What is it: The 2018 Audi A4 is a compact sports sedan that delivers near-sublime driving pleasure. All A4s come with Audi’s venerable 2.0-liter turbo I4. A V6 under the hood requires an S4 badge on the tail. Our Premium Plus trim level is midgrade — above Premium, but below Prestige — which adds features like a head-up display and a top-view camera system to the features list.
Key Competitors: BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Base Price: $41,475 As-Tested Price: $51,650
Full Review: Audi A4 first drive
Highlights: The A4’s 252 hp between 5,600 and 6,000 rpm is a nice number in this market, but 273 lb-ft of torque between 1,600 and 4,500 rpm makes the whole thing sing. The six-speed manual gearbox, available in all trim levels, is the real clincher. Our example included the sport-plus package, which added adaptive suspension and sports seats, among other things. Fuel economy is a nowadays ho-hum 24 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway.
Our Opinion: More and more, it’s the base powertrain trim that offers the most driving satisfaction. Manual transmissions, like it or not, are going the way of hydraulic power steering and bias-ply tires, as they fall further behind in refinement, performance and fuel economy compared to the various automated 'boxes of today. The Audi S4, for example, has an eight-speed automatic as its only transmission option. Sigh.
Engagement. That’s the key differentiator with our stick-shift A4, and the actions of this gearbox are light and precise. What’s more, it’s channeling power that’s effectively equivalent to the B5-generation S4, which I remember as being fast. Think of this generation as the most refined B5 S4 you’ve ever driven, and with modern infotainment to boot. The chassis, too, responds to your inputs well and feels proper as lateral loads build up in the corners.
The styling, both inside and out, is all business. No nonsense. It works for engineering minds like mine, but less so for artistically inclined folks — the ones I spoke with thought it looked boring. More importantly, the seats are comfortable and supportive, all switches and dials are well placed, even the brake and throttle spacing is suited for heel-n-toe downshifts perfectly.
It’s a shame that a car nerd’s preferred tech is slowly disappearing, but at least cars like this A4 allow you to have some fun in the meantime.
—Robin Warner, managing editor
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $41,475
As Tested Price: $51,650
Powertrain: 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged I4, AWD, six-speed manual
Output: 252 hp @ 5,600-6,000 rpm; 273 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,582 lb
Fuel Economy: 24/33/27 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Fantastic powertrain, long live the manual transmission!
Cons: Styling may be too plain for artsy types