small tray that fits in more than just a mask and phone, the wireless charger taking up most of that space.
If the interior is any good, the cabin technology of the 2021 Audi A4 makes it great. All trims come standard with a 10.1-inch touchscreen that works with the latest single-screen version of the Audi MMI infotainment system, which includes wireless connectivity. Apple CarPlay And Android Auto. It got high praise for the dual-screen version of this game when it first came out, and the trim version here doesn’t skimp on features, responsiveness, or aesthetics. It runs fast, and it doesn’t take long for you to get used to it. The Prestige-trim tester also features two USB ports for the rear seats, as well as the two front ports. The Audi virtual console, which replaces the instrument cluster with a 12.3-inch screen, arrives in the midtrim Premium Plus model and, as always, reduces distraction by providing navigation, audio and other information below my usual eye level.
Audi has made sure the A4 is loaded with plenty of the latest and greatest safety systems as well. The standard package includes forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, while transitioning to the Prestige model throws most modern conveniences into battle, such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a bird’s-eye camera and parking sensors. While it’s very easy to keep this compact sedan between the lines, whether on the highway or in your local parking lot, a little extra mind goes a long way. Props for Audi’s great resolution on its backup camera to boot.
The 2021 Audi A4 starts at a very reasonable price, with a base price of $40,145, which isn’t bad considering all that standard tech and all-wheel drive is now standard. However, stacking the options can make a silly window sticker in a hurry. In the range-topping Prestige trim with a few extra additions, my evaluation model bumped its price out the door to $53,840, which is way off the price of the base A6 model. But with two engine options and three trims, there’s bound to be a middle ground that works for most buyers.
Keeping up with Jones is no easy feat in the compact luxury sedan segment, but the 2021 A4 does a great job at it. Recently updated, the BMW 3 Series strikes a decent balance between soft and sporty, but I find the company’s interior uninspiring and lacking in A4 quality and precision. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a great luxury car, but its current iterations seem a little behind; However, this won’t be an issue in the near future as an all-new generation is slated to debut in 2022. The 2021 Audi A4 is in the right place at the right time with the right equipment, resulting in a small luxury sedan that doesn’t skip the important stuff.