Calling it the “A4 Minus $4,500” probably wouldn’t be good for business, but that price cut is at the heart of the A4 Ultra’s appeal. Compared to the all-wheel-drive A4 I’ve driven over thousands of miles, the front-wheel-drive A4 Ultra is less powerful, more efficient, less fun, and—oh yeah—way cheaper. Now that I’ve driven the A4 Ultra base model, our long-term A4, and even the spiffy S4, I can speak to how much of our long-termer’s well-rounded package is retained in the more affordable base-engine A4 Ultra.
First, know that you can load up the A4 Ultra with lots of options—Audi doesn’t restrict you to a basic set of features. The A4 Ultra model is offered with front-wheel drive only (unlike the RWD or AWD BMW 320i), so if you want all-wheel drive, upgrade to the regular A4 that is powered by a 252-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four with 273 lb-ft of torque. The A4 also has a 2.0-liter turbo-four under the hood, but its engine is tuned to produce 190 hp and 236 lb-ft. The reduction in power comes with an increase in EPA-rated efficiency, from the all-wheel-drive 2018 A4’s 24/34 mpg city/highway (up 3 mpg highway from the 2017 model) to the 2018 A4 Ultra’s 27/37 mpg. That’s not a huge increase, but because the A4 Ultra uses the same 15.3-gallon gas tank, it means you’ll get a few more trips to work in before needing to refuel.
On the road, the A4 Ultra’s engine doesn’t feel underpowered—the car’s problem is the excessive wheelspin you sometimes get when applying full throttle from a stop. Although better tires would help (our A4 Ultra tester wore 225/50R17 all-season rubber wrapped around modest 17-inch alloy wheels), the car’s front-drive layout is limiting in this extreme situation. The 245/40R18 all-season tires with 18-inch wheels on the middle and top trims might improve steering feel, which didn’t feel as solid on the A4 Ultra as it does on our better-equipped 252-hp all-wheel-drive A4 long-termer.
Although Audi does a good job of making the A4 Ultra model look just as good as the pricier and more powerful all-wheel-drive model (pictured above), the real difference—and the reason I wouldn’t get an A4 Ultra—is the way the car’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission behaves at low speeds. I don’t like the way the transmission on my long-term A4 is tuned at low speeds, but it’s a minor issue. On our A4 Ultra tester over the course of multiple days of driving, I found the car was far too eager to accelerate from a stop with a moderate amount of throttle, and coming to a gentle stop was a bit rougher than I expected, too. I’ll admit I’m more sensitive to matters of transmission roughness, which is why if you’re considering an A4 Ultra as well as the 252-hp all-wheel-drive A4, I’d suggest doing a brief stop sign test in both cars. Find a residential neighborhood with stop signs, and take a few of them at moderate speeds, driving however you normally drive. It’s in those situations that our A4 Ultra tester didn’t pass my personal smoothness test, giving me a bit too much acceleration and not coming to a stop smoothly enough as it downshifted.
If not for that one fault, I could more wholeheartedly recommend the A4 Ultra to those who want an A4 on a budget. I can see how tempting it would be for some to save $4,500 for a car that looks exactly the same but doesn’t accelerate as awesomely quick as my 252-hp all-wheel-drive long-termer. If, like me, you’re on the more sensitive side when it comes to driving smoothness, consider paying attention to that part of the test drive to see if you notice it at all.
Read our 2018 Audi A4 Ultra vs. 2018 Honda Accord 2.0T Touring comparison right here!