By Michael Moore
Connected and self-driven cars are often seen as the future of transportation, but even today the worlds of motoring and technology are inching closer then ever before, with vehicles becoming smarter and more connected.
Audi has long been at the forefront of automotive technological development, and has packed its new A4 with such innovations to create one of the smartest rides of any motorist's life.
First off, the new Audi A4 is a beautiful car and is a joy to drive, as TechWeekEurope can testify from its experience in the hills surrounding Venice, but where the new Audi A4 stands out is its use of technology.
Grouped mainly into two areas, driver assistance and in-car entertainment, the A4 is Audi's smartest car yet, featuring 30 assistance systems, and goes a long way into making driving a much more enjoyable experience.
"We are paving the way for the next generation of self-driving cars," said Audi's Victor Oliveras.
Let's face it—driving can sometimes be boring. Being stuck in a traffic jam or even driving on a motorway for long periods can really take the fun out of being in a car.
Audi is looking to improve this with the fourth generation of its adaptive cruise control service, which can be accessed via a simple switch on the left hand indicator, and makes the car not just smart, but intuitive too.
Radar cameras already are a common sight in many vehicles today, offering drivers extra guidance when parking or reversing, but Audi has now upgraded this to include more awareness around the car.
The A4 features a new 'Traffic Jam Assist' function, which takes the frustration out of being stuck in queuing traffic. This uses the car's sensors to detect which lane you are in and drive off from stationary, and will even take control of steering and braking to ensure you don't miss a chance to move up.
Audi says the system will work at speeds of up to 65kph, which sounds fast, but the driver will need to put their hands on the wheel every few seconds to keep the vehicle reassured that you are there.
As with past Audi models, there is also a traffic lane assist mode, which again uses the car's radar camera to monitor the placement of lane markings to ensure you don't drift out into danger. The company says that this is the next step toward fully autonomous driving, (having revealed several concepts in this space earlier in the year) and getting customers used to such systems will allow them to keep push the benefits of new technology.
The other significant new addition to the Audi A4 is a 'predictive efficiency assistant,' which uses the car's satellite navigation system along with the cameras to analyze and detect your upcoming surroundings and adapt performance accordingly.
This means that the vehicle can detect when it is going from a built-up, area where low speeds are required, into high-speed environment such as a highway or country road, and adjust settings to prepare for the change in speed.
The system also can detect when you are heading downhill, and so pre-emptively slow down the car, which Audi says can also offer fuel-saving benefits and help reduce emissions around urban areas.
"This really makes your life as a driver much easier," notes Oliveras.
But what about the visible technology for the driver and their passengers?
The A4 is probably Audi's most connected car yet, with the company saying that, "no other competitor can offer the standards" they do.
This means there is an in-car WiFi hotspot, allowing you to stay connected throughout your journey, and also meaning the MMI navigation system remains up to date with information on any accidents or delays. This MMI system has been completely overhauled from previous versions of the A4, and now features free text search and improved voice control, meaning there's no need to fiddle around with menus in order to set your destination.
Audi also knows that you will want to ensure your smartphone remains topped up during your journey, so has provided an in-car wireless charging facility. Although not the prettiest feature, the Audi phone box is located between the front seats, meaning anyone travelling in the A4 can use it, and provides inductive charging for your device. There also is a wired connectivity option which allows your phone to be hooked up to the in-car entertainment, providing a safer option than fiddling around with getting your music or apps connected to the car's central system.
As for sound, the new Audi A4 continues the company's partnership with audio experts Bang & Olufsen to provide a truly immersive experience. Packing in no less than 19 speakers, the A4's sound system now supports a '3D sound' mode, which looks to surround you with audio that the company says will let you experience your music like never before.
Audi has even teamed with Chinese firm Pegatron to produce its own-branded Android tablet. These can either be mounted on the headrests of the front seat or used much like a normal tablet (even out of the car), allowing passengers in the back seats to watch films, listen to music or just browse the Internet, supporting by the in-car WiFi.
Although nothing like an iPad or Galaxy Tab, the Audi "automotive tablets" are robust and have a bright and colorful screen, meaning they should stand up to even the fussiest backseat passengers on a long journey.
The car's systems can be controlled via the myCar Manager smartphone app, which can provide information on fuel levels, allow you to pre-emptively heat up the car, and even unlock the vehicle, all without you needing to open the door.
Ultimately, the A4 is a huge step forward for Audi, introducing many of the technologies—especially adaptive cruise control—that will form the foundations of the autonomous vehicle and the safety and efficiency benefits that self-driving cars will bring.