2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Introduction
Aside from a single, considerable flaw and a couple of aggravating control layout issues, the 2014 Audi A4 might just be the perfect entry-level luxury sports sedan, especially if you live where rain and snow are commonplace, or you simply want to drive something different from what everyone else is parking in their driveways.
Predictably, the heavy-hitters in this sales segment are the BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the models wearing the most aspirational badges in the class. For every A4 sold last year, BMW moved 3.25 examples of its 3 Series and Mercedes sold 2.4 versions of its C-Class models. Other A4 competitors are about as popular as the Audi, and they include the Acura TL, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q40 and Q50, Lexus IS, and Volvo S60.
That list includes several excellent vehicles, and they all deserve merit in one respect or another. But not all of them are capable of inspiring passion, joy, and pride in their driver the way a 2014 Audi A4 Quattro can. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
The Audi A4 can be optioned as a luxury sedan, or as a sports sedan, or as both. If you’re looking for the A4 Avant station wagon model, that was discontinued a couple of years back, but the Audi allroad is basically the same thing equipped with SUV styling cues.
Commanding a $3,900 premium over the new 2015 Audi A3 Sedan, the A4 Sedan starts at $33,800 in Premium trim with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Add Quattro all-wheel-drive for $900, and pair Quattro with an 8-speed automatic transmission instead of the standard 6-speed manual gearbox for another $1,200.
The Premium Plus trim level costs an extra $3,500, and includes a sportier S-Line exterior appearance package, aluminum window-surround trim, auto-dimming side mirrors, Xenon Plus headlights, LED running lights, and LED taillights. Inside, the A4 Premium Plus model adds upgraded decor, triple-zone climate control, Audi Advanced Key passive entry, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats, memory for the driver’s settings, and split-folding rear seatbacks.
The loaded A4 Prestige model is priced $5,300 higher than the Premium Plus version. Standard equipment for this model includes a Multi-Media Interface (MMI) navigation system with voice activation and a 4-year subscription to satellite traffic reports, Audi Connect services with a free 6-month subscription, and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio system that includes HD Radio, satellite radio, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Additionally, the A4 Prestige includes a color driver information system, Parking System Plus technology with a reversing camera, an Audi Side Assist blind-spot information system, and adaptive headlights.
My test car was the 2014 Audi A4 Premium Plus with Quattro all-wheel-drive, a manual gearbox, an optional MMI Navigation Package, a Sport Package, and a Black Optics Package, bringing the window sticker to $43,550.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Design
- New wheel designs
- New paint colors
- New Black Optics Package
Am I big fan of the 2014 Audi A4? You bet I am, and the styling is one reason. Granted, it has been a few years since the A4 was last redesigned, but the car’s tasteful and conservative look certainly is aging well, and even at a glance, its easy to identify the car as an Audi.
In particular, I love my test car’s optional titanium-finish, 5-arm, rotor-design, 19-inch aluminum wheels, which look terrific, do a great job of hiding brake dust, are super-easy to clean, and have 255/35 summer performance tires wrapped around them. They’re included in the Black Optics Package, which is new for 2014. In addition to the cool wheels, this upgrade adds dark exterior trim, and my test car’s Ibis White paint really accentuates the sportier look.
Inside, the Audi A4’s interior is rendered in expertly detailed, high-quality materials, resulting in a no-nonsense environment from which to conduct the serious business of driving. Metallic trim and accents decorate the interior like subtle, expensive jewelry, and there exists a cohesion and consistency to the A4’s cabin that generally eludes other automakers when they attempt to glam things up. From the gauge and control lighting at night, to the MMI display screen’s lush graphics, to the amount of sparkle and twinkle within the A4, Audi simply nails it in terms of design.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- No changes for 2014
Thanks to its sport-bolstered, 14-way power front seats with manual thigh extensions, my 2014 Audi A4 test car proved exceptionally comfortable. A sliding and height adjustable center armrest sure helped, as did the thick-rimmed sport steering wheel that is included in the optional Sport Package. Equipped with comfortable and useful thumb and palm grips, the steering wheel is wrapped in smooth leather that facilitates easy shuffle steering.
