Keith Morgan takes Audi’s upcoming A4 on a romantic drive through Italy’s Veneto…

Venice, Italy.

Can you believe that Audi would invite the world’s media to attend the launch of its 2017 A4 in a town where signs limit speed to seven km/h on most of its main streets?

Launch for the non-amphibious craft is probably an appropriate descriptor for the event, given the streets of this world heritage site are all under water and the main means to get from A to B is by motor launch. If romance is on your mind, of course, you can hail a gondolier.

Then you stare into your beloved’s eyes as your blue-hoop shirted man propels you slowly under steeply arched bridges along the Grand Canal, past awe inspiring examples of architecture from another time.

The classy and cultured number greatly among Audi owners, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the German manufacturer would take us to a place so rich in art and exquisite form. Ensconced at the Isole delle Rose island resort we learned of the new model’s attributes in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere away from the typical city noise.

Then we headed for the dry land of the Veneto region, north of the city, to put the machine through its paces through urban traffic, freeways, rural wine country routes and high into the mountains, ascend- ing and descending along serpentine roads.

Its driving attributes can be summed up thusly: plen-ty of perk in the turbo charged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, providing more than adequate propulsion to scale the heights and pass the freeway laggards – smoothly – greatly aided by a respon- sive seven-speed transmission. Played with the paddle shifters for fun while luging down the steep mountain side but didn’t feel the need to experiment with them for most of the drive. The cornering on the twisties was ‘A1’ in the A4, thanks to substantial technical improvements to the suspension. It’s darned quiet too.

We are not going to see the A4 on Canadian roads until late spring. There are seven power plants available glob- ally but we will get just the 2.0-litre gas engine at launch. The gas version generates 252 horsepower and a diesel – which we should get eventual- ly – puts out 190. No, it’s not the same engine that has caused so much grief for Audi’s VW parent.

No fuel economy numbers yet but, for what it’s worth at this stage, Audi is promising substantial improvements over the current combined city/highway of 8.9 L/100kms for the gas engine. Our A4s will all have Quattro four-wheel drive and the seven-speed dual clutch S-Tronic transmission. Front- wheel drive vehicles and a manual transmission option will debut later.

The A4’s appearance is only subtly different from the last version but after much work in the wind tunnel, its reshaping had yielded substantial aerodynamic improvements.

Inside the cabin expect some classy touches: fine grain ash wood inlays lifts and chrome trims raise the A4 in the elegance stakes.

The optional revamped MultiMedia Interface (MMI) system enables the driver to keep eyes on the road ahead by reducing the interactions needed to deliver what functions the driver wants to operate. Shortcut buttons for some common functions server the same safety purpose.

The centre console houses a wireless smartphone charger and you can display your phone apps in a larger format on the tablet-like display. Rear passen- gers can entertain themselves via a removable tablet – also an option. It has crash proof glass!

I mentioned how quiet the cabin is but you can fix that if you opt for the Bang & Olufsen 3D sound sys- tem. A blast of ZZ Top wiped the skeptical smirk from my visage, born of the ‘3D audio” reference. I looked round twice to see if we had some bearded weirdos in the ample back seats.
Techno and safety nuts will be impressed with the list of passive and active safety equipment available either as standard or optional extras. These include adaptive cruise control, traffic jam and active lane assists, and self-parking that responds to road markings, radar and satellite navigation data to keep the car on the straight and narrow. That technology enables the A4 to cruise up to 65 km/h autonomous- ly, as long as you place your hands on the wheel every few seconds combing your hair or picking your nose. If you don’t you get a loud reminder! One wit suggested carrying mini clamps to replace your hands and enable you to snooze.

The current model base price is $38,500, don’t expect the prices for the three iterations of the 2017 model to vary too much in the bottom line.

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