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Audi Q4 E-Tron electric SUV promises AR head-up display, clever storage

This compact electric crossover may look small, but inside lie some big aspirations.

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It's not hard to suss out the Q4 E-Tron's general shape from behind that camouflage.

Audi

The Audi Q4 E-Tron compact electric SUV first debuted at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, and… frankly, a whole lot has happened between now and then. Yet, despite all that, what we first saw in Switzerland doesn't seem to have changed all that much between the concept and the production model, and new information from Audi shows just how clever this little EV will be, whether it involves the windshield or just some cup holders.

High style, high function

Audi on Tuesday unleashed a slew of information about the upcoming Q4 E-Tron, including its camouflaged production exterior. As was promised back at its concept debut, the version that will actually reach showrooms doesn't look all that different from what was seen at the last Geneva show. Its compact proportions are a little on the stubby side, thanks to a wheelbase of about 9.1 feet, but all that space between the wheels means the interior is much larger -- about that of an Audi Q7, and its cargo area offers as much space as the segment above this one. If you're familiar with any of Audi's other E-Tron models, the styling shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

The exterior teasers are just a small part of what Audi offered up. Most of the focus was placed on the Q4 E-Tron's interior. Thanks to a flat load floor and by-wire controls for the transmission, the Q4 E-Tron's center console is like nothing else Audi makes, with a higher protuberance containing the start button and transmission controls, leaving gobs of space underneath for wireless device charging, USB-C ports and a pair of cup holders, with a traditional under-armrest cubby hanging out between the seats, as well. Speaking of beverage storage, all four door panels have a unique high-mounted bottle holder just ahead of the window switches for easier access to drinks measuring up to 1 liter.

Big screens and augmented reality

There's a whole lot of new tech on the interestingly styled dashboard, too. The Q4 E-Tron's touchscreen is the biggest the company has made thus far, measuring some 11.6 inches on the diagonal (in its optional form; the standard size is 10.1 inches). The steering wheel ditches physical switchgear in favor of touchpads on the left and right sides. So, instead of a thumb wheel, you merely slide your finger up and down the volume control to change speaker loudness. But some actual switches remain, many of which are relegated to the climate control functions just above the gear selector. Like just about every other Audi on sale today, Virtual Cockpit replaces the traditional gauge cluster with a configurable display that reduces distraction by placing pertinent information front and center.

If that's not front-and-center enough for you, say hello to something properly new -- an augmented-reality head-up display. While Mercedes-Benz figured out how to overlay turn-by-turn directions onto a dash-screen camera feed, Audi took it one step further and put that same kind of information on the windshield itself.

The HUD game won't be the same after the Q4 E-Tron debuts.

Audi

The HUD is split into two sections. The primary head-up display area covers the usual stuff like vehicle speed, as well as speed limit and driver-assist information, at a perceived distance to the driver of about 10 feet. The AR segment can show turning arrows, navigation destinations and a green line to denote the position of the vehicle ahead, and all that stuff is displayed at a perceived distance of about 33 feet, so that the driver can clearly differentiate between the two kinds of information being sent their way.

It's quite the complicated dance to get this all to work. A picture generation unit tucked into the dashboard uses a bright LCD screen that projects onto two different mirrors, which bounce off a concave mirror to display on two separate areas of the windshield -- the "near" and "far" portions mentioned earlier. Cameras, radar sensors and GPS provide data to the Q4 E-Tron's computers, which calculate where to place AR objects and how to reposition them in the event of braking, potholes or any other occurrences that may cause the vehicle to move unexpectedly. Some 600,000 lines of code are required to pull it off. It's impressive stuff, and we can't wait to see how it works in person.

We don't have to wait too much longer to see the whole shebang. Audi intends to unveil the Q4 E-Tron in its full production guise in April.