Climb into the A4’s rear seat, and accommodations are snug. The seating is low, mainly because the car is low-slung, but thigh support is decent and there’s lots of room for feet under the front seats. My shins were in uncomfortable contact with the lower part of the hard front seatback covers, though; I would volunteer to ride back there only for short jaunts.
The A4’s 12.4 cu.-ft. trunk is shaped like a cube, nicely finished with enclosed hinges so that you don’t accidentally crush your luggage. If you fold the 60/40-split rear seat, the A4 supplies 34 cu.-ft. of cargo space (measured to the front seatbacks). Also, Audi supplies plastic grocery bag hooks, and the trunk lid is equipped with a grab handle designed to make closing the lid easier. Just make sure to give it a healthy tug to swing it all the way shut.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard Bluetooth
- Standard Audi Music Interface
- Standard driver information display
- Standard universal garage door opener
Generally, the Audi A4’s controls are located where you expect to find them, though the steering wheel stalks all possess ergonomic quirks in terms of function, location, or both.
The hardest thing to get used to, though, is the A4’s MMI infotainment system. The display screen is located at the top of the center stack of controls, where it is easy to see, but it is not touch-sensitive. The corresponding knobs and buttons used to control the system are located on the center console, where they fall readily to hand. Once you’ve trained your brain to recognize the center console controls by touch, the MMI system is, theoretically, easy to use. However, after years of test driving Audis, I still find that I am regularly inclined to glance down to make sure I’ve found the right control, and when I do that, the road ahead is invisible. It’s not even present in my peripheral vision. And that’s bad.
Beyond this issue of driver distraction, the MMI controls are located right in front of the A4’s cupholders. I once drove an Audi that had clearly suffered a soda spill at some point, and the MMI buttons in that test car were mighty sticky.
Aside from the ergonomic challenges with the MMI, pairing my smartphone to the Audi’s Bluetooth connection was super simple, and I had no trouble streaming Pandora or playing tracks from my iTunes library. Audi also provides lots of options for making calls, including voice recognition technology. And if you’ve got Audi Connect, your A4 offers subscription-based mobile Wi-Fi capability, Google Earth and Google Maps with Street View navigation imagery, Google Local Search, general information services, and more.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- No changes for 2014
Aside from including rain-sensing wipers and headlights as standard equipment, the 2014 Audi A4 is equipped with safety-related basics and that’s it. To obtain a reversing camera, parking assist sensors, and Audi Side Assist blind spot monitoring, you can buy the A4 Prestige model or you can add options to the A4 Premium Plus model. Stick with the A4 Premium, and you’re out of luck. You can, however, install rear side-impact airbags in any version of the A4.
In addition to offering additional standard safety features, the A4 Prestige is exclusively available with a Driver Assist Package that includes an adaptive cruise control system, a collision warning system and an auto-brake function designed to help the driver to avoid low-speed crashes. My bet is that more than one owner benefits from this while using the MMI buttons and knobs.
2014 Audi A4 Crash-Test Ratings:
At the start of this review, I mentioned that the A4 suffers a single, considerable flaw, and that flaw is its “Poor” rating in the new small overlap frontal-impact crash test that is performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Structurally, the A4 is an older design, a fact reflected in this particular crashworthiness assessment.
In other IIHS tests, the A4 is rated “Good” in combination with an “Advanced” front crash protection rating applicable only to the A4 Prestige with the optional Driver Assist Package. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the A4 a 5-star overall crash-test rating, the car achieving that rating for all individual assessments except for driver protection in a side-impact collision, for which it rates 4 stars.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- Horsepower rating rises to 220
For 2014, the Audi A4’s turbocharged, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine gets a slight increase in horsepower, rising from 211 horsepower to 220. While that’s nice, what really matters with this engine is torque.
Once the engine spools up to 1,500 rpm, which doesn’t take long, there’s 258 lb.-ft. of torque available all the way to 4,300 rpm, and then peak horsepower kicks in at 4,450 rpm all the way to 6,000 rpm. That’s why the A4 feels so strong and powerful despite its rather unimpressive engine power ratings, and that’s why you should never judge a book by its cover.
OK, pay attention, because this next section is important. There are two dramatically different kinds of Audi A4 that you can buy. If you choose to save money or simply wish to maximize fuel economy, you are going to purchase the front-wheel-drive version with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that returns 27 mpg in combined driving.
