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The popular A4 returns for 2017 with a dazzling development — Audi calls it the “instrument cluster of the future.” Others may consider it a milestone in the automobile’s evolution.

A number of upscale car brands have introduced variations of this dynamic display, but Audi’s version is startling in its functionality, brightness and intuitiveness. Newly available, the virtual cockpit offers a series of informational and graphic displays on a 12.3-inch high-res screen that can be set up in a variety of designs.

Press the view button on the steering wheel to bring up the classic panel, with circular instrument dials like speedometer and tach. The infotainment mode shows navigation, your personal phone contacts, Audi connect and media more prominently. Besides the view button, drivers can access pre-programmed displays and their favorite functions via a selector wheel on the center console.

The virtual cockpit and upgraded navigation using Google Maps and Google Search comes as part of a technology package, a pricey but worthwhile option and something fun to show off to the neighbors — if you can swing the extra $3,250.

While that is clearly the highlight of this ninth-generation A4, the interior is also laden with high-quality materials, offers a quiet ride (unless you turn up the available 19-speaker, 755-watt Bang & Olufsen system), has a full-color head-up display on the windshield, and ambient lighting with a selection of 30 colors.

Leather seats are standard and come with eight-way power adjustments and four-way lumbar tweaks. Headroom and legroom are sufficient up front and better than average in the rear for this luxury-compact segment. Ditto for trunk space, with more than enough (13 cubic feet) for a couple of golf bags. Folding rear seats expand the space even more.

The A4 2.0T Quattro is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It gets around nicely and feels quicker than last year thanks to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that replaces the CVT. Audi says it gets up to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds.

Also available in the U.S. is a 188-hp turbodiesel. But the gas-powered does OK in the mileage department, too, at 31 mpg highway, 24 city.

The ride is comfortable and well composed. A new chassis and redesigned 5-link suspension setup in front and rear keeps the A4 flat on corners and helps smooth out the road imperfections around town. The ride is spirited, if not sporty, and it can be fine-tuned with four driving modes that adjust throttle and shift response.

Front-wheel-drive is standard on the A4, but many will want to opt for Audi’s near-legendary quattro AWD system.

The A4’s safety package starts with Audi’s standard Pre-Sense system, which includes forward collision and pedestrian warnings and an available rear-collision warning. An adaptive cruise control (part of an $1,800 Driver Assistance package) uses GPS to adjust speed for upcoming turns and has a traffic sign recognition feature.

Find additional security in that the A4 also received top crash test ratings from the NHTSA and is a top safety pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, too.

Three trim levels are available with a base trim starting around $37,000 and the top-line Prestige around $46,000. For high-performance driving, you’ll need to spend another $15,000 for a supercharged V-6 with a top speed of 155 mph.

Either way, from under the hood or inside the cockpit, the A4 comes well equipped with thrills.

2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro

MSRP: $39,400

As tested: $50,025 (with Premium Plus, Technology, Sport and Cold Weather option packages)

Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission

Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined (24 city, 31 highway)

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