Venice, Italy – A city renowned for its canals seems the most unlikely of places to hold a launch event for a new sports sedan; even less so when it’s one as important to the brand as Audi’s A4 is.

But that’s exactly where the Ingolstadt-based company unleashed a contingent of international automotive journalists loose with their all-new entry-level luxury car, and a pontoon option isn’t even offered.

The reality is, situated just north of Venice is a spectacular landscape rich with varied scenery and a multitude of different driving conditions ranging from stop-and-go urban to high-speed Italian freeways and, of course, sensational serpentine roads as one drives into the Dolomites.

Audi’s A4 has consistently been a fashionable and sophisticated design statement throughout the generations, and this Mk 9 car (B9 generation) is no exception. Which presents another great reason to choose Italy to launch the new A4: style. Italians seem to put more care into being fashionable and have a greater appreciation for beauty than most other folks – and have for centuries as the gorgeous Venetian scenery attests. More than a few times, admiring glances were cast the Audi’s direction by the locals, and one construction worker even made a point of coming up to me, speaking quickly – and emphatically – in Italian about our blue sedan. I understood only two words – “Quattro” and “Bellissimo” – but grasped enough that he approved of the A4.

Both inside and out, the new A4 is an evolutionary design and not an entire reinvention. This will be appreciated by buyers of this year’s model whose cars won’t immediately look like yesterday’s news once the new cars hit the road. And yet despite the obvious family resemblance, the 2017 model’s body is 99 percent new, resulting in a design that’s simultaneously recognizable but also contemporary.

The most obvious changes are to the now more sharply creased grille opening and on our tester, the Euro-spec LED matrix headlights. The dynamic LED turn indicators are a slick use of the technology and definitely eye-catching on the road, and will be available on North American models, unlike the LED matrix headlights. More impressive is the new body’s 0.23 coefficient of drag, making it not only the most aerodynamic car in its segment, but also the most wind-cheating Audi ever.

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What the photographs do not convey is the greater presence the new A4 has in person. Being both longer (25 mm) and wider (16 mm), yet no taller gives the 2017 model a more hunkered down and serious look, and should make it even harder for most folks to tell the difference between a new A6 and a new A4 without checking the badge.

The bump in size translates directly into more rear legroom (+23 mm) and more trunk room (now 480 L, about tied with the Mercedes C-Class), and better space management also nets an extra 24 mm of front headroom. Numbers aside, front and back the new car is open, airy and spacious.

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