If, however, you want to have a blast during every commute, no matter the weather, you are going to purchase the Quattro all-wheel-drive version with either the 6-speed manual gearbox or the 8-speed automatic transmission, and you will happily accept the nominal fuel economy trade-off of between 1 mpg and 3 mpg in combined driving, depending on your drivetrain selection.
With that distinction made, the driving impressions that follow pertain only to the A4 Quattro, which under normal traction conditions is designed to split engine power 40% to the front wheels and 60% to the rear wheels, giving the car a much different driving demeanor than the standard front-drive A4.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
I’ve never driven an Audi A4 with front-wheel drive and a CVT. Maybe it would prove entertaining enough for me, but I’m certain it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to drive as the A4 Quattro. With Quattro, the A4 is a fantastic performer in the dry and in the wet. A couple of years ago, when it actually rained hard enough in the Los Angeles area to create puddles, the A4 proved itself unflappable in what passes for crappy weather in the region. As a native Michigander and former resident of Colorado, I would also bet that with a set of winter tires, an A4 proves impervious to snowstorms.
My other favorite thing about driving the Audi A4 is its turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Once the tachometer needle gets to 1,500 rpm, the car whooshes forth riding an impressive wave of torque followed by a surge of horsepower. The A4 feels especially strong under normal, part-throttle driving conditions, proving unexpectedly quick and surprisingly eager to run to extra-legal speeds, and in areas such as Denver, where elevation takes a considerable toll on any normally aspirated engine, the A4’s turbo retains far more of its performance capability.
When you get an Audi A4 Quattro, you can choose between a 6-speed manual gearbox and an 8-speed automatic transmission. My test car had the manual, which is my preference. I find that shifting my own gears keeps me actively engaged in the task of driving, a task I almost always enjoy. Thankfully, the A4’s gearbox is a pleasure to use.
The A4’s Quattro system produces a rear-drive bias, a favored trait among driving enthusiasts. Toss the A4 down a twisty road with lots of kinks, dips, whoops, and pavement breaks, and its sure-footedness is clearly evident. Exit a tight uphill hairpin, punch it on uneven pavement, or accelerate on a slippery surface, and you’ll be astounded by the A4 Quattro’s utter composure. Surely, my test car’s upgraded 19-inch wheels and summer performance tires helped to improve grip and let the car to carry more speed in corners, but the Quattro system is flat-out amazing.
Likewise, the A4’s steering is outstanding. Quick. Accurate. Resolute. Easy to fine-tune. The brakes had no trouble dealing with miles of mountainous corners combined with a 1,200-foot descent, and the pedal feels terrific underfoot.
Great, so the A4 is a capable sport sedan. You want to know about how it drives under normal, everyday circumstances. Well, if you spend lots of time in traffic, and you’re not quite as committed to operating a clutch pedal as I am, you’ll probably want to rethink the whole manual gearbox thing. Not that it’s difficult to operate the clutch or to shift the transmission, but it is more work than, say, not doing those things. Otherwise, there are no evident downsides to going with the more aggressive wheel/tire combo or the sport-tuned suspension as far as ride quality is concerned.
With regard to fuel economy, I averaged 21.9 mpg on my test loop. That’s just short of the EPA’s 22-mpg city rating, and below the 24-mpg combined driving rating. To be fair, though, I revved this engine hard while traversing the Santa Monica Mountains. And given how much fun I had, the observed number is pretty impressive.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
Though the current Audi A4 is approaching the end of its lifespan, it remains an impressive luxury sport sedan. From its clean, conservative exterior to its high-quality and expertly detailed interior, to its responsive yet fuel-efficient engine, terrific weather-beating Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and engaging driving dynamics, there’s plenty to like, and even love, about an Audi A4.
2014 Audi A4 Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Appealing design and expertly rendered materials
- Powerful yet fuel-efficient turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
- Extremely fun to drive with Quattro and Sport Package
- Appealing new Black Optics Package
- “Poor” IIHS small overlap crash-test rating
- Safety technology only offered on more expensive models
- Distracting Audi MMI control layout
- Tight rear seat accommodations
Audi supplied the vehicle for this review
2014 Audi A4 photos by Christian Wardlaw