It takes more than simply a big boot to make an executive estate car a success. Luggage space, folding seats and clever storage gizmos are all crucial, but the appeal of a high-class load-lugger also has a lot to do with style and image.
Audi's new A6 Avant seems to tick all the right boxes. Not only is it a sleek addition to the four-ringed line-up, but it's longer and wider than the Mercedes E-Class. And with the rear seats in place, there is 65 litres more luggage space than in the BMW 5-Series Touring.
When they are folded flat, the Audi has an extra 10 litres over the Beemer - although 'flat' is actually the wrong word because, disappointingly, dropping the A6's 60/40-split seat does not create a completely horizontal load area.
With 1,660 litres in total, there is plenty of room for luggage, but it's in the gizmo department that the Avant is particularly impressive. The German company has taken a leaf out of Mercedes' book and put some real thought into the boot design. While the outgoing car had floor-mounted hooks so that bulky items could be lashed down, its replacement has taken the concept a stage further. Recessed rails run along either side of the bay, and standard kit includes four hooks - two each side - plus a simple cargo net to hold things in place. There is also a nifty vertical screen which attaches to the roof to stop anything catapulting into the rear seat or beyond in an emergency.
Depending on your needs, you can choose from a host of options; a movable bar to hold your luggage in place, a mountain bike rack, a large storage box or even a reversible mat with a sheet that can be folded out and over the rear bumper. There's a ski and snowboard bag, too. Some of the extras aren't particularly cheap, but they do make the Audi far more versatile. Prices start from £75 for the mat, while the sliding bar is paired up with a belt to lash items to the side of the boot, and the two together cost a hefty £125.
As you would expect in a car that's 12cm longer than its predecessor, rear-seat space is generous. Even the tallest passengers will find there's plenty of head, shoulder and kneeroom.
With 75 per cent of UK A6 Avant sales expected to be diesels, we drove the 2.7-litre TDI. Delivering 180bhp, the V6 engine is borrowed from the saloon and remains a fantastic unit, giving this car all the pulling power expected of a serious load-lugger.
Torque of 380Nm is available from 1,400rpm, which makes the Avant a hugely impressive performer at all speeds and on all types of road. The sole downside is that it is available with only a manual box. Our car was fitted with Adaptive Air Suspension - a £1,500 option which has four settings to keep the ride as smooth as possible.
The Comfort mode is designed for long-distance cruising, while Lift raises the ride height by 15mm for use on uneven ground. Dynamic lowers it for more sporty performance, while the fourth choice, Automatic, takes the settings down only at speeds above 75mph to reduce the centre of gravity and boost the aerodynamics. The system adds flexibility to the driving experience and allows owners to tailor the handling depending on their preferences.
Adaptive Cruise Control is also on the options list. Once set, a bumper-mounted radar prevents you from running into the vehicle in front, and allows the car to brake automatically. It's clever, but at £1,450 it's a luxury item.
There will be a choice of two other diesels when the Avant goes on sale in April: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and a 3.0 V6. The petrol options are a 2.4, a 3.2 and the flagship 4.2-litre V8. Audi's quattro system is available on selected cars. But whichever model you go for, it looks as though the firm has hit on a winning formula for estate success.