As the best-selling sedan in its lineup, one with decades of heritage behind it and a devoted following, there was a lot riding on the ninth-generation 2017 Audi A4. Good thing Audi nailed it.

The new Audi A4 takes everything we've always loved about the Audi A4 -- conservative good looks, cool interior, responsive chassis, and all-wheel drive -- and amps it up with high-tech new features, more power, and even better handling. Yet while the new A4 aims to draw in new customers, the new A4 will only convince current A4 fans that upgrading is the right call.

More power

It starts under the hood. The newly revised 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder now boasts 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. That's 32 more horsepower than last year, and it gooses acceleration from 0-60 mph to about 6.1 seconds for front-wheel drive (FWD) models, and about 5.7 seconds for all-wheel drive (AWD) A4 models. It wouldn't be an Audi without Quattro all-wheel drive, but even better news is the universal use of a dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission in all AWD and FWD Audi A4 models. So long to the mish-mash of 6-speed manual, and 8-speed and continuously variable automatic transmissions. Especially you, CVT.

The new A4's revised front and rear multilink suspension comes in three flavors: standard, sport, and adjustable. The standard setup results in a surprisingly good balance between ride comfort and handling, especially when equipped with the sticky "summer tire" option fitted to our test car. We didn't get first-hand experience with the sport setup, but with nearly an inch drop and stiffer springs and shocks, we're guessing it's designed for drivers willing to trade ride comfort for better handling.

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Selectable drive modes

We did get to play with a top-line A4 Premium fitted with the new adaptive damping suspension, which adjusts the stiffness of the shocks between comfort, normal, and sport modes as you cycle through the A4's Drive Mode Select function. There was a definite difference between the three modes, and though Sport was just fine for day to day, we'd probably pick Comfort for longer drives though. Helping slow things down are disc brakes with 4-piston fixed-calipers in front; for the uninitiated, this is a high-tech braking setup that's usually an option. They were solid for the most part, but started to fade against the formidable challenge of Mount Palomar Rd.

If Audi had only upgraded the mechanical bits it would still be a win, because who wouldn't like an even quicker, even better handling A4? But it's the technology that really sets this sedan apart. We first saw the new Audi virtual cockpit in the new TT, and we quickly fell in love with its multi-configurable display. Here, the 12.3-inch LCD screen in front of the driver is augmented by the 8.2-inch infotainment display on the dash. Combined, you can have your Google-powered map right in front of you, dominating the instrument panel, while off to the side are your audio settings. Or, vice versa. Or whatever you like, really, even to the point of minimizing most of the functions and letting the gauge panel just show gauges. This last part is important, because with maps, gauges, various function indicators, fuel economy, and other information all crowding the screen, it gets pretty overwhelming. The system is available on mid-line Premium Plus and standard on top-level Prestige models.

GPS cruise control

Beyond the high-tech gauges, Audi adds yet another cool gadget by incorporating GPS and maps into its adaptive cruise control. Cruise control that automatically adjusts to the speed of the car in front of you isn't new, and it's increasingly common even on entry-level cars. The new A4 takes it a step further. By using GPS and navigation, it not only slows in traffic -- even in stop-and-go congestion -- but it automatically slows down for corners, holds the speed, and then accelerates again when conditions permit. It even anticipates things like freeway off-ramps and twisty mountain roads. It's a brilliant and cool trick, reducing the act of driving to just making sure the car is pointed in the right direction, and even then, the active lane keeping assist will give you a hand.

Audi's MMI infotainment system interface also gets an upgrade. There's touch-sensitive handwriting recognition that's fast enough to let you scribble an address with just your fingertip. The system now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in case the on-board systems aren't to your liking. And of course it offers a myriad of other functions including full integration with Audi's MMI connect app, an overhead view instead of just a backup camera, and either the standard Audi audio system or a rockin' Bang & Olufsen system.

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Traditional design

From a styling standpoint, Audi sticks to its tradition of changing everything while only slightly altering the visual appearance. So the changes to the new A4 are subtle, enhancing an already handsome shape, and ensuring it will wear as well as its predecessors over time. Outside, a character line runs all the way around the car incorporating the seam of the new semi-clamshell hood to make up the upper part of the line at the front of the car. We like the new LED signature lights in the headlights as well, which are either super-bright Xenon HIDs or sun-like LEDs. Inside it's typical Audi, and that's all good. The seats are comfortable, the ride is quiet, and the materials are all first rate. We wish there was a soft spot for the driver's right knee, and the back seat won't win any prizes for roomiest-in-class, but otherwise the A4 exceeds our expectations.

The new 2017 Audi A4 rides and drives better than ever, looks terrific, and offers cutting edge high-tech gadgets that aren't available in competing brands. We'll have to pit it against those competitors -- the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS and others -- to tell just how much it moves the bar. But we are sure it's a definite contender for best-in-class honors in a very tough class.


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