From £23,860
A good fast estate, but difficult to justify over the diesel alternatives

Our Verdict

Audi A4
The Audi A4 saloon is bigger, roomier and more aerodynamic than its predecessor

The Audi A4 is an improvement over the previous version, but isn't good enough to topple the BMW 3-series

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What is it?

The estate version of Audi’s big-selling A4 and an important addition to the range, because the Avant takes a big portion of A4 sales, despite the outgoing model’s smaller than average loadbay.

That’s been rectified this time around, in that there’s more room seats up than either the BMW 3-series Touring or Mercedes C-Class estate can muster, and seats-down the Merc only just betters the Audi.

But, as we all know, ultimate load space matters less than the additional versatility these cars offer over their saloon version. Not that the A4’s dynamic competence has ever been as finely burnished as its interior finish, the car’s ride sometimes a crude contrast to the precision sophistication of its fittings.

Audi has spent plenty of money trying to tackle the problem this time around, the latest A4 riding on an entirely new platform, shared with the A5 Coupe, that has seen the wheelbase stretched and the powertrain’s structure reconfigured to place less weight beyond the front axle.

A lighter, stiffer, roomier – and bigger – shell, plus an array of new technologies are the essence of a remake that has seen much of the car completely renewed. There’s a wide choice of engines on offer, from a 1.8 TFSI through to the range-topping 3.2 V6 petrol, which comes with Quattro four-wheel drive as standard. It’s this last powertrain that we sample here.

What’s it like?

With 261bhp up front and some fat rubber beneath, this is clearly a sporting estate. The engine revs to 7500rpm, and is fitted here with optional paddle shifts and the standard dynamic set-up that can be fine-tuned to alter throttle sensitivity, steering weight and damper setting at the stab of a button.

That said, all the diesel engines in the range will leave this version for dead; their strong, near-instantly available torque well able to defeat the 3.2’s peaky power delivery. The good news, though, is that this engine likes to rev and sounds far less threshy than many V6s as it approaches the rev limit.

The gearchange can sometimes catch you out though, it being too easy to miss the fore-aft plane you were after. A throttle map that’s often too abrupt can also make it hard to meter the power with finesse.

So it’s a good thing that the Avant’s Quattro chassis will easily contain any such miss-handlings, being gifted with a mass of grip and benign, run-wide-lightly behaviour on the limit. Though on Ibiza’s slippery roads over-eager low speed turn-in turned to unexpected understeer on fast bends driven hard.

That’s when you’ll need more lock from steering gear that’s not quite there for feel, in any of the three settings of comfort, auto and dynamic. The first is too light, so is Auto sometimes, and dynamic is too resistant unless you’re tackling fast-charged tight bends. An unavailable blend of the three would be optimal, notwithstanding the shortage of real feel.

The same is almost certainly true of the ride, which seems more absorbent than we’re used to from Audis most of the time, if not flawlessly damped in the compromise auto setting.

And the practical, estate car bits? The Avant has a conveniently shaped loadbay other than for long, tall objects, over which the heavily raked tailgate may well not close, and its seats drop easily, if without forming a protective bulkhead. Plus points include an excellent retractable parcel shelf that can be flicked upwards for access, a high-quality load securing system (optional) and also optional, an electric tailgate.

Should I buy one?

Audi forecasts that very few of us will. Strong diesels are the thing today, these engines better able to counter the high tax and fuel burden of a performance estate like this.

But if you can afford it there’s much to enjoy from this sweet-spinning engine, whose not insignificant efforts are well handled by the four-wheel drive system. The flaws aren’t serious enough to undermine the character of this high quality, lightly entertaining and well-made load lugger.

Join the debate

Comments
6

4 April 2008

"That said, all the diesel engines in the range will leave this version for dead" That's simply not true of the 2.0 and 2.7TDi engines, especially regarding the revised 2.0 litre diesel, regardless of torque figures. I appreciate the reasoning behind Autocar's continuous preference for diesles over petrols on economical terms (see also the recent BMW 120i convertible review), but I can read What Car for those sort of opinions. In Autocar, I expect more performance/enjoyment related opinions which are, perhaps, highly subjective rather than anchored in economics. I prefer to drive a diesel company car for purely economic reasons, and a good diesel it is too (Volvo V50 2.0D) - quiet, stronger performance in all areas than the equivalent 2.0 petrol, very frugal, etc. However, if I was in a slightly better financial position and without a baby on the way, I would upgrade to one of the bigger engines in the range and it would be the T5 petrol, not the D5 diesel. The reason being because I think there are many other factors for choosing an engine over diesel torque and economy. I generally prefer large capacity petrols over large capacity diesels, even when looking at the excellent 330 BMW diesels versus the equivalent BMW petrols. I would happily sacrifice some economy to get behind the wheel of these petrol engined versions as I prefer their character.

