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2017 Audi A4 pumps up the technology quotient

Familiar looks cloak new infotainment, fuel-efficiency, and safety systems

Last updated: June 30, 2015 11:00 PM

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Yes, this is the new 2017 Audi A4—despite looking like a nipped-and-tucked version of the current model. While the exterior looks are evolutionary, the big news are the revolutionary changes under the sheetmetal.

The new car is an inch longer and almost an inch wider, yet weighs 265 pounds less. It's clear that Audi is targeting fuel efficiency and emissions with the weight savings, new drivetrains, and driver-assistance technology.

In Spring 2016 the A4 will go on sale in the U.S. with a gasoline-powered 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder, followed at a later date by a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder. Audi promises the gas engine will return 40 mpg, presumably on the highway. Transmission choices will include a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and an eight-speed automatic. Front-wheel-drive A4s will get the dual-clutch automatic—with that, Audi ditches the CVT that used to be coupled with front-drive cars. Both versions use automatic stop-start to save fuel at stoplights. Audi says a new freewheeling feature will save gas when coasting downhill. In addition the adaptive cruise control will take topography and speed limits into account when setting speed and selecting gears.

A highlight of the cabin is the new dashboard which features air vents spanning its width. Audi says these help heat or cool the cabin quicker, at lower fan speeds than conventional systems. The car will also feature a new fully digital instrument panel, new center infotainment display, and new MMI controller. Set in front of the shifter, the controller features an integrated touch pad, both of which work the large 8.3-inch screen located above the center stack. Audi says the MMI system gets new logic, making it simpler to use. Its natural language voice recognition can perform searches on the Internet, in the navigation system, and in your phone contacts and playlists.

A new smartphone interface integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with MMI. Passengers can surf the web and use their smartphones over the car’s 4G wireless connection, while drivers’ access is restricted to services needed for driving, such as Google Maps, playlists, and phone contacts. A “phone box” with Qi wireless charging gives the driver a place to put their phone.

A new top-of-the-line instrument cluster, which Audi calls the Virtual Cockpit, puts all the usual center-screen information right in front of the driver where the gauges usually go. This 12.3-inch screen in the instrument cluster can show everything from a large map with turn-by-turn directions to playlists and contacts from your phone, all controlled from the steering wheel. The speedometer and tachometer appear as dials on the edges of the screen.

The interface also allows drivers to set up the ability to control the car remotely, via a smartphone app. Users can unlock the doors, or activate the auxiliary heating system when they’re away from the car.

This iteration finally brings the A4 a full suite of active safety equipment, including active cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and attention warning to jolt distracted or drowsy drivers to pay attention.

Lane-keeping assistance and active cruise control work up to 40 mph, and the active cruise control will start and stop the car automatically in traffic up to that speed. Exceed that threshold, or approach a turn tighter than the active steering can negotiate, and the car will warn you to retake control. If you don’t, it will bring the A4 to a complete stop in traffic.

The pre-collision system will initially sound an alarm if you approach another car too fast; if you still don’t slow down it will jab the brakes to try to spur the driver into action.

It also works with the car’s navigation system to warn you of upcoming intersections or speed limit changes, where you may need to slow down. For example, it can automatically apply the brakes at speeds up to 52 mph.

The blind-spot monitoring system will warn you of cars approaching fast from the rear, even when you’re parked. This can prevent an occupant from opening their door into approaching traffic.

Audi showed both sedan and wagon versions of the A4 for Europe, although it is unclear if Audi will bring a wagon to the U.S. or continue with the Allroad-style A4 wagon.

—Eric Evarts

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