The Audi A4 has been offered in saloon and Avant estate guises ever since the first model arrived in 1994. This time around, the classy saloon and practical wagon are being launched at the same time, and we've finally had our first taste of the bigger esate version on British soil.
Like the saloon, the new model is bigger than its predecessor, but it features a raft of weight-saving tech and smart electronics to help it take the fight to the BMW 3 Series Touring and Mercedes C-Class Estate.
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From the outside, it’s the details that help to distinguish the new A4 Avant from its predecessor. There are sharp new headlamps and a distinctive coachline that runs the full length of the car, while standard roof rails add practicality. The extended roofline of the estate arcs down to a curved tailgate, giving the car a similar profile to the larger A6 Avant. At the rear, new tail-lamps feature, plus a low bumper aids access to the boot.
Our S line test model has LED lights front and rear, so not only do you get a set of distinctive daytime running lights, but you also benefit from Audi’s signature indicators, which strobe in the direction you’re turning. Other S line highlights include a sharper bodykit and extra aluminium trim.
Inside, the A4 Avant is exactly the same as the saloon, so you get the brand’s hi-tech dashboard, and as S line trim brings sat-nav as standard, there’s a fixed tablet-style screen on the top of the dash, too. This is operated via the large MMI control wheel and shortcut buttons ahead of the gearlever. Plus, Audi has fitted a wide, T-shaped gearshifter to the S tronic auto model, which doubles as a wrist rest for when you’re navigating.
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In terms of layout, the large screens and controls look good and are easy to use, while the TFT display issues driving tips synchronised with the nav system that give advice on slowing and braking when approaching junctions and roundabouts.
Of course, the Avant has a practicality advantage over the saloon thanks to its spacious 505-litre boot. All models feature a power-operated tailgate that opens quickly. The load cover cleverly rises out of the way at the same time, and it drops again when you close the boot.
The Avant’s luggage capacity is 10 litres up on the 3 Series Touring’s, while useful features include smart LED strip lighting in the sides and levers to unlatch the 40:20:40 folding seatbacks. However, they don’t fold flat automatically and require a shove from behind when loading longer items. Still, the low lip is handy and makes access easy.
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On the road, the A4 Avant drives almost exactly the same as the saloon model, which means it’s a hugely comfortable and refined compact executive car. It has user-friendly controls, light steering and a floaty sensation to the suspension when you put the Drive Select system in Comfort mode.
S line versions feature 18-inch wheels and stiffer suspension, which add a bit of firmness to the ride, while our car’s 19-inch rims make it firmer still. However, it’s no worse than an M Sport-spec 3 Series, and you can delete the sports suspension option at no extra cost.
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Switch the Drive Select system to the Dynamic setting, and the damping is even harsher and the throttle response sharper. As a result, the car feels eager to turn in and change direction, and there’s a neutral handling balance that helps make the A4 more engaging than before. Even so, a 3 Series is still more fun overall. The 2.0 TDI engine is quiet and refined, yet it still packs a healthy punch.
Meanwhile, on twisty roads and in town, the S tronic gearbox is happy to be left to its own devices, continuously selecting the right ratio for the conditions.
It’s clear that this gearbox is made for the German market on the motorway, though. At 70mph, the engine turns at a low 1,400rpm in seventh gear, and the transmission kicks down to sixth with even the slightest press of the throttle. This is a little frustrating, as it upsets the car’s composure when all you want to do is cruise along. While the six-speed manual will be more work, at least you can take control and won’t be making any unnecessary shifts.