Cars usually undergo serious design changes over two decades, but that’s not the case with the Audi A4. More than 20 years after my beloved, long-gone 1996 Audi A4 left the factory, you can still trace a line from that sport sedan to the long-term 2017 A4 I drive now. That’s thanks to Audi’s now-signature arching side-window shape, which is recognizable on all of the automaker’s sedans. My 1996 A4 also featured a trunk-lid edge that looked like a built-in spoiler, and that design detail is also picked up by Motor Trend’s 2017 A4. Of course, the new Audi has grown over the years, and whether you appreciate the new A4’s styling will depend on what you want in a luxury sport sedan.
If you want a boldly styled sedan with a fresh and new design to capture attention at your local shopping mall, get a bright red Lexus IS or Alfa Romeo Giulia. When you’re seeking something that will age well, a car that might survive passing trends and appear just as sharp 10 years from now, make the A4 a front-runner in your search. During 2017 Car of the Year testing, the A4 earned finalist status, but we described it as having a “great platform looking for more inspiring sheetmetal.”
Well, OK. It’s true that non-Audi fans might have trouble distinguishing this generation from the previous one at a quick glance, but the details are where the new design shines. After living with the car for many thousands of miles, I’ve come to appreciate the A4’s design, though of course judging styling is completely subjective. I still think that Audi’s side-window arch is a great brand trademark, and I love the way the sheetmetal dips from the top of the trunklid to the plane above the taillights and four-ringed emblem. If we’re going to get superficial, even the four-ringed emblem is a cool design feature that separates Audi from every automaker with a simple rectangular or ovoid emblem.
Staying at the car’s rear, I like how the four rings have been elevated above the taillights compared to the last-generation A4. Also, when I lock the car, I enjoy watching those taillights illuminate sequentially from the center, moving toward the outer edge of the taillights. It’s a neat detail I wish Audi could keep for itself, but the new premium-ish Volkswagen Arteon will have it, too.
A crisp character line emerges from the top edge of the A4’s taillights and continues along the side of the body. By the way, chrome trim around the windows isn’t included on the Premium-trim base model, so if I were buying an A4, I’d start my search with the Premium Plus mid-level trim. Regardless of trim, the side mirrors are mounted on the doors instead of sticking out of the corner of the front side windows for a sportier look.
The real improvement up front compared to the last-gen model is with the A4’s headlights, which no longer resemble rectangles with rounded edges. The 2017 and 2018 A4’s headlights—no matter the trim—are slimmer as they move toward the center of the car, making them appear slightly more aggressive. I also appreciate the A4’s LED daytime running lights (DRLs). The design of the DRLs in the top trims is more upscale than the base-model’s design. This is something I notice across the segment on competitors’ base models, too, and I admit I smiled a bit when a fancy restaurant’s valet pulled up with “my” A4. With the car’s decent two-tone 18-inch wheels catching the light, those DRLs, and the overall design, the A4 looked sharp. One recommendation to Audi—consider brightening the hue of the $575 Moonlight Blue metallic paint, which appears nearly black when not parked in direct sunlight.
So there you have it. The exterior design of the 2017 (and mostly carryover) 2018 A4 is either “a step backward” or understated and refined in a way that will look just as good in 10 years as it does today. Automotive designs speak to us all in different ways, and as hot as I think the A4 looks with the optional 19-inch wheels and a better paint color than the one on our long-termer, it’s never going to match the boldness of the Alfa Romeo Giulia or the curves-everywhere appeal of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Still, after walking away from and returning back to the A4 hundreds of times, I haven’t tired of its design (as, say, some will of the Lexus IS’ front grille). The Audi looks sharp and premium, just like the 1996 A4 I sold years ago.
Read more about our 2017 Audi A4 2.0T: