2016 Car of the Year runner-up: The high-tech Audi A4

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Hollis Johnson

Editorial note: Business Insider just named its 2016 Car of the Year, the Acura NSX. This week, we’re re-running our reviews of the five cars that almost beat out Acura for the honor.

In the 1980s, the Audi Quattro revolutionized rally racing. In the 1990s, the TT became an instant style icon. In the 2000s, the striking R8 supercar became Iron Man’s ride of choice. More recently, the German brand has turned out one industry-leading model after another in the form of stalwarts such as the Q5, the Q7, and RS7, all of which are brilliant vehicles.

This fall, Audi dropped off a brand-new 2017 A4 2.0T quattro S tronic sedan clad in Manhattan Gray Metallic paint for Business Insider to check out. It was our first encounter with the company’s new fifth-generation A4 sedan. To call the car impressive would be an understatement.

One thing became crystal clear to Business Insider’s transportation team after just a few days with the new A4: The 2017 A4 is the best car Audi has ever made. Yes, it’s that good!

No, the new A4 isn’t as evocative as the R8. Nor does it have the mind-bending performance of the RS7. The compact luxury sedan certainly doesn’t have the vaunted racing pedigree of the Quattro. (The A4 has been known to hold its own as a touring car racer in Europe and the UK.) But what the A4 does have going for it is the ability to do everything Audi and its consumers need it to do with spectacular effectiveness and efficiency.

As my colleague Matt DeBord put it, “The A4 ticks all of the boxes you can tick, but it doesn’t create any new ones.”

The brand new A4 sedan starts at a competitive $34,900, while our option-laden test car came with an as-tested price tag of $54,275.

Here’s a closer look at the 2017 Audi A4.

Photos by Hollis Johnson unless otherwise credited.


For two decades, the A4 has been Audi’s answer to …

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Audi

… BMW’s all-conquering 3-Series and …

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BMW

… the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

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Mercedes-Benz

Even though the fourth-generation A4 served Audi well, it was feeling a bit dated after eight years on the market.

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Audi

That is why Audi introduced the new fifth-generation A4 for the 2017 model year.

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Hollis Johnson

The new A4 is built on VW Group’s highly touted MLB Evo platform, which also underpins …

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Hollis Johnson

… the Audi Q7 and …

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Hollis Johnson

… Bentley Bentayga SUVs.

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Bentley

Styling-wise, the new A4 is elegantly understated. It’s the latest evolution of the modern design language that has come to define the brand in recent years.

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Hollis Johnson

Up front, Audi’s trademark hexagonal Singleframe grille grows in magnitude to become even more prominent. It’s flanked by a pair of Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lamps.

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Hollis Johnson

The rear end of the car is highlighted by a tastefully executed, integrated deck-lid spoiler along with LED taillights and dual exhausts.

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Hollis Johnson

While the exterior of the A4 may best be described as handsomely restrained in its execution, the cabin on the other hand is a no-holds-barred high-tech masterpiece.

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Hollis Johnson

This starts with the Audi virtual cockpit digital-instrument display that comes as part of our test car’s $8,600 Prestige package.

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Hollis Johnson

The 12.3-inch high-definition LCD is controlled via steering-wheel-mounted buttons located to the left of the Audi logo.

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Hollis Johnson

The Virtual Cockpit is fully configurable and presents the driver with all of the requisite telemetry along with a massive navigation map and multimedia menus. Powered by an NVIDIA quad-core processor, the system’s presentation is crisp, and the operation is seamless. First found on the new TT sports car and R8 supercars, it’s a system we have thoroughly enjoyed in every one of our encounters with it.

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Hollis Johnson

Also in front of the driver is an optional heads-up display.

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Hollis Johnson

The center stack of our test car features an optional 8.3-inch touchscreen running Audi’s MMI Navigation Plus infotainment system. The A4 comes standard with a 7-inch screen.

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Hollis Johnson

The center screen can also be operated using Audi’s trusty rotary controller with an integrated script pad along with a voice-command system designed to mimic the control logic of a smartphone.

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Hollis Johnson

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay allow the occupants to control the infotainment system from their phone.

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Hollis Johnson

Our test car came equipped with an upgraded 19-speaker, 755-watt Bang & Olufsen surround-sound system.

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Hollis Johnson

Below the infotainment screen are the controls for the ventilated seats and multi-zone climate control. There are also a pair of obligatory cupholders along with the car’s push-button starter.

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Hollis Johnson

In addition, the A4 is available with built-in 4G LTE connectivity, a top-view camera system, adaptive cruise control, active lane-keep assist, and traffic-sign recognition.

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Hollis Johnson

There’s also Audi’s smart key.

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Hollis Johnson

Over all, the A4’s cabin is as quiet, refined, and plush as one has come to expect from a top-line Audi product. The black leather seats in our test car felt soft to the touch and offered more than adequate bolstering for both leisurely jaunts down the highway and dynamic drives on twisty country roads.

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Hollis Johnson

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter, 252-horsepower, turbocharged, inline-four-cylinder engine that’s shared with the A6, the Q5, and the Porsche Macan. The gutsy motor is truly impressive.

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Hollis Johnson

It’s paired with Audi’s 7-speed S-tronic twin-clutch transmission and Audi’s legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system.

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Hollis Johnson

For the fifth-generation A4, Audi engineers managed to shave as much as 99 pounds off the car using lightweight aluminum-hybrid construction. The result is a car that’s more nimble to drive and a little easier on the fuel budget.

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Hollis Johnson

On the road, our A4 felt powerful and confident. The 2.0-liter motor delivers its 273 foot-pounds of twisting power at an easily accessible 1,600 rpm. As a result, the Audi accelerates off the line with great urgency, taking advantage of the little-engine’s broad power band. According to Audi, the Quattro-equipped A4 is capable of sprinting to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds and reach an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph.

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Hollis Johnson

Through the corners, our A4’s all-wheel-drive grip allowed it to remain remarkably neutral. Only when pushed really hard does the under-steering tendencies of its front-wheel-drive-biased chassis appear.

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Hollis Johnson

Drivers can also select from a series of driving modes that can vary the car’s throttle response and steering assistance. In addition, the system can configure the A4’s optional adjustable dampers based on the driving conditions.

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Hollis Johnson

At the end of the day, does A4 offer the exhilaration and over-the-top style of its iconic Audi forefathers? No. But what the A4 does offer is world-class tech functionality, a dynamic driving experience, handsome styling, and an impressively luxurious cabin executed to the level of success unseen in any other Audi product.

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Hollis Johnson

All in all, the 2017 Audi A4 is everything you could want in a modern compact luxury sedan. And it’s the best car Audi has ever made.

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Hollis Johnson