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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - Avant

Our Opinion

We like
Pin-sharp styling, world-class fit and finish, excellent safety kit, great ride and handling, accommodating cargo area
Room for improvement
Expensive, some options should be standard, uncommunicative steering

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Audi logo3 May 2016

By NEIL DOWLING

UNDER the weight of the SUV euphoria, it’s easy to forget that the concept of efficiently hauling people and luggage was once the domain of the family wagon.

The equation for combining family with leisure goods and motoring holidays is often unequivocally answered by the SUV acronym. But despite a dwindling model choice, the humble wagon deserves a second look.

Audi persists with the wagon, dubbed the Avant, because there is a strong following for the vehicle shape in the brand’s home market of Europe. The company believes there’s also potential for expansion in Australia and as proof of the possibility, has held up its A4 Avant as Exhibit A.

One look says a lot about the new wagon. It is styled like the old one and that is bound to confuse the neighbours but ensures strong resale value. There are some clinical design cues, sharp-edged corners, deeply undercut tail-lights, tight shut lines and a bold horizontal “tornado” line recess that show intense attention to detail – all hallmarks of Audi.

The same crispness extends inside the wagon and so reflects its quality and the high pricetag.

It is, however, competitive against its peers. At $63,900 plus on-road costs, the entry-level Avant competes directly with the Mercedes-Benz C200 Estate ($63,400 plus costs) and the BMW 320i Touring wagon at $65,300.

But it is almost $18,000 more expensive that Mazda’s flagship 6 wagon, the Atenza at $46,690 $24,810 dearer than the Skoda Octavia RS wagon and $21,910 above the Volkswagen Passat’s top petrol variant.

That’s a lot of cash left in the wallet by going Japanese or even following two Volkswagen Group products with similar mechanicals.

But there is a difference and depending what you want from a wagon, it can be a very substantial difference.

Gauging how the A4 Avant competes with rivals can be as simple as an hour on a rough bitumen NSW country road, at night and during a storm.

Audi’s launch of the A4 Avant extended into the night during a particularly rainy patch, and how the wagon shrugged off the conditions and cosseted its occupants over the badly-pockmarked road was impressive.

The suspension showed an ability to absorb noise and shock while maintaining a flat stance through the corners and resisting steering wheel pull caused by pools of standing water on the verge.

The engine in the Quattro version was notably responsive, particularly above 2000rpm where it was well within its torque range and the turbocharger had passed its primary spool-up phase.

But of all the elements that make this wagon such a confident tourer and a comfort in appalling conditions, it was the optional Matrix LED headlights that won us over.

At $1700 for the pack – that includes these remarkable headlights plus the sequential front and rear indicators – it is a must-have. It turns a great tourer into a remarkable family wagon with very high levels of passive safety.

The reason prospective buyers should tick the option box is the brilliant white light, extended length and breadth of the beam, and the party trick that masks following and oncoming traffic to avoid their drivers becoming blinded by the Audi’s lights.

The active headlight combined with LEDs isn’t new – it’s available on Mercedes-Benz models (the company that brought them to the market) and on the Mazda6.

But the Audi goes further, including the ability to field up to eight fingers of light around obstacles, picking brightness from the darkness and giving the driver near-daylight visibility.

It must be weird for the driver in the car ahead to see the following car with its low-beam headlights and yet notice the trees and road verge alongside being bathed in light.

There is also a swag of safety gear and a choice of option packs that will tailor the car to each owner’s needs. A surprise was the heated and folding mirrors that, on the entry-level version, are a $600 option. Given the price of this wagon, they should be standard.

The wagon will reward the owner with its silky-smooth engine delivery and supple ride. While the steering is better than before, particularly the continuity of the electric-assist system through the arc of the wheel, there is little feedback and a sense that there is some detachment between the front wheels and the driver.

But that is one of only a few faults. Prospective buyers tossing up between the entry-level 140kW/320Nm Miller-cycle engine and the more energetic 185kW/370Nm version, it will depend on the intended application and the style of the driver.

In no regard was the base engine a let-own. It is perfectly suited to suburban and city life and has pleasing economy while being linear in its power delivery and very quiet – all ingredients that will suit the family.

The more powerful engine comes with the quattro all-wheel-drive system, so aims at the more sporty driver and one who may drive in poor road-surface conditions including snow. For these purposes, the quattro is a winner.

But it’s $9000 more expensive and carries a drivetrain weight penalty of about 130kg, enough to claw back some of its power advantages over the less-expensive wagon.

As a prestige wagon, this is a winner. It is more powerful and more fuel-efficient than its German rivals and though they can feel more involved as sporty cars, the level of features and those remarkable headlights make the Audi a very strong contender.

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