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A6 is the year's big Avant

The fantasists in Audi’s publicity department suggested that the company’s new A6 Avant is fit for nothing less than carrying caviar and diamonds during last week’s launch.

The fact that they were equally excited about the plastic tray beneath its carpeted load-deck, however – just fine for the damp trappings of an individual having a lifestyle – suggests that some employees are more firmly rooted in reality.

Yet despite its practical new features – and there are many – this A6 still provides significantly less loadspace than the Mercedes E-class (1660 litres to the Benz’s 1950) despite being over five inches longer than the old car. It will swallow a fraction more than a 5-series Touring, but like the BMW, the Avant majors equally firmly on style.

Of which it has plenty. That bold grille unquestionably makes an Audi a whole lot more identifiable, and it contrasts very effectively with the svelte lines emerging behind it. We’re here to discuss the other end of this car, however, where you may find a self-lifting tailgate (may, because motorised opening isn’t standard) and a long, copiously carpeted boot flanked by aluminium runners that are your passport to a life of precision luggage loading.

The runners enable you to pinion your chattels with an elasticated net, fence suitcases behind an aluminium divider, or barricade something small and awkwardly shaped behind a fabric belt stretched between a pair of movable poles. Complicated? At first, but once armed with an intimate knowledge of luggage entrapment, the threatening slither of unfettered loads should rarely be heard. And as we shall see, the A6 Avant is athletic enough to encourage the kind of driving that will make you only too keen to button down your belongings.

In the cabin

But before considering the intricacies of air suspension and Audi’s new, ice-smooth diesel, more on that boot, which isn’t flaw-free. The rear seat, for instance, doesn’t fold flat – the backrest merely drops onto the cushion below to form a modest ‘ski-slope’.

Since the cushion doesn’t lift up first, to double as a protective bulkhead behind the front seats, objects planted on the folded backrest could make a dramatic entrance between the front chairs under heavy braking. However, a standard extending luggage net, capable of restraining 50kg worth of projectile, can be hooked to the ceiling behind the front seats, though with this barrier in place the car does look as if it’s about to carry a large and unfriendly dog.

Another gripe, for the puncture-prone at least, is that a spare wheel is optional – you get a sealant canister instead. Audi-man also demonstrated the electric tailgate, programmable to rise to a pre-set height.

Like the saloon, the Avant can be had with a bewildering variety of powertrains, as well as front- and four-wheel drive and air- or steel-sprung suspension. The 2.0 TDi (Audi expects this will be the bestseller in the UK) isn’t yet available – it appears during the second half of the year – but the new 2.7 litre, 178bhp V6 diesel was, and a fine thing it is, too.

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The crude clatter, throb and rattle of an oil-burner is almost totally absent, even at idle, as is the grumbling increase of revs that is the usual result of a low-gear lunge for speed aboard a diesel. Instead, this satin six revs with enough zest to encourage the odd red-blooded charge at corners.

On the road

Flinging a big wagon around, even unladen, might not sound an especially edifying sport, but this Audi corners so deftly you’ll be back for more. It’s best on fast, open sweepers, but funnelling it through tighter twists is less of a wrestle than you’d expect, especially with an ESP system to counter the odd understeer surge.

No, the steering isn’t the most feel-full, and yes, the brakes could muster more bite, but this car is impressively fleet for a device so large. Since you sit comfortably and can flick at an agreeable gearshift, you’ll find yourself more than mildly entertained.

The test 2.7 TDis came with optional, self-levelling air suspension, allowing you to choose comfort, dynamic or automatic options; left in this last mode it provides a generally pliant ride on the smooth roads of the Spanish test route.

But the odd thump over torn Tarmac had us wondering whether progress might be so placid over British blacktop. If you’re facing an extended, low-speed advance across a puckered piste, opt for comfort. The steel-sprung suspension – standard on all models – is noticeably firmer, but well damped.

Among the remaining powertrain choices the new 2.4 petrol V6 appeals with its cultured delivery, the FSI 3.2 V6 for its zip, though its slightly ‘hammery’ enthusiasm might be wearing. As will the abruptness of its delivery with the Multitronic transmission – delicacy is needed to avoid surging jerks – and its scramble for traction if you forego the quattro drivetrain that the 3.2 ought to have as standard.

The V8, whose bigger wheels and brakes spoil the ride, is an unnecessary indulgence, even if its eagerness appeals. Keen drivers will prefer the manual S-Line 3.2, which is tempting if you’re a committed cornerer, but the best all-rounder is the economic and super-civilised 2.7 TDi. For a long journey questing diamonds and caviar, it makes fine transport.

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