Few manufacturers can rival Audi’s tradition for producing classy, versatile estates. The brand’s sleek Avant models have been setting the standard for decades with their mix of style, desirability and practicality – and the latest A4 is no exception.
A recent facelift has helped keep the Audi A4 Avant looking fresh, with the revised grille and new-look headlights the most obvious changes. Eye-catching 18-inch alloys and a subtle bodykit are standard on the sporty S line, as are the LED daytime running lights.
As you’d expect, the A4’s cabin is beautifully crafted. It’s not as stylish as the BMW inside, but the fit and finish is first rate. It’s easy to get comfortable, as there’s plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment, while standard kit includes leather, Bluetooth and a 10-speaker stereo – although an iPod connection is £255.
There’s little to separate our trio for cabin space, but passengers in the Audi’s rear get a bit more head and legroom than in the Mercedes. With the rear seats in place, the A4’s 490-litre carrying capacity is only five litres down on the BMW. However, once its 60:40 rear bench is folded, the Audi’s 1,430-litre load area is 70 litres shy of the 3 Series’.
Still, the boot is well shaped, with a low loading lip, plus there are lots of handy shopping bag hooks, a 12v power socket and extra underfloor storage.
Our test car was also fitted with the optional load area fixing kit, which features a telescopic load fixing bar and belt that slot into rails in the boot floor. The set-up costs £155, but it’s well worth the extra outlay.
Elsewhere in the cabin, there’s plenty of family friendly storage, including the deep door bins, cavernous glovebox and lidded cubby between the front seats.
Just like the BMW, the Audi serves up equal measures of practicality and performance. Its 242bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel is the least powerful here, but the four-wheel-drive traction and a seven-speed gearbox meant the A4 needed just 5.9 seconds to sprint from 0-60mph.
The Avant feels equally responsive in-gear, although the dual-clutch gearbox isn’t as smooth as the 3 Series’ eight-speed auto.
Away from the track, the Audi is poised and planted in corners, its quattro all-wheel drive providing plenty of grip. However, the direct steering doesn’t seem as natural and well weighted as the BMW’s, while the suspension thuds into potholes and fidgets on motorways – the supple C-Class is a more comfortable companion. Still, the Audi’s cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise.
The car’s Achilles heel is its high price and running costs. At £38,395, it’s the most expensive of our trio, while its residuals of 39.7 per cent are the weakest. Factor in high servicing costs and less-than-brilliant fuel economy, and the A4 faces an uphill battle.