Driver assist lifts Audi A4 to rivals’ level

Lookout Mountain was setting for 2017 Audi A4 quattro. (Bud Wells photos)

Keys to a 2017 Audi A4 were handed me recently; the performance of that car is a pleasure, and it and others of the Audi line are leaders in the rush toward hands-free driving and autonomous cars.

Out south on Broadway, I pulled in to Audi Denver; I hadn’t been in its huge showroom since the store’s opening three years ago.

“Things are booming with Audi,” said Jason Steele, sales manager. I’m not surprised; to drive the new A4, or the Q7 as I did several months ago, is to realize that Audi’s resurgence has moved it into the heralded level of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and the makers are now considered the German Big Three.

I accepted the opportunity to drive away in an Audi Denver A4 quattro sedan, finished in manhattan gray metallic exterior and a lighter granite gray interior.

Jan and I drove it to lunch at Mimi’s in Denver West, then nearby to a session with Dr. Thomas Pott, DDS, on up Lookout Mountain, down the mountain to Golden and back to south Broadway.

Preceding the drive, we were given a 15-minute preview of the four-door by Crystal Blinkinsoph, Audi brand technology specialist – everything from “walk up and brush a hand against the outside of the door handle and the doors unlock, touch the inside of the handle and the door opens” to “the push of this button puts the drive system into dynamic mode instead of comfort, this one shuts off the stop/start technology at stoplights.”

Comfortable, sporty cockpit of the Audi A4.

The A4 was the S tronic version, equipped with Audi’s new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (replacing an 8-speed)  to go with its 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder and all-wheel-drive setup. With use of paddle shifters in a mountain-road descent, the transmission can be locked into a lower gear, even 1st gear, and remain there to avoid heavy braking. Some other competitive systems remain in the lower gear only until acceleration eases, then shift to a gear higher.

An effective demonstration of Audi’s active lane assist occurred while driving in the middle lane of I-70 west of Denver. I released grip on the steering wheel as the system guided the A4 near-perfectly around a 30-degree curve, then messaged me to “please take control of the steering wheel.” A camera mounted out front of the rearview mirror detects the lane markings to make the lane-assist possible.

The 4-cylinder turbo experiences some lag in low-range kickdowns, then blasts off with power aplenty through the middle range. The dynamic damping stiffens the suspension (five-link independent). The engine is rated at 252 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, and its EPA estimate is 24/31 miles per gallon. My averages were 28.4 for the 70-mile drive on Tuesday, and 29.5 for a drive in a similar A4 to Estes Park and back last week.

The Audi’s sticker price of $54,260 includes MMI navigation, head-up display, adaptive cruise control, heated leather seats; an interior highlight is the Bang & Olufsen surround-sound.

This A4, built in Neckarsulm, Germany, is 186 inches in length, riding on a 110-inch wheelbase.

Audi Denver is a McDonald family dealership, a Denver automotive operation for more than 50 years.