This is a review of a 2018 Audi A4 after a week of driving around Colorado. The vehicle was rented from Silvercar, an Audi subsidiary. Usually I am a Hertz Gold member, but prices at DEN for a simple Hyundai were so high that I decided to try going off-airport and pay about the same fee for a fancier vehicle. The Silvercar experience is pretty good, though it starts with catching a shuttle to an off-airport parking lot. In Denver this isn’t an issue because you are 99 percent likely to want to head in that direction. The Silvercar staffer, Angela, showed me how to use the shifter (apparently this has not been obvious to previous customers) and suggested Apple CarPlay instead of the Audi navi system. She recommended Denver Biscuit Company for breakfast (truly awesome!). I couldn’t find an owner’s manual in the glove box, so I had to resort to a 400-page online PDF (not from Audi itself; the company does not seem to make any attempt to provides these on its web site).
The car is more nimble than our 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan. However, it isn’t as quiet nor does it soak up bumps as well. So it represents a different point on an engineering continuum, not some sort of huge advance over what Honda is capable of doing. The 9-year-old passenger said that she preferred the Honda.
The “roll a cursor around the screen” instead of a touch screen interface requires a lot more head-down time than a well-implemented touch screen. The steering wheel controls do not seem as intuitive as on the Honda, nor is it as easy to adjust radio volume. Fortunately, Audi puts a volume knob down near the driver’s right hand (to the right of the shifter). Changing the radio station can be done more or less by feel, flicking a dedicated button to change the main screen to radio tuning. There is no button, however, to go back to Apple CarPlay and the navigation map (if you are willing to accept that Apple Maps is legitimately “navigation”!). It takes a huge amount of head-down time to switch back to CarPlay. The “Back” button does not work for this.
I could not configure the central instrument cluster to put the fuel gauge anywhere that was visible. Its far-right location is obscured by the steering wheel and its stalks, at least from my (6′ tall) point of view. Ameliorating this issue is a continuous display of the range remaining and the car’s long overall range (more than 400 miles) and 30 mpg achieved in mountain highway driving.
The cruise control is not adaptive or at least does not default to being adaptive (since there was no owner’s manual in the vehicle I never figured out whether it was not included on this particular car or if it needed to be set somehow). If set to 75 mph, therefore, the car will try to ram itself into the car in front. As someone who has grown accustomed to Honda’s adaptive cruise control, this is disconcerting! I wonder if there will be a lot of “automation confusion” accidents as cars transition into assisted driving and drivers move from Car A where Task X is handled automatically into Car B where Task X must be done manually.
Audi engineers can’t make up their minds whether to have synthesized voice warnings or tone warnings. Thus there is a mixture. Start up the car and don’t have your seatbelt on? Confusing beeping. Shut down the car and open the door before unplugging your phone from CarPlay? Synthesized (loud!) voice warning about the phone still being connected. The overall impression was that the car was unhappy and beeping or warning far more often than the Honda Odyssey.
Warning for the drive-through crowd: The Audi A4 has no rear cupholders when operated as a five-seater.
Conclusion: It is a nice car, but I would be just as happy with a Honda Accord. What about the boring folks at Consumer Reports? They give the A4 a score of 85 and say that it costs $36,000 to $44,500. The Accord scores 84 with a price range of $23,570 to $35,800.
Readers: Who loves Audi? What do you love about the A4? (More importantly, who has experienced the new A8 and its active suspension?)