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 most important 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 the few A4 2.0 TFSI Quattro S-Line models, complete with the seven-speed 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 semi-autonomous 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.
BY THE NUMBERS | $171 /HP (BASE MSRP) | 126 HP/L (ENGINE DISPLACEMENT) | 151.4 HP/TON (HORSEPOWER TO WEIGHT) | 5.99 KG/HP | 6.3 L L/100 KM (DCT – OBSERVED)
2017 Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro
BASE PRICE: $43,200
ENGINE: Turbocharged 2.0L I-4
HORSEPOWER / TORQUE: 252 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine / all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed S-tronic transmission
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 7.9 / 5.4 / 6.3 L/100 km
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES: BMW 3 Series, Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac ATS-V, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XE, Kia Cadenza, Lexus RC, Lincoln MKS, Mercedes- Benz C-Class, Volvo S60
LED LIGHTING PACKAGE ($900) – LED headlights, high-beam assist; S LINE SPORT PACKAGE ($2,250) – 19-in. 5-V-spoke design wheels with titanium finish, 255/35 R19 performance tires, sport suspension, front sports seats, black interior headliner, stainless steel pedals, brushed aluminum inlays, flat-bottomed 3-spoke multifunction steering wheel, S LINE EXTERIOR, PASSENGER LUMBAR SUPPORT, SPORT SEATS WITH LEATHER SEATING SURFACES, S LINE DOOR SILLS; DRIVER ASSISTANCE PACK AGE ($1,350) – Audi side assist, top-view camera, AUDI PRE SENSE REAR, REAR CROSSTRAFFIC ALERT; COMFORT SEATING PACKAGE ($1,350) – front sport seats, ventilated front seats; CONVENIENCE PACKAGE ($850) – Rear parking sensors, heated steering wheel, memory for driver’s seat and exterior mirrors; Metallic paint ($890); 18-in. 10-spoke dynamic design wheels with all-season tires ($800); rear side airbags ($500).