2017 AUDI A4 By Shaun Keenan

Ignition - - Contents Table 0f - STORY & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY SHAUN KEENAN

One nor­mally goes to Venice for a ro­man­tic gon­dola ride on the Grand Canal and ex­plore the nar­row me­dieval streets on foot, to drink caffè or eat tiramisu in the Pi­azza San Marco and to marvel at stat­ues of fa­mous ex­plor­ers, Kings and Queens.

It’s cer­tainly not a place you visit to ex­plore by car as there are lit­er­ally no roads – ev­ery taxi is a wa­ter taxi, and the speed limit on the canals is 7 km/h. So upon learn­ing that Audi was launch­ing the all-new A4 here, I pon­dered (al­beit briefly) the pos­si­bil­ity that the In­gol­stadt car maker had been se­cretly de­vel­op­ing an am­phibi­ous ver­sion of its mostim­por­tant model. No such luck, of course.

Venice is a ver­i­ta­ble stone’s throw away from the Dolomites, a moun­tain range in the north­east­ern part of Italy that, be­sides boast­ing some of the most beau­ti­ful views in the world, also fea­tures some of the most fan­tas­tic driv­ing roads any­where. It is here, on the sin­u­ous stretches of tar­mac that rise from the shores of the Adri­atic Sea, past the foothills of the Alps and as­cend well into high alpine coun­try, where Audi has laid out its lat­est bread-and-but­ter model for close ex­am­i­na­tion. Over the course of about six hours, my co-driver and I take turns at the wheel, nei­ther one of us want­ing to give up the seat for the next stint.

The A4 has been the heart of the Audi brand since the mid-1990s, and the all-new 2017 mod­els make up the ninth gen­er­a­tion. In­clud­ing the orig­i­nal 1972 Audi 80 pre­de­ces­sor, Audi has sold more than 12 mil­lion world­wide since the be­gin­ning; and the plat­form has helped Audi achieve great­ness in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship (WRC) and the Ger­man tour­ing car cham­pi­onship (DTM).

Built on the mod­u­lar MLB evo plat­form, the new A4’s sporty, el­e­gant and func­tional ex­te­rior is al­most en­tirely new (more than 99 per cent they say). Though it may be de­scribed as evo­lu­tion­ary rather than revo­lu­tion­ary, the de­sign has been painstak­ingly re­fined in the wind tun­nel to make it the most slip­pery A4 to date. The re­sult­ing 0.23 co­ef­fi­cient of drag is not only im­pres­sively low (se­cond best in the world for pro­duc­tion cars ac­cord­ing to Audi), it helps main­tain a cabin com­pa­ra­bly quiet to the A8, while also im­prov­ing fuel econ­omy by up to 21 per cent, de­pend­ing on the trim.

Audi has six ver­sions of the 2017 A4 with a choice of seven dif­fer­ent (three TFSI and four TDI) en­gines rang­ing from 150 to 272 horse­power for other parts of the world. Canada, how­ever, will only get the 2.0 TFSI (gaso­line) op­tion on ac­count of the un­re­solved North Amer­i­can VW diesel emis­sions scan­dal. For­tu­nately, I’ve man­aged to se­cure one of

VENICE

ITALY

the few A4 2.0 TFSI Quat­tro S-line mod­els, com­plete with the sev­en­speed S-tronic trans­mis­sion, on hand to con­quer the moun­tains.

It doesn’t take long for the smiles to ma­te­ri­al­ize. The car is tak­ing the mul­ti­tude of switch­backs with non­cha­lance – turn-in is crisp and pre­cise, and grip is in am­ple sup­ply de­spite the chang­ing sur­faces (wet/dry) as we punch through each cloud layer. The chas­sis stays flat through long, sweep­ing bends with al­most no un­der­steer to com­plain about; and the car doesn’t strug­gle one bit dur­ing the long, slow as­cent to the sum­mit.

Weight is down by 110 kilo­grams de­spite the car be­ing slightly larger than the out­go­ing model, with six ki­los stricken from the front axle alone to help it turn and stop quicker. Audi claims this car ac­cel­er­ates from 0-100 km/h in six sec­onds, though it is closer to seven by my rough count. But while the car has a ten­dency to lag from a stand­ing start, it cer­tainly feels much faster when pulling out to pass at speed.

Drive Se­lect switches be­tween reg­u­lar and sporty driv­ing modes, the ECUS com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a num­ber of com­put­ers that are on board to man­age the 30 driver as­sis­tance sys­tems and achieve semi­au­tonomous op­er­a­tion. Things like ac­tive cruise con­trol with pre­dic­tive ef­fi­ciency as­sist and traf­fic jam mode for stop-and-go traf­fic not only make it seem like the car is think­ing ahead, it re­acts ap­pro­pri­ately, too.

The in­te­rior of the new A4 is as comfy as it is an ex­er­cise in metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail. It’s not quite as lux­u­ri­ous as Mercedes cab­ins, but it does have a techier feel thanks to a num­ber of tricks, in­clud­ing My­car Man­ager for smart­phones and the Audi vir­tual cock­pit con­trol clus­ter that’s also found in the Q7, TT and R8. Be­sides us­ing Google maps for nav­i­ga­tion, this sys­tem uses the ATE stan­dard for faster ren­der­ing of the sat nav.

Fur­ther­more, the A4 now boasts the long­est in­te­rior in its cat­e­gory, with more head­room and rear legroom than its pre­de­ces­sor, a 480-litre trunk and 30 dif­fer­ent am­bi­ent light­ing colours to fine tune the cock­pit am­bi­ence. Pinch to zoom maps, a 750-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo, two USB ports, Audi phone box with in­duc­tive charg­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and a smart­phone screen clone func­tion on the mul­ti­me­dia in­ter­face means you can al­ways stay con­nected.

While the A4 is cur­rently only of­fered with 2.0 TFSI pow­er­plant (avail­able trims in­clude Kom­fort, Pro­gres­siv and Tech­nik), we’re hop­ing more of­fer­ings will be an­nounced as Diesel­gate gets sorted out. For now, we have it on good au­thor­ity that an A4 Avant wagon will be avail­able in Canada roughly six months fol­low­ing the sedan’s on-sale date. That might not be enough for diesel fans, but with the price of gas as low as it is, it will be hard to ig­nore.

Turn-in is crisp and pre­cise, and grip is in am­ple sup­ply de­spite the chang­ing sur­faces as we punch

through each cloud layer.”

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