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Car group tests

Audi A4 Avant vs BMW 3 Series Touring vs VW Passat Estate

Can Audi’s new A4 Avant handle the weight of expectation in the executive estate class as it meets key rivals from BMW and Volkswagen?

Just as night follows day, the recently launched Audi A4 saloon has been swiftly followed by the A4 Avant estate. As with its four-door counterpart, the wagon uses an all-new platform with a range of efficient yet powerful engines, while the extended roofline stretches over a load area that’s grown to 505 litres.

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Best estate cars to buy right now

But as we found out when we tested the A4 saloon competition in this executive sector is cut-throat, to say the least. For this test, we’ve lined up the A4’s nemesis, the BMW 3 Series. The Touring version can’t quite match the A4 Avant for boot space, but it’s a close call, while the rear-wheel-drive layout and efficient diesel engines add to its appeal.

Our final contender is something of a leftfield choice for this class, in the shape of the Volkswagen Passat Estate. The flagship R Line version tested here aims to match the luxury and sporty feel of the Audi and BMW. However, it undercuts both of its rivals by a significant margin, and the 650-litre boot scores on practicality. The question is, can the latest A4 Avant play to its strengths where the saloon fell short?

Head-to-head

Boot access

The A4 Avant and 3 Series Touring both have standard-fit power tailgates. The Audi’s load cover moves automatically with the tailgate, while the BMW’s rear window opens independently to boost access in tight spots.

Efficiency

The Audi emits 113g/km of CO2, compared to 119g/km and 110g/km for the BMW and Volkswagen respectively. That means it falls in between its rivals here for company costs. Higher-rate users will pay £2,830 for the A4 and £2,457 for the Passat.

Lighting

All three cars are offered with adaptive LED lights, but Audi’s £650 optional matrix system is the most advanced. On full beam, sensors can detect other road users and dip a section of light to avoid dazzling, while illuminating the rest of the road.

Verdict 

First place: BMW 3 Series Touring

The 3 Series Touring emulates its saloon counterpart and finishes first here ahead of its Audi rival. It doesn’t have the outright boot capacity of the A4 Avant, but it comes close, while the separate tailgate glass is a useful addition, plus there’s plenty of cabin space. Factor in an involving drive that doesn’t sacrifice comfort or economy, and it’s a clear winner in this test. 

Second place: Audi A4 Avant

Make no mistake: the new A4 Avant is a clear improvement over its predecessor, with business-friendly emissions, a first-class interior packed with tech and a useful boot with plenty of space. Yet as with the saloon, this S tronic box hampers motorway cruising comfort thanks to its oddly spaced ratios, while the A4 lacks the dynamic sparkle that sets the 3 Series apart.

Third place: Volkswagen Passat Estate

If you want outright boot space, then the Passat Estate is the best choice of our trio. However, while the R Line delivers a more upmarket experience than other models in the range, it can’t quite match the appeal of its executive competitors here. The Passat makes more sense in lower trim levels, especially as they represent even better value for money. 

Other options for similar money...

New: Mercedes C 220d AMG Line 7G-Tronic

Price: £36,365Engine: 2.1-litre 4cyl, 170bhp

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It looks stylish, is well built and is comfortable, but the C-Class Estate is pricey in this company, plus it only has a 490-litre boot. Emissions of 119g/km are on a par with the 320d M Sport’s, although that higher price means business users will face bigger tax bills.

Used: Audi A6 Avant 3.0 BiTDI Black Edition

Price: £34,000Engine: 3.0-litre V6, 268bhp

If you’re not concerned by company car costs, an 18-month-old A6 Avant with a V6 twin-turbodiesel, quattro 4WD and a Tiptronic auto is within reach. We found a fully loaded Black Edition model that had done just 13,000 miles.

Figures

 BMW 320d Touring M SportAudi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 190 S line S tronicVolkswagen Passat Estate 2.0 TDI 190 DSG R Line
On the road price/total as tested£35,620/£41,045£35,430/£39,400£30,770/£32,370
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£16,421/46.1%£14,420/40.7%£13,847/45.0%
Depreciation£19,199£21,010£16,924
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,494/£2,988£1,415/£2,830£1,229/£2,457
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,131/£1,886£1,398/£2,331£1,244/£2,073
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost28/£595/C/£3026/£662/C/£3023/£575/C/£20
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£525 (5yrs/50k)£159/£309/£159£288 (two services)
    
Length/wheelbase4,633/2,810mm4,725/2,820mm4,767/2,791mm
Height/width1,429/1,811mm1,434/1,842mm1,477/1,832mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,995cc4cyl in-line/1,968cc4cyl in-line/1,968cc
Peak power/revs187/4,000 bhp/rpm187/3,800 bhp/rpm187/3,500 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs400/1,750 Nm/rpm400/1,750 Nm/rpm400/1,750 Nm/rpm
Transmission8-spd auto/rwd7-spd auto/fwd6-spd manual/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel57 litres/run-flats40 litres/space-saver66 litres/£250
Boot capacity (seats up/down)495/1,500 litres505/1,510 litres650/1,780 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,605/595/1,800kg1,530/615/1,900kg1,590/664/2,000kg
Turning circle11.3 metres11.5 metres11.7 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable/153Variable/121Variable/223
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.14th/23rd13th/25th22nd/30th
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars95/84/78/5 (2012)90/87/75/5 (2015)85/87/66/5 (2014)
    
0-60/30-70mph7.2/7.2 secs9.1 (damp)/7.7 secs9.3 (damp)/8.0 secs*
30-50mph in 3rd/4th2.8/3.2 secs2.8/3.8 secs3.3/6.1 secs*
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th/8th4.3/5.5/6.6/10.4 secs5.8/10.3s/N/A/N/A7.3/11.4s/N/A/N/A*
Top speed/rpm at 70mph140mph/1,750rpm143mph/1,400rpm146mph/1,850rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph62.4/33.1/8.2m56.2/32.6/8.8m52.0/31.9/9.9m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph69/45/57/63dB71/43/58/65dB70/48/59/64dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range48.7/10.7/611 miles39.4/8.7/347 miles44.3/9.7/643 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined52.3/70.6/62.8mpg57.6/70.6/65.7mpg56.5/74.3/67.3mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined11.5/15.5/13.8mpl12.7/15.5/14.5mpl12.4/16.3/14.8mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket155/119g/km/21%192/113g/km/20%171/110g/km/20%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSix/yes/rear/£330Six/yes/rear/£450Seven/yes/yes/£315
Auto box/stability/adaptive cruiseYes/yes/£620Yes/yes/£1,250£1,600/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsTwo-zone/yes/£325Three-zone/£1,250/£300Three-zone/£1,690/£285
Met paint/adapt. lights/power tailgate£645/£710/yes£645/£650/yes£545/£1,220/£370
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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