Audi A4 Avant 1.8T FSI SE

Latest saloon is class leader, so can new estate repeat that feat?

  • The Audi is cheaper than its rival, and will also hold on to significantly more of its new price. After three years, our experts predict it will retain 54.9 per cent of its value, thanks largely to the Avant line-up’s popularity among second-hand buyers. Insurance costs are also cheaper than the Mercedes.
  • the A4 sits in a slightly higher tax bracket, due to its greater CO2 emissions. It was much thirstier than the Mercedes. While official figures put the Avant just behind the C180K, if our experience is anything to go by, it has a much bigger appetite for unleaded.

Earlier this year, Audi stole the performance car headlines with its 572bhp RS6 Avant. But what about those of us on a more modest budget?

Well, the smaller A4 Avant now borrows many of its racy big brother’s styling cues. With boldly creased lines and a dramatic front end, the newcomer looks much more distinctive than the saloon version – even in basic 1.8-litre T FSI SE trim it’s attractive.

On paper, the A4 promises to be hugely practical. Although it doesn’t have the upright tailgate of the C-Class, its boot is larger with the seats in place, at 490 litres.

While the load area is virtually square, it’s 635mm off the ground, plus there’s a small lip below the rear sill. Maximum capacity is 1,430 litres, but the seats don’t fold completely flat. Up front, the driving position is fine, but the seat is set high and the pedals are offset to the right.

The latter is due to the large transmission tunnel, which also hampers rear space: the back bench is only really comfortable for two adults. Still, fixtures and fittings feel expensive throughout. We particularly like the clear dials and central MMI interface.

So does the A4 Avant work without diesel power? The 157bhp 1.8-litre petrol turbo has direct injection to blend efficiency and performance – and it does it well.

There’s more lag than in the blown Merc, and the FSI isn’t as flexible at very low revs. Use the light six-speed box to keep the unit spinning above 2,000rpm, though, and it revs sweetly. The 0-60mph dash takes only 8.6 seconds, while there’s enough torque to overwhelm the front wheels at low speed – not an issue on costlier 4WD quattro cars.

There is an array of optional suspension, steering and drive systems, yet even without them (variable-weight Servotronic steering was our test car’s only extra), the Avant is more engaging than the Mercedes. It dives purposefully into bends, and even if you up the pace it remains stable and composed.

There’s plenty of grip, but the steering is too light in town and then weights up at speed, and feels artificial. Taut suspension and 17-inch wheels give a firm ride, too.

Base SE spec has three-zone climate control, a 180-watt stereo and daytime running lights for £23,400. So the A4 Avant is keenly priced. Is that enough for victory?

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