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Car and Driver: 2017 Audi A4 Ultra Goes Lean under the Hood, Nets 31 MPG Combined


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2017-audi-a4-ultra-e1471465352284-626x38For Americans, the prefix “ultra” has somehow become a meta tag for guiltless indulgence, overrun by visions of diet supplements, antacids, cigarettes, and beer that sure isn’t beer if you ask us. The 2017 Audi A4 Ultra might very well make you feel better about your decision, but it’s far from the hollow shell of the full experience that those other products provide. For some relatively modest sacrifices under the hood, the A4 Ultra goes about 10 percent farther on a gallon of fuel, according to the EPA numbers. And in every other respect, it’s a plush A4 sports sedan.

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Across the model line, the new A4 is longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor, with a bit more interior space as well. Yet with 70 to 100 pounds of weight dropped, in A4 Ultra form it manages to peg the mileage meter for 2017 at an EPA combined rating of 31 mpg. Against the A4’s other two longtime German rivals, the BMW 3-series and the Mercedes-Benz C-class—or against the most efficient versions of the Jaguar XE, Volvo S60, or Lexus IS200t—that’s the best it gets in this class. And it’s 4 mpg better (combined) than last year’s A4.

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The Fuel-Stingy One, If You Don’t Count Hybrids and Diesels

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There are some asterisks accompanying the claim—and those superb corresponding EPA city/highway ratings of 27/37 mpg. The A4 ultra has a lower-power Miller-cycle version of Audi’s familiar 2.0-liter turbocharged TFSI (gasoline) four-cylinder engine. Here, though, it incorporates shorter compression and longer expansion phases—as Miller-cycle engines do—with a compression ratio bumped up to 11.7:1. The result, as we’ve described, is diesel-like fuel economy.

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The other item to note would be the BMW 328d, a model that’s still delayed for 2017; the 2016 model earned a EPA-rated combined average of 36 mpg as well as ratings of 32 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. Audi’s TDI models remain on hold as well, pending EPA negotiation in the wake of the Volkswagen Group’s emissions scandal. And there are new plug-in-hybrid versions of the 3-series and the C-class, although both of those models have limited availability thus far.

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2017 Audi A4

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The 2017 A4 in non-Ultra form.
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The rest of the 2017 Audi A4 model lineup packs what will remain the enthusiast’s engine choice (aside from the pending 2018 Audi S4, of course), a non-Miller-cycle version of the 2.0-liter that makes 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and returns some ratings that are still quite respectable: 25 mpg city/33 highway (28 combined) in front-wheel-drive form and 24/31 mpg (27 combined) with Quattro all-wheel drive. All of these models now get a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

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The tradeoff is speed: The Ultra won’t be quite as quick as the other A4 models. Audi says it can get to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds; that’s about a second and a half longer than the company’s claim for cars with the stronger engine. In reviews of the new A4, we’ve observed much improved ride and refinement and noted not just that the A4 sheds the understeer-prone handling attitudes of the outgoing car but that it “no longer feels like a small front-wheel-drive car masquerading as a biggish one.”

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The 2017 Audi A4 ultra models go on sale this fall and will include Pre Sense City active-safety gear as standard, while options will include a navigation-system upgrade and the Audi Virtual Cockpit, which turns the entire gauge cluster into a reconfigurable display. The A4 Ultra starts at $35,850 in Premium trim—versus the regular car’s $38,250 base price—while the better-equipped Premium Plus version costs $39,650. This fall, the lineup also will be augmented by a tough-looking A4 Allroad wagon version.

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