One yearÂ ago, Audi Canada delivered a 2017 Audi A4 2.0T to my driveway. In the official TTAC review, it was my mission to declare everything that was wrong with the fifth-generation A4.
“But thereâ€™sÂ a problem with that strategy,” I wroteÂ in September 2016, “because there isnâ€™t much wrong with the 2017 Audi A4, a car that I believe has shot to the top of its segment.” One week with the Audi A4 revealed only a few faults, all of which were minor.
Fast forward to August 2017, however, andÂ I’ve relocated to another province. Audi Canada saw fit to deliver another 2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro to my driveway, almost identically specced out. This time, a scheduling quirk means the A4 hangs around Margate, Prince Edward Island, for two weeks.
If a one-week stay in an urban environment couldn’t expose the B9 Audi A4 as an overpriced, underbuilt, upmarket Volkswagen, could a two-week visit to the rough-and-tumble red dirt roads of rural Prince Edward Island do the trick?
The 2017 Audi A4, up to its ears inÂ $17,575 worth of options, is a car that does very little wrong.Let’s spell out the issues for old times’ sake. First, the monostable return-to-center shifter lacks the intuitive nature of virtually every shifter of prior decades. The separate park button lacks feedback. The delay in sourcing drive or reverse is irritating. Second,Â MMI’s volume control is positioned too far rearward for perfect ergonomics. Third, the rear seat’s gigantic center hump takes what could almost be a family friendly rear seat and limits usability. Fourth on the list is a turbocharged 2.0-liter that’s decidedly unmelodious, sounding as much like a diesel as it does a gas engine. Finally,Â with Audi Drive Select set in Comfort and the transmission left out of Sport mode, there’s palpable off-the-line lag.
Yet those specific negatives are offset by their own positives, and on top of that you’ll find numerous other winning factors that put the A4 over the top as a semi-affordable luxury car. For instance, while the shifter lacks intuitiveÂ motions, in your hand it still feels like a pricey piece. The volume control, while imperfectly positioned, is still center-tunnel-mounted like volume control knobs should be, and it’s still linked to a generally tolerable MMI system. The rear center hump, meanwhile, is the price you pay for all-wheel drive from the company that brought all-wheel drive into the luxury mainstream. (Quattro surely sounds more enticing than 4Matic or xDrive.) The 2.0T’s unfortunately unrefined song, meanwhile, is made evident onlyÂ because wind and road noise isÂ shushed by Audi’s NVH gurus. Furthermore, any lag exhibited by theÂ 2.0T and its seven-speed dual-clutch partner is removed with Audi Drive Select in Dynamic or the transmission slotted into Sport.
That’s right: even the A4’s badness is goodness.
And the A4’s goodness is most definitely good.Perceived quality is exemplary, with material selections such as the extensive metallic accents and steering wheel leather suitable for a far more costly car. The texture of the climate control knobs, the action of the door handles, the clarity of the instrument cluster’s nav display all create an aura of expense a BMW 3 Series simply can’t match.
The ride and handling balance isn’t quite spot on, not with these 19-inch wheels and Audi’sÂ adaptive sport suspension set to Dynamic. The A4 becomes a fair sports sedan on a twisty road when so equipped, but not edgy enough to be confused with its S4 sibling. Hankook Ventus 245/35ZR19 tires also create a measure ofÂ unwanted impact harshness that makes it obvious you’re not driving a more comfortable A6. But the A4Â is agile, lighter on its toes than the previous-generation A4, and happy to tackle a twisty road byÂ powering out of corners when it can’tÂ carry all of its momentum through it. Ride comfort is by no means firm enough to be punishing, but it’s firm enough not to be confused with an everyday midsize sedan.If there’s a standout characteristic, it’s the 252-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder ubiquitous in the Volkswagen Group family in one iteration or another. The relatively modest power output belies the rapid acceleration. An A4, with 274 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,600 rpm, hooks up all four wheels and shoots out of the gate while its seven-speed dual-clutchÂ teachesÂ a clinic on How To Snap Through Gears 101 â€“ down the hall in Mrs. Ingolstadt’s classroom, please.
Expect 0-60 in distinctly less than six seconds in the Dynamic setting and the seven-speed’s Sport mode. Overtaking is a breeze, with a torque plateau that always makes all of that power accessible. And there, while shootingÂ past RAV4-driving tourists, the A4 settles into an imperturbable groove at speeds far beyond acceptable North American levels, seemingly far happier in an Autobahn mindset where the steering weight and brake feel and suspension calibration cause the A4 to put in a bit of work.Indeed, it’s too easy in everyday driving scenarios for the 2017 Audi A4 to feel like a moderately well-executed entry-luxury car.Â Ah, but once the A4 is forcedÂ to prove its mettle, then the true cohesiveness of theÂ package becomes more obvious. The A4 is more tactile than an Infiniti Q50, better packaged than a Lexus IS, of apparently greaterÂ qualityÂ than a BMW 3 Series, and more sensibly designed inside than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
But to what degree do other 2017 Audi A4s feel likeÂ this A4? From the Prestige trim that adds $9,500 to the base price, to the $575 paint andÂ the $750 sport packageÂ and the $800 ventilated seats, our testerÂ is no basicÂ A4.
Thus, perhaps this 2017 Audi A4 does have a single glaring fault after all: great expense. Next summer,Â I’ll need three weeks to discover whether a basic Audi A4, $17,575 less costly thanÂ this A4,Â removes theÂ best-in-class status earned by a pair of extravagant examples.
[Images: Â© Timothy Cain]
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.