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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - Avant 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Superb quality, handling dynamics, ride quality
Room for improvement
No driver's footrest, space-saver spare wheel/tyre

Audi logo8 Sep 2008

By PHILIP LORD

IMAGE is everything when you are selling a premium product, but does that really mean you have to also project a pristine image of your potential clientele?

When Audi presented its new A4 Avant to journalists this week, it spent a little time describing the potential buyer group for the Avant.

Audi says that its A4 Avant has “strong lifestyle associations” and its typical buyer will be a 44-year-old who “pursues a sporty, active lifestyle”. Income of such buyers is more than $200,000.

Audi is not by any means alone in pushing this gilded wheelbarrow, but you cannot help but wonder if the marketing team and PR are colluding when it comes to buyer profile.

So we have in our minds a very successful, wealthy individual whose impressive talents not only include immense intelligence, but who also is beautiful and athletic. Such an individual not only pursues activities outside of work that marketing types term ‘lifestyle’ (whatever that means - presumably something healthy), but they need an Audi wagon in which to perform them.

I for one hope to see a luxury wagon marketing team who can turn their highly attuned focus to a customer base of individuals sporting a balding scalp, a pronounced paunch and a gravelly wheeze and whose activities only include working in a neon-lit office and driving over for a quick nosh-up at a nearby cafe bar on the way home. Clearly this is a buyer profile left sadly wanting.

The most significant thing to note about the A4 Avant’s pristine buyer profile is that it matches those given by most compact SUV marketing teams. This provides a clear clue as to Audi’s marketing aspirations - they want to sell the A4 Avant to SUV buying types, and in fact Audi’s marketing manager Immo Buschmann said as much at the A4 Avant launch.

Audi is betting on a changing perception of small station wagons. No longer do people look at you getting out of a wagon as if you are about to try and sell them a laser printer cartridge or a pallet of nails.

Audi believes that the new A4 Avant is the type of car that might be the right one to have available when SUV customers grow weary of turgid dynamics and flaccid performance. Mr Buschmann admits he doesn’t quite know how to prompt a paradigm shift, but clearly hopes to have products placed in position for when it may happen.

So does the A4 Avant live up to expectations?

The A4 Avant is certainly the athletic type, with both the diesel and petrol engines delivering the goods. The 1.8 TFSI is a very linear, smooth engine that has just the right sporting note without stepping over the abyss to harshness.

The 2.0 TDI is an acquired taste - while it is as much like a petrol engine as it is possible for a diesel to be in terms of noise suppression and smoothness, the very different power and torque delivery takes some re-adjustment by petrol car drivers.

Especially as it is teamed up with the CVT, which also takes some rethinking to cope with what the old guard will immediately think of a clutch slipping its way to destruction.

The CVT actually works very well to extract the performance out of the engine, even if when left in auto mode you wonder if more power could be had without the constant drone of engine revving.

There is nothing new to report in the way the Avant handles and rides - it is just as good as the sedan. While it does feel like it has a long wheelbase and perhaps does not turn-in as adroitly as it could, steering feel is quite good (if just a touch remote) and the Michelin Premacy tyres fitted to the test car gave enormous grip.

The Avant rides over the rough bits very well, with the lumpiest excuse for an Aussie road dispatched with only a little fidgeting and a distant thumping of rubber on tar.

The interior is again a similar story to the sedan - a cabin that provides a comfortable workstation for the driver and once accustomed to the initially overwhelming phalanx of buttons and levers, a commonsense control set-up. Only the curious lack of anywhere useful to rest the driver’s left foot is noteworthy.

The rear seat seems as comfortable as that in the sedan, and the folding movement is a simple one-step operation. There are the useful inclusions of a height-adjustable cargo blind and a cargo net, plus tie-down rings in the load area and child seat anchors are placed conveniently at the top of the seatbacks - although some tether designs may not suit.

Audi surprisingly does not supply a load area net as standard - which even Kia does in its $44,000 Sorento.

The load lip is covered in an aluminium strip, which should avoid the damage otherwise inevitable from dragging items across it.

The A4 Avant is a well-balanced wagon that gains a practical element unavailable in its sedan sibling, while losing nothing in dynamics or performance.

It’s a good SUV alternative that may miss out on some nebulous off-road ability but that gains measurably in driving dynamics and performance.

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