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2019 Audi A4 offers more than meets the eye

The styling may not wow you, but the driving just might.

The 2019 Audi A4 gets some minor changes for the latest model year, but even its redesign kept the familiar Audi look.
The 2019 Audi A4 gets some minor changes for the latest model year, but even its redesign kept the familiar Audi look.Read moreJim Fets

2019 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro S Tronic: The styling may not wow you …

Price: $51,250 as tested. The trim level starts at $40,500; Navigation and Telematics Package adds $3,000, and Black Optics Plus Package, $1,450. More is mentioned below.

Marketer’s pitch: “Go on, you’ve earned it.”

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports likes the “strong and fuel-efficient engine, ideal ride-and-handling balance, modern interior,” but not the “costly driver-assistance features, status-quo styling.”

Reality: … but driving it just might.

What’s new: The four-door sedan got a redo for 2017 and just gets some updates the last two years. Mr. Driver’s Seat tested a 2018, which is the same except for a few new features.

Up to speed: The horsepower rating is down four clops from 2018, though, to 248. Still, it’s a sure bet the 2.0-liter four cylinder still moves the vehicle quickly. Pulling the shift lever back to sport mode made for even faster acceleration; Car and Driver rates the 0-60 time at 5.2 seconds.

In all modes, though, the A4 is rather low-key until it is pushed. The acceleration is gentle until the driver plants his foot firmly, and then things really begin to blur. Perhaps I needed more time to adjust, but even after a week, I couldn’t stop feeling a moment’s hesitation before the A4 responded, and then felt that it overcompensated, like a 5-foot-10 columnist sometimes calling himself 5-11 (depends on the shoes!).

On the road: The A4 just feels so nice. Its handling is competent and the ride is comfortable with just a bit of stiffness. Adjustable drive modes add to the experience. The Sport Package ($750) adds sport suspension, and Black Optics Wheel Package ($800) puts 19-inch wheels and summer tires on the feet — but I wasn’t able to compare the handling of a less tricked-out A4.

Still, while the Alfa Giulia invites the driver to start sliding through turns almost immediately, the A4 keeps things more under control.

Shifty: The seven-speed S Tronic automatic allows for shift capability through the shift lever or the steering wheel paddles. Shifting movement feels smooth and confident.

Allowing the A4 to handle the shifting left Mr. Driver’s Seat comfortable. Performance remained enjoyable and smooth.

Driver’s Seat: The leather seat is comfortable, supportive and firm. It did start to feel a little stiff over time, but it’s an Audi, so expect some sportiness to the ride.

Setting speed: Audi continues using its cruise control stalk for maintaining highway speeds. This is my preferred setup, found mainly on Toyota and Lexus these days, but Audi places it to the left of the steering wheel below the turn signal. I apologize to my fellow drivers for all the signals I flashed while simply trying to set my speed, or forgot to put on while trying to turn.

No adaptive cruise control for 50 grand? An abomination!

Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers in the corners will find seats that are roomy enough but not featuring a whole lot of legroom or foot room to spare.

The center passenger will have a much more difficult time; a large hump and long console eat into any foot room that might have been available.

Trunk space is 13 cubic feet, on the small side.

Play some tunes: Audi uses a dial to control the infotainment system with some buttons, and this creates an easy-to-use interface with a bit of practice. My only complaint: The CarPlay function seemed to be not as seamless as that on most other vehicles.

Sound from the Bang and Olufsen system with 3D sound (part of the $3,200 Premium Plus Package) offered rich audio, but not quite as ahh-inspiring as that Volvo.

Night shift: The LED headlights are bright but sit a little low for a completely clear view of the road. Interior lights cast a subtle glow.

Fuel economy: I averaged almost 28 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat round of testing. Feed the A4 premium, of course.

Where it’s built: Ingolstadt, Germany.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicted reliability of 3 out of 5, but it was 5 out of 5 for the two previous years.

In the end: Drivers looking for a sporty small sedan have three incredible choices from Europe in the A4, the Giulia, and the Volvo S60. The last offers the best legroom and stereo sound, but shifting is not fun. The Giulia is definitely the sportiest, but only for those who never need to carry passengers or who like throwing caution to the wind.

The Audi splits the difference, offering a competent all-around vehicle with lots of reasons to buy it.