Unless biased towards a specific brand, I think shopping for a compact entry-level luxury sedan is one of the toughest jobs. The segment is replete with options that all have something to offer. I myself almost always change my mind as to which one I would take home.
The BMW 3 Series is a staple and continues to be reference point. Thing is, it’s as common as a Toyota Corolla. The Mercedes C Class is a brilliant automobile but unless you’re 60 or are spoiled, it doesn’t project dynamic and energetic. The Acura TLX says you want to look the part but don’t have the money, even if you’ve spent more than BMW guy. The Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50 have tumbled severely in my mind – hell, I’d take the Acura before the latter two.
And then there’s the Alfa Romeo Giulia. Every time I spot one, I think what a superb driver’s car, a beautiful piece rolling art so long as it’s red. I also think that the person had better not have leased it for more than 24 months but taken the 7-year extended warranty just to be safe!
The sensible and emotional choice
This leaves the Audi A4. The otherwise sometime bland, simple and unassuming Audi A4. I’d struggle for a moment as my heart would irrationally plead and gesticulate for the Italian beauty but, in the end, I’d select the A4 for its subdued presence. And yet, as nearly invisible as it may seem, I rarely miss spotting an A4 when I drive about town. I never, however, miss an Allroad driving nearby.
The trick to the A4’s visual appeal is that it does not scream for attention but it does bleed executive saloon. The front Audi signature grille is about as loud as the car gets but there’s one simple way to tone it down and turn up the volume at the very same time. Opt for the S Line sport package. Or better yet, the S Line Black Package. It includes the 19″ 5-arm Rotor design wheels, sport suspension (lowers the car slightly), sport seats and a number of blacked out physical features. For $2,600, it’ll do to the car what an Armani suit can for my dad bod.
S Line packages
The B9 generation Audi A4 is the largest ever of the name and it shows within the confines of its very fine cabin. Audi interiors remain a benchmark in the industry. The A4’s dashboard is busy but not obstructively so. They’ve managed to segment controls in a way that makes them easy to work and figure out. The MMI wheel is intuitive, as are most of the menus. Fit, finish and materials are excellent.
The Sport seats make the S Line packages worth the asking price. They are comfortable and supportive, a perfect fit for long or short hauls. The rear bench will take on three abreast and the trunk will hold a few golf bags for when the boss wants to be picked up for the office charity tournament.
The ideal driving position comes almost naturally and once your fingers wrap themselves around the sexy flat-bottomed steering wheel, you’ll not want to let go. What continues to be a mystery is why a heated function cannot be paired with this wheel – if you want a heated steering wheel, you have to forgo the S Line options.
Standard features with the $46,600 mid-trim Progressiv A4 are a digital information display, smartphone interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth, essentially the basics. What you also get a frugal yet powerful 4-cylinder engine.
4-cylinder turbo power
All 2018 Audi A4s are powered by a TFSI turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. The basic Komfort and Progressiv trims with front-wheel drive are supplied 190-horsepower from 4,200 – 6,000 rpm and 236 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,450 – 4,200 rpm. Um, I wouldn’t skip quattro. Plus on a monthly lease payment, it won’t make much of a difference.
With Audi’s legendary AWD system firmly attached to the underside, the 2.0 TFSI unleashes 252-horsepower between 5,000 – 6,000 rpm and a lofty 273 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 – 4,500 rpm. The difference in performance is immediately noticeable while the increase in fuel consumption is negligible. Despite the 1,600+ kg of A4 to haul around, the engine’s generous torque is supremely accessible, and a delight.
A huge part of the driving satisfaction I felt while at the helm of the A4 was its 6-speed manual transmission. In fact, the Audi A4 is the last remaining 4-cylinder AWD manual car in the segment. In a strange twist, the S4 is no longer available with a manual while the BMW 340i, its equivalent, is.
The glory of manual shifting
The shifter and clutch are immensely user-friendly. Their action slots neatly between that of the hyper-intuitive Porsche units and the easy to use Volkswagen components. Working the gates is satisfying especially when in the thicker portion of the powerband.
The S Line Sport Suspension has no negative effect on the car’s ride quality. Through town, the A4 delivers the refined comfort, as one expects, but the moment the road opens up, the slightly lowered ride height, sport-tuned springs and dampers come to life. With the car, I headed straight for some nearby country roads where the A4 and I had a great time. On a number of occasions, I came down hard on the brakes while working the old heel & toe – in these situations, the 2018 Audi A4 demonstrates that despite its posh nature, it’s still a driver’s car.
As good as the Audi A4 is, the fact of the matter is that the Q5 is its fiercest competition. And this applies the 3 Series/X3-X4, the C Class/GLC and all the others. What truly worries me is that the A4 quattro 2.0-litre is the last of its kind with a manual transmission… Yes, the dual-clutch S tronic is a good transmission but where am I going to find a nicely used manual 2018 Audi A4 in 2026 if you don’t buy one now?
Bottom line is that the A4 delivers on all important points, from prestige, performance and style.