Over the past decade we've been witness to the renaissance of a brand. Sure, this has happened with several automakers but it's hard to argue that in the luxury space there's been any company more exciting to watch as Audi went through its respective rebirth.

After surpassing its controversy with the Audi 5000 in the early 1990s, the company trucked on in the U.S. quietly. In the 2000s though, it exploded. Thanks to the R8, which served as an all-new halo car, LED lighting in headlights became the norm — can you think of a luxury vehicle without LEDs adorning their front end today?

2017 Audi A4

So, now what? In the past 12 months the company has released its all-new TT sports car, the all-new Q7 and a second-gen R8 supercar. This neatly brings us to our subject, the volume-selling A4. All-new for 2017, the B9 A4 is a big deal. That's because the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is shooting out the lights as the three-pointed star is on a hot streak, and the BMW 3-Series still moves an incredible amount of units.

To the casual observer though the all-new A4 may not make a lasting impression. That's because if you put the B8 side-by-side with the B9 there's not many changes to the average guy or gal. However, after spending a day with this Audi, I can attest to the fact it is a serious effort that the detail obsessed will appreciate.

2017 Audi A4

Walking around its front end you'll note the updated front grille and headlights that appear sharper. Really though there's two beautiful elements that show the company is really paying attention. First, the hood is a large piece that extends all the way to the front grille and to the fenders. This means that there are no visible seams that "cut" the A4's face, and when you lift it up it there are some heavy duty hinges located in the fenders. Second, there's an intersection of three body panels — the hood, the fender and the front door — that speaks to the company's word that I repeatedly heard over and over again during my time with Audi: Precision. While I am sure it's not too problematic to get the body panels aligned at the factory, I imagine it will be a bit more difficult if you own one and have an incident that a body shop will have to repair. From the hood's seam, the car's shoulder line extends towards the back and wraps around the A4. While the last-gen Audis seemed to echo a new-age, rounded look and feel, the company's all-new cars are more teutonic.

Overall, I found the design especially sharp and exceedingly well executed. As the company awaits the Marc Lichte era to begin with the upcoming A8, this evolution rather than a revolution makes sense.

I must point out though, in-market consumers do not care about the Lichte era of design and we've observed, quite clearly, that more differentiated designs are earning consumer's hard-earned dollars. Case in point: Dealers we've been in contact with have said the all-new BMW 7-Series is a flop from a sales perspective because of its staid exterior design. We'll see if the same rings true for the all-new A4 shortly.

Getting more comfortable behind the steering wheel, this is where the A4 team decided to really take the A4 to a new level. That's because the company completely revised the cabin top to bottom to give it a significantly different feel. Taking inspiration from the all-new Q7, there's a strong horizontal line that is brought to your attention with HVAC venting. In addition, Audi stuck true to its values and delivered an excellent interior with fine details. Take, for example, the interior switchgear. Much of it has a certain click or sound when you use them. The tactile feedback is really nice and gives you a great sensation of initial quality.

My favorite part about the A4's interior is the 12-inch TFT instrument panel. This thing is brilliantly designed and is the best integration of a navigation unit I've ever seen. Not having to turn your head a few degrees does actually help keep your attention on the road and far more focused on the task at hand.

Now you may be asking yourself why the screen sits atop the center stack. According to the interior specialist it's because unlike the R8 and TT this is a family car and will likely boast passengers wanting to use the screen for various functions. To me, the story checks out.

But it's not all roses. The base model A4 I drove was equipped with the standard seating and, frankly, they're not anything to write home about. In fact, I found them downright uncomfortable. Even worse, the passenger seat is not equipped with lumbar support. When I asked an Audi representative about this the response I got was essentially "This is how we've always done it," meanwhile when I asked the same question of one of their German counterparts, they looked inside the vehicle had a puzzled face and stated "That's not good." 

The silver lining here is that the standard seats are better than the BMW 3-Series/4-Series sport seats, which only seem to get worse as the Bavarians continue to launch all-new generation products. If you're going to be checking out the all-new A4, make sure to spend some time comparing the standard seats to the sport seats. In my opinion, they're easily worth the upgrade.

2017 Audi A4

Now, let's get to the real meat and potatoes here: How does this all-new A4 drive? Let me indulge you.