4 April 2008

Agree with JulianPhillips. This obsession with 'instant diesel, tree-stump pulling torgue' is carrying itself away. Georg Kacher in the German auto press reports that VW Group have put a stop on development of the VR6 engine and is due to be effectively replaced by a 2.0 litre TFSI engine producing 280PS due to its inherently(four-cylinder) lower losses. But more important to this debate is that if the 2.0 TFSI unit follows the 1.4 and I.8 TFSI units already in Golfs and A4s then the torque graph should be at least the equal of the diesel TDIs, if not better. For instance, the 1.4 TFSI develops 80% of its maximum toque from 1500rpm whereas the equivalent TDI develops the same from 1750rpm. Yes on paper the forthcoming 2.0 TDI with 201 PS should be amazing with the better part of 300 lb ft, but I'd much sooner have a 280PS petrol 2 litre and scarifice a few pounds feet and a few theoretical long-haul mpg. TURBOCHARGED PETROLS ARE BACK BOYS AND GIRLS - TDI mania has just crested the hill and heading on down.

Kacher's VW Group forthcoming engine report:

Motoren: Der Vierzylinder hat die goldenen Jahre noch vor sich

Bei BMW sind sie zu Recht stolz auf ihre Sechszylinder, doch wenn es um Efficient Dynamics geht, ist der Vierzylinder kaum zu schlagen. So hat die CO2- und Verbrauchsdiskussion den Wettbewerbsnachteil von Audi fast über Nacht in einen Vorteil verwandelt. Schließlich sind die Vierzylinder von der Donau prinzipbedingt leichter, sparsamer, sauberer und billiger als die Sechszylinder von der Isar. Die Konsequenz: VW hat die Entwicklung des VR6 TDI gestoppt und die Neuauflage des VR6-Benziners vertagt. Das ist nur konsequent, denn der Zweiliter-TDI mobilisiert demnächst 204 PS, der Zweiliter-TFSI kommt bald auf 280 PS. Und der von VW ausgeborgte 2,5-Liter-Fünfzylinder steht als Turbo mit 320 PS und 450 Nm derart gut im Futter, dass kaum jemand den durstigen VR6 vermissen dürfte. Noch spannender als die-se Leistungsfantasien ist das Downsizing-Potenzial des Vierzylinder-Benziners, das in Verbindung mit einfacher oder doppelter Aufladung erstaunlich günstige Verbrauchswerte ermöglicht. Die Audi-Planung für den A3-Nach-folger sieht im Detail so aus: • 1.2 TFSI, 105 PS/175 Nm • 1.4 TFSI, 125 PS/200 Nm • 1.8 TFSI, 160 PS/250 Nm • 2.0 TFSI, 211 PS/350 Nm.

Autobild 2/4/2008

4 April 2008

Agreed. The 1.8TFSi VW/AUDI engine is a great example.

4 April 2008

re. 1.8 TFSI engine, see below where Audi A4 1.8 TFSI thrashes BMW 318i and Mercedes C180K in comparison test foremost due to the superior engine - unfortunately in German, but plenty of pics.

http://www.autobild.de/artikel/premium-vergleich-teil-2_652275.html

5 April 2008

This is the kind of car that's mainly used for dull, everyday type driving. Probably lots of motorway cruising, there's always more photocopiers to be sold ;) So a diesel makes the most sense, for most people.

9 April 2008

In my experience having had company cars for as long as I can remember, all the companies I have held jobs with would not entertain petrol powered cars. This is also the same for most of my friends, who's companies will not allow petrol cars as options.

As Niall points out these cars spend most of there time on motorways, where fuel economy is still the controlling factor.

Thats not to say modern petrol engines are going some way to addressing this area.

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