There’s no denying the new Audi A4 Avant is right up there with the class best. It’s stylish, spacious and good to drive, while our Ultra spec test car shouldn’t cost much to run, either. The TDI 190 is more responsive and almost as frugal, but even this lesser-powered 150 is good to drive and brisk through its lower gears. If you spend a lot of time on the motorway, the accomplished seven-speed auto is certainly worth considering, but in all honesty this manual is hard to fault. There are some quirky features on the standard kit list but an essential like navigation really ought to be standard at this price point.
We’ve driven the new Audi A4 extensively over the past few weeks, both in the UK and on the Continent. We’ve tried petrols, diesels, manuals and autos, but until now, only the four-door saloon.
For the first time since launch in 1994, the A4 Avant customers will get their cars at the same time as buyers of the booted version. The estate will command a premium of £1,400 across the range, and boast all the same engines, gearboxes and drivetrains.
As many as 82 per cent of Audi A4 customers are destined to buy diesel, with the mid-range Sport specification expected to snatch 50% of new A4 sales. Previously, up to 65 per cent were saloons, but with that segment sitting almost stagnant in the UK, Audi reckons as many as 45 per cent of buyers will opt for the Avant this time around.
It’s easy to see why. It’s a more considered shape, with clean shut lines, a sloping roof and continuous creases that run all the way to the rear. It gets the same sharp front end, LED daytime running lights and familiar Audi grille, as well as an identical, exquisitely finished interior. Forget what anyone says about the Mercedes C-Class, for now this new A4 is the executive car interior benchmark.
In the back, there’s loads of headroom, and providing you’re not sitting behind Usain Bolt, you’ll be fine for kneeroom too. There’s a fairly hefty transmission tunnel, but like any car designed to adapt for four-wheel drive, this hurdle is almost unavoidable.
The Audi A4 Avant’s boot is on a par with the class best – matching the Merc C-Class for volume (1,510 litres) with its 40:20:40 split seats folded flat, and surpassing it (505 litres vs 490 litres) with them in place. All cars come with an electric tailgate, as well as an electric load cover that retracts automatically when you raise the bootlid. There are handy tie-down points and luggage nets on either side, while Audi claims a one-metre wide opening and market-leading low load lip – making it perfect for sliding bulky items in the back.
Like the Audi A4 saloon, three specifications will be available from launch – SE, Sport and S line. All cars get 17-inch alloys, xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lights, a seven-inch infotainment screen, three-zone climate control and keyless go. Audi will tell you that all cars come with sat-nav, but SE owners are required to link up their smartphones and use preinstalled maps through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Sport and S line cars get Audi’s own MMI Navigation built in.
Buyers get a choice of three petrols and four diesels, with all but the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol on sale now. We’d already tried the powerful yet frugal 2.0 TDI Ultra 190 in the saloon, but arguably the most interesting – and the one we try here – is the entry-level fleet favourite Ultra 150, with 148bhp and a six-speed manual gearbox.
First impressions are good. Push the starter button and the four-cylinder engine ticks into life with little more than a murmur. The Audi A4 Avant stays impressively quiet around town, where the light steering and good visibility make tight streets a doddle to navigate.
Acceleration is fine, but you’ll be left trailing in the wake of BMW’s 320d ED Plus Touring. The A4 Avant Ultra 150 will sprint from 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds, while the BMW slices that to just 8.2 seconds. The tall gearing makes the Audi feel quite sluggish on the motorway, too, whereby even burying the throttle in sixth gear makes little difference to your progress.
But on the twisting roads above Marseille, we found the Avant TDI 150 came into its own. It gets the same satisfying steering and compliant ride, while keeping the car in third or fourth gear results in an impressive slug of torque right through the rev band you’re using. It feels far more responsive lower down the gears, with the full 320Nm available at just 1,500rpm.
The gearbox is a joy, too, and far preferable to anything you’ll find in a modern-day BMW. The manual shift is smooth and precise, with a reassuring feel from gear-to-gear. A seven-speed dual-clutch setup is also available, managing the exact same CO2 figures and returning identical fuel economy.
Speaking of which, this TDI 150 is the most economical A4 Avant you can buy – or at least it is in the UK. European buyers will be able to spec their Ultra with 16-inch wheels, reducing CO2 emissions to just 99g/km. This isn’t even a no-cost option this side of the Channel, despite theoretically making them free to tax. Brit-registered cars will put out a still respectable 104g/km (£20 VED), while returning 70.6mpg in mixed motoring.