(Pocket-lint) - During our pre-brief ahead of test-driving the 2016 Audi A4 Saloon, there was one line that resonated in our minds: "connectivity and systems are now as important as ride handling". It's largely true - as we'll come to later in separating our views between entry-level and top-spec models - and something that the A4, like many of the latest cars in Audi's range, embodies.
One look at the latest A4 and otherwise, well, you might be forgiven for thinking it's much the same car as its predecessor. Some angrier headlight shaping and more of a frown make for an edgy yet attractive exterior, one that hasn't lost the roots of its look, remaining easily identifiable - albeit more similar than ever to the BMW 3 Series side-on.
But it's the interior, when loaded with all that tech anyway (more on that in a bit), that makes for the biggest difference. And not only in comfort and functionality terms, but also to your bank balance: for the Audi A4 3.0 V6 TDI quattro (the 272bhp model, which is only available in the top-spec S line trim), as shown in our pictures with its lovely coat of red paint, is kitted out to a hefty £51,245.
Behind the wheel that investment can be felt though. Driving the new A4 is just so easy; it glides along the road, getting us from A to B in total comfort. There's 24mm more headroom than the previous model - more than enough for 6-footers - and an added 23mm rear legroom to help squeeze the whole family. Need to go shopping? A 480-litre boot space sees the new A4 as class-leading - well, level-pegged in the number one spot, anyway, as that's the very same capacity as its BMW 3-Series competitor.
Tuck into that 3.0-litre engine and 8-speed tiptronic auto box and the beast is unleashed, making for a very different ride. That V6 engine can push the A4's all-new hot-formed steel body from 0-62mph in just 5.3-seconds - certainly pushing us firmly into those cosy leather-and-alcantara seats (£450) and flipping the drive sensation on its head.
Like we say, though, it's all about the tech. With the technology pack (£1,450) option box ticked - which adds the fixed 8.3-inch display, multimedia interface (MMI) and touch controller, satnav and mapping, in among other features - you can go one further and add in Audi Virtual Cockpit as part of the light & vision pack (£975; it also includes the head-up display and high beam assist).
The Virtual Cockpit is the large 12.3-inch display positioned beyond the steering wheel that displays digital speedometers (or other displays such as satnav maps at the touch of a button). But as it's a standard fit in the latest Audi TT, we feel that all high-spec Audis should also come with it as standard too, especially with the A4 barely being available for under £30K.
We tinkered with the multimedia setup in a number of ways, because the A4 is the first time we've sat in a car with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto options. Excited as we were, they are both bug ridden galore. Plugging-in an iPhone 6 Plus hoping to play tunes via Spotify and it was nothing but confusion: nothing played initially, with various tweaks and resets eventually getting some audio out. As our co-passenger quipped, it wasn't the first time he'd had issues with CarPlay in other (non-Audi) vehicles.
Android Auto was a step worse, though, crashing our Huawei P7 smartphone several times, to the point that we thought it'd never turn back on (it did eventually, phew) and leaving us to revert back to the more traditional Audi systems. Good job Audi's own setup is decent via Bluetooth, then, plus the Bang & Olufsen sound system (£750) sounds ace too.
All this tech, even with those "not quite" moments, become all the more wonderful in their absence, though. After a spot of lunch it was time to swap cars, taking the wheel of the entry-level 2.0 TDI ultra SE (150bhp) with 6-speed manual box.
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By comparison we wanted to sob. A terrible sound system as standard, no Virtual Cockpit fun, a general lack of grunt from that entry engine, and the presence of these things called gears (a real rarity in among most new cars, it seems). It's fine, sure, but going from top-end to entry-level really shows just how important all that tech is in making for a luxe feel. It's not just PR say-so.
On the surface the new Audi A4 looks more raw and edgier than its predecessors. The ride is anything but raw, though: smooth, comfortable and near effortless. Select the right specification and the 2016 A4 is an indelible addition to the Audi line-up; one that will give the BMW 3 Series a run for its money.
But, and here's the caveat, go too low-spec and you'll soon be wondering what you're missing from the German competition. To get the best out of this latest A4 you'll quickly see the cost rise, as this car is all about the optional extras.