What is it?
A new Audi A4 saloon reached the UK last year, so now begins the inevitable roll-out of the rest of the family's bodystyles. Up first, and tested here, is the new A4 Avant (the estate, lest you forget), which will in time be followed by (deep breath) an A4 Allroad version, an A5 coupé, A5 Cabriolet, A5 Sportback and probably some other niche that a bloke in marketing thought up. Can we not just skip to the RS4?
I digress. The engine range of the A4 Avant mirrors that of the saloon, meaning four-cylinder petrols are offered alongside four and six-cylinder diesels, with front and quattro all-wheel drive and six-speed manual and seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmissions.
We’ve picked quite an interesting combination here to test: the 187bhp version of the 2.0 TFSI petrol engine mated to a seven-speed automatic gearbox driving the front wheels. Diesels will, of course, be the main sellers, but we liked the smooth power delivery of the petrol when we tested it previously, and the auto is well suited to life in the outside lane of British motorways.
But of more importance here are those vital estate statistics. The boot space is rated at 505 litres, rising to 1510 litres when the standard 40/20/40 split rear seats are folded. The smaller boot volume figure eclipses both the BMW 3 Series Touring and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate, while the C-Class Estate is a match for the A4 Avant seats down.
What's it like?
We have to start with that interior. Even though we’ve seen it before in the saloon, the cabin of the A4 is still a thing no rival can match. The perceived quality is as good as we’ve ever seen in the class, the layout intuitive and the MMI rotary controller and buttons for the infotainment system far preferable things to use than a touchscreen, not to mention feeling more premium.
The optional Virtual Cockpit digital display is also the best instrument panel in the class, and smartphone-friendly features such as Apple CarPlay and a wireless charging mat are handy tools for the mobile office.
The driving position is also excellent, as is all-round visibility and seat comfort, and as an estate the A4 Avant is as practical as anything in the class. Its large boot has a wide entry and a low, flat loading lip, and the standard powered tailgate makes access a doddle.
The interior puts you in a good mood before you drive the car, and it’s well suited to a life on the road for comfort and convenience. It’s a shame, then, that the A4 Avant doesn’t shine so brightly when it comes to driving it.
What must be said is that the A4 Avant is a good deal better to drive than the model it replaces. However, it still falls short of the dynamic verve of the BMW 3 Series Touring. The ride is definitely better than that of the old A4 Avant and more supple and less susceptible to crashing over broken surfaces. However, it never quite feels as at one with the road as you do in a 3 Series.
The handling slips into the same category. It corners well enough and steers okay, but there’s no real depth. It drives in the sort of way it thinks you want it to, without you ever really knowing what it’s up to. It’s all a bit artificial, in other words.
As for the engine, the 2.0-litre petrol unit is a nice match for the A4. It lacks the bottom end of a torquey diesel but likes to be revved, making this a brisk car when on the move. It also presents a nice growl in Sport mode under harder acceleration.
The gearbox is smooth enough, if a little slow to react on step-off. It performs its best work when shifted into Sport mode, in which gearchanges are being more decisive and precise. It also slips out of gear occasionally to coast and save fuel - something you'd hardly notice if the selected gear number didn’t disappear from the digital dashboard.
The A4 is at its best when churning out the motorway miles. However, even while on the motorway the economy of this petrol A4version is never that impressive. We didn’t manage to average anything better than 35mpg despite extensive motorway running. For many, this will blunt the appeal of the engine, which is a shame as Its performance is otherwise pleasing.
Should I buy one?
The A4 Avant ticks many of the boxes the executive estate buyer will have jotted down in his or her mental notepad. It has a class-leading interior, great infotainment, a comfortable ride and, most importantly, a competitively spacious and practical boot. However, show-stopping cabin or not, the A4 remains short of its rivals dynamically.
Ultimately, it’s good to drive, but good to drive will only get you so far in an estate class containing the BMW 3 Series Touring, which remains our class-leader.
2016 Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TFSI S line
Location Norfolk; On sale now; Price £32,395; Price as tested £41,875; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 187bhp at 4200-6000rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1450-4200rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1480kg; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Top speed 148mph; Economy 52.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band: 124g/km, 19%