A good fast estate, but difficult to justify over the diesel alternatives

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.

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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

Add a comment…
Jon Hardcastle 9 April 2008

Re: Audi A4 Avant 3.2 FSI

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.

NiallOswald 5 April 2008

Re: Audi A4 Avant 3.2 FSI

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.

julianphillips 4 April 2008

Re: Audi A4 Avant 3.2 FSI

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