While SUVs are the flavour of the season, there are still rich pickings for manufacturers of cars like the Audi A4 Avant, says Robin Roberts.
Most SUVs are rarely used to their full capacity or (often largely perceived…) ability, which means an estate car like the Audi A4 Avant TDI quattro can generally offer a far more rewarding experience. Able to seat a maximum of five people with plenty of legroom, or two and a vast amount of luggage with the back seat folded flat, it delivers its utility in a stylish, refined, economical and dynamic manner more in keeping with a sportscar than an SUV.
The A4 Avant, and its booted stablemate the Audi A4 saloon, is available in a bewildering variety of models. Just four trim levels might be offered, but multiply that by a range of petrol and diesel engines, and front- and four-wheel-drive chassis and you start to get a flavour of the complexity that is specifying your new estate car. And even that isn’t the end of the decision-making because you can then pick from a truly extensive list of individual options and packs to make your brand new car your very own; my test car might sit towards the top of the A4 Avant range, but it still came with nearly £13,000-worth of extras.
Or a third of its standard cost, if you want to put that into perspective. The result might be a very fine example of what is available to the discerning estate car owner, but a final bill of more than £50,000 is an awful lot to pay for a car in this class, no matter how well-equipped.
The new generation 2.0 TD engine delivers both frugal fuel consumption and a fine turn of speed without apparent effort. It’s flexible too, starting instantly no matter how cold, pulling strongly from rest, and punching out that wonderful elastic-band power that makes modern turbo-charged diesel engines so much fun to drive. The 190PS engine will deliver a top speed of more than 140mph and hit 62mph in seven-and-a-half seconds, which is strong performance for an economical family car. That same engine is both quiet and economical, sipping only gently when you have settled into a steady state amble on the motorway, giving you a range of hundreds of miles.
How economical is it? Well, on longer trips I saw over 50mpg displayed by the on-board computer and it never went below 40mpg, so my overall average seemed reasonable. To that you can add the delights of a creamy seven-speed automatic transmission with a sporting side to the selector, and the ability to drive it sequentially through the ratios when you feel the urge or want to anticipate an overtake a slower-moving vehicle.
The suspension can also be tuned through a range of settings from comfort through to dynamic to suit your mood and inclination. Steering is pin-sharp without vibration or kick-back, being agile and responsive and the turning circle is tight. The big brakes really haul down speed without drama and the parking brake held it firmly on a very steep test slope we use.
The powertrain was generally quiet and wind noise was low but road-rumbles and bump-thump from the suspension were ever present and on some surfaces became particularly intrusive due to the size of the wheels and tyres. These also adversely affected the emissions figures, which in turn means a higher tax rate, so be careful how you choose and make sure that what you want and what you need are at least broadly aligned.
Secondary controls are mostly grouped on or around the steering wheel, and can take some familiarisation but they work well with practice although those with fat fingers might struggle. Controls on the fascia and centre console operate the infotainment system, and the heating and ventilation is comprehensive, quick to respond, and has a good output and distribution. However, I found the oddments space lacking in size; there might be plenty of compartments, trays and bins, but what there is is just too small and shallow to be of much use.
On a more positive note, access to the Audi was really good through both the front and rear doors. The seats were curvaceous and comfortable, and offered a lot of adjustment and support, even in the back. Room was adequate for a six footer in the front and back, but the middle seat would best suit a slim person. Visibility in the A4 Avant is better than in most SUVs.
The high-performance headlights not only have very long and wide beams, they also sense approaching traffic and dip automatically to prevent dazzle. Big interior and door mirrors gave a wide view to the rear and my test car came with a high quality, very usable reversing camera.
In summary, the Audi A4 Avant TDI quattro would be very easy to live with. It’s a sophisticated car, able to fulfill a variety of roles with without compromise and in great comfort.
It’s also so much more interesting than an SUV…
Robin Roberts @WheelsinWales