Equipped with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor, the A4 makes a robust 252 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. Zero to 60 happens in a respectable 5.7 seconds. While I am definitively not a fan of four-cylinder engines, I will say that this powerplant sounds OK. It's good, not great. What is great, however, is how the engineers kept noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) in check — I found this engine very smooth. It sounds a tad groggy on the low end but when you get it spinning at higher RPMs it's not particularly buzzy or annoying like some four bangers.

Mated to a dual-clutch S-Tronic gearbox, shifts happen quick but not seemingly as fast as Audi's high-performance dual-clutch transmission-equipped vehicles. I used to drive a B8 S4 with a dual-clutch 'box and it didn't feel as immediate as that. I asked my co-pilot if it were my imagination and he confirmed that the transmission didn't feel as sharp. I am completely fine with that as these are not race cars and should be engineered for longevity, but this begs the question: If it's not that perceptibly different from the latest eight-speed ZF automatic why bother using a dual-clutch unit that, likely, will cost more bucks down the road to service and keep in good working order?

Where the B9 A4 significantly improves upon the B8 is with its all-new steering setup. Being of the electric power assisted persuasion it's not communicative in the least bit — this is not a surprise — but my, my Audi got the the weighting right. Overall, the steering is lighter and more direct over the last-gen car. I'd say it feels more Italian than German — this is a good thing as Audi's tended to feel far too heavy and ponderous.

And it gets better.

That's because Audi's engineers really, really refined the A4's suspension. While it may not boast an air setup like the Mercedes C-Class, it is shocking how close the four rings got to achieving that level of comfort. Does it exceed the C? Not in my opinion but it's very damn close and it lacks the float you'll find in the C's air-aided ride. Dial it up to Dynamic and the suspension gets tighter but without all the misgivings. That means that it does not slam over road imperfections and remained remarkably composed over uneven surfaces. Simply put, it destroys the BMW's suspension tuning and makes the 3-Series feel quite immature. It's neck and neck with the C, which is undoubtedly the best riding vehicle in this segment.

At the end of a long day of driving, I have to say that it's tough to really form a conclusion on the all-new A4. It's head and shoulders above the previous gen product, there's no doubt about it. And when equipped with the S-Line package I would pick it over a C300 because I like its interior better — MMI aside — and it has better driving dynamics. To me, the 328i isn't a contender if you want the latest and greatest, however, that changes if you factor in pricing and the "free" maintenance program.

And while the C and 3 are not beauty pageant winners, at least they're not dull. They make you feel something. In my eyes the A4 has become a more mature product with a matching design, which I like, but I can't imagine others following suit in a day and age where people want to be noticed and stand out.

Hopefully the TFT instrument panel saves the day when salespeople are trying to close deals.

The Good:

- The all-new Audi A4 has a delightful interior that, in my opinion, is better than the benchmark C-Class — I just hate MMI
- I love the all-new, 12-inch TFT instrument panel — just a lovely way to reinvent the IP
- The suspension on the A4 is just killer — it gets as close as possible to the comfort of an air suspension without actually being one

The Bad:

- While I notice the details in the A4's all-new design, I have a hard time believing it will capture in-market consumer's attention
- I wish the 2.0-liter four-cylinder sounded better — it's good, not great
- The standard seats are lacking in comfort and passengers do not get lumbar support — not even manual lumbar support

The Lowdown:

Although it may be difficult to discern on the outside, Audi has clearly taken an all-new approach to developing its vehicles. They're lighter, feature much better driving dynamics and the interiors are as good as they've ever been. As the company will do hand-to-hand combat with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series, I have to say that it will be difficult —on a product basis — to disarm the three-pointed star. In regards to BMW, I think the choice is clear — go with the Audi — unless you really want the free maintenance program, which one could argue is priced into the vehicle anyway. Personally, I believe that Audi would of had a home run on its hands if it produced a more flavorful design, but because it didn't I suspect its sales will grow modestly, if not go sideways.

2017 Audi A4

REVIEW: The 2017 Audi A4 REINVENTS Itself, Even If You Can't Tell From The Outside — About To Get HOT Between Audi, BMW, Mercedes

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