It was Audi’s expertise that brought Volkswagen back into the game with contemporary cars such as the Passat, Golf and Scirocco. Audi itself was introduced to North America as a Volkswagen sports brand – if somewhat dubious – in 1970.
More than the unintended acceleration spree that included the all-new Audi 5000 in the ’80s, cars like the Audi Focus and Coupe were rotten machines that tarnished the brand through oil consumption, shortening or combustion.
Audi repaired its faltering reputation with a combination of innovative designs and technological innovations such as the quattro all-wheel drive system and the aluminum space frame body. Today, the German automaker is back a long time ago with a well-designed suite of attention-grabbing luxury cars and sport utility vehicles.
The Audi A4 sedan and Audi wagon go back to those early days when the Audi 80 (or Fox) was a modern front-wheel drive car in Germany, two years before the VW Rabbit. The A4 succeeded the Audi 80 in 1995, which was built on the front-wheel drive platform that also underpinned the Volkswagen Passat.
Unlike many front-wheel drive cars whose engines fit laterally, Audi chose to keep the engine’s north-south orientation to make room for all-wheel drive hardware. The longitudinal position meant that the front axle was located behind the engine, which led to criticism that Audi is often nose heavy with 55 percent of the mass over the front wheels.
Despite the seemingly exotic architecture, the Audi A4 was a great processor and was built to turn heads. Death was cast for subsequent generations of the car.
The A4’s fifth reincarnation was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2015 and arrived in North America as a 2017 model. While it was seen as merely an evolutionary redesign on the outside, the car was built to impress with the new MLB Evo platform underneath.
While the A4 is slightly larger in wheelbase and in overall length and width, it has managed to shed around 45kg due to the extensive use of lightweight materials in key areas, including suspension, brake components and chassis seals. Extensive wind tunnel testing resulted in an exceptionally low drag coefficient by smoothing the bottom and installing exterior mirrors on the doors.
Its enlarged dimensions provide a little more interior space in terms of headroom and rear legroom. The A4 no longer looks like a compact car. Visibility is good all around thanks to the narrow roof pillars, which is a boon for drivers young and old. If there’s a wrench, the trunk is on the small side at 368 liters (13 cubic feet), although the 40/20/40 fold-down rear seats give some flexibility in carrying cargo.
Audi keeps setting new standards for quality in materials and construction in the cabin. Its luxury is born of expensive plastics, real aluminum or wood inlay, skillfully shaped elements and switches that move and click with Germanic precision.
Audi has updated its MMI infotainment system with a 7- or 8.3-inch screen, a pinch-and-zoom function via the touchpad and useful preset buttons for common functions. The driver’s front optional Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster takes a bit of getting used to, but its custom features add some functionality.
The A4 is packed with new safety and driver assistance technology that includes adaptive cruise control, traffic jam and active lane assist, and even an autonomous parking feature that uses everything from road signs, radar data and satellite navigation to keep the car between lines.
The A4 is powered by two versions of the Audi brand’s 2.0 liter TFSI four-cylinder. The quattro four-wheel drive models use the full zoot engine, which is good at 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, while the base front-wheel drive model gets a detuned version that makes 190 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.
The vast majority of A4s use a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission for quick shifts and maximum efficiency. A small number of quattro-equipped A4s with a six-speed manual transmission were sold in 2017 and 2018 – a rare gem if you can find it.
The Allroad Wagon is back for 2018 with on-demand all-wheel drive. The high-performance S4 sedan is also back with a 354-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 mated to a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission, the only configuration of the S4.
The A4 got a mid-cycle update for 2020 that included a revised front design with standard LED headlights, and an updated MMI infotainment system that includes a 10.1-inch HD touchscreen for those who are used to putting gloves on the screen. The list of standard features for the A4 has also grown.
With its revamped 2.0L long-running TFSI with a new header and improved turbo, driving the A4 is a caffeinated pleasure. It comes from zero to 97 km/h in 5.2 seconds with the fast-acting automatic transmission, and 5.1 seconds if you know how to use the clutch-equipped model well. The 190-horsepower version will propel the base A4 to highway speed in 6.8 seconds.
To get around the extra weight on its front wheels, the quattro is set up to send 60 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels, even though the system constantly adjusts the splitting from front to rear. The A4 works with its front tires more aggressively and gives up sooner than more balanced cars like BMW’s 3 Series. To combat understeer, the A4 removes its internal brakes to pull the car into a corner. The result is a remarkably stable and balanced processor that exudes confidence at every turn.
“The new A4 is not flashy, but luxurious and competent. The steering is accurate, the braking is excellent and the power is more than enough. The car is a pleasure to drive – quiet and comfortable,” said one of the owners on the Internet.
Set in Auto and Comfort modes, the lack of heaviness in the adjustable electric power steering creates slight confusion when the car is going straight ahead. Choosing a sport helps remove some of the mystery. What’s not mysterious is the car’s impressive braking, thanks to the standard four-piston front caliper. The brake pedal reacts precisely to clean up the speed with Porsche-like efficiency.
In fact, the A4 seems to do everything well. Passengers never fail to notice the quietness of the cabin quickly – it is said to be almost as quiet as a Rolls-Royce. It offers exciting performance without sacrificing comfort or even fuel efficiency, even though the turbo engine only runs on premium fuels.
Owners talk about reliability
As noted at the top, Audi has wrestled with reliability demons for decades. Even relatively recent models have experienced chronic oil burn, short-lived water and fuel pumps, and countless electrical faults diminishing what should be a beautiful relationship.
The 2019 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, conducted in Germany, ranked car manufacturers by reported issues per 100 vehicles. Of the 22 manufacturers in the study, Audi ranked near the bottom at 20y center, with an average of 142 problems per 100 vehicles compared to the industry average of 115. North American buyers had a better experience: Audi ranked 15thy Among the 32 brands are just below the industry average at 136 problems per 100 vehicles in the 2020 study, which examined 2017 models such as the redesigned A4.
With that in mind, the 5G A4 has accumulated relatively few complaints online. The most difficult source is the MMI infotainment system, which may malfunction or respond poorly to inputs and commands.
“The MMI screen sometimes goes blank randomly. This may happen without any user interaction with the MMI system. It won’t come back on until you completely turn the car off and on again,” said one unhappy owner.
There is a more serious concern regarding coolant leaks reported by a few hapless owners, which can be traced back to the thermostat housing or coolant pump. A few others have noticed oil leakage from the engine.
Other documented shots include faulty electric window regulators, failed coolant pumps, and buggy safety sensors that may be using emergency braking incorrectly. Low profile tires may develop side bubbles that require immediate replacement.
Despite these notable setbacks, the latest Audi A4 is an attractive buy for a used car with its impeccable build, impressive Bauhaus design, abundant refinement and exciting performance. If you have reliability concerns, know that Audi dealers are happy to sell an extended warranty to allay any concerns.