Audi A4 Avant Estate (2015 - ) review
The Audi A4 Avant has always been a popular choice, outselling its BMW 3 Series Touring rival, and this model is better than ever, majoring on comfort and refinement
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This is a notoriously conservative segment, so anyone expecting a revolution in design will be sorely disappointed. This A4 Avant is a little longer and wider than its predecessor, but it looks, by and large, a lot like the previous model. That does mean it's still a smart, sleek-looking thing, though. The estate body style suits it very nicely, too, and despite the added glass and metal on the back, the Avant is still very nicely proportioned. Every model comes with aluminium roof rails as standard, and even the SE version has 17-inch alloys, xenon headlights and LED running lights as standard. Step up to a Sport model and you'll get lower, meaner bumpers, a chrome grille, and a different design of alloy wheel. Top-spec S line cars stand out the most, with lowered suspension, a roof spoiler, chrome exhausts, full LED headlights and 18-inch wheels, but you can fit up to 20-inch alloys as an option. A peppering of S line badges, inlays, and other sporty touches rounds it off.
Audi is renowned for its high-quality interiors, but the company had its work cut out to compete with with the Mercedes C-Class Estate, which previously set the standards in this area. Nevertheless, Audi has crafted a driving environment that feels well beyond its rivals'. The clean, simple dash design makes the various controls easy to find and use, and finding a comfortable driving position is really easy, with loads of adjustment for both the driver's seat and steering wheel. The fit and finish is incredibly precise, and there are no cheap or flimsy pieces of trim letting the side down. The fixed infotainment screen that sits above the centre console is really smart, with a magnesium frame and high-definition display. Every detail, from the toggle switches on the standard climate control to the lights in the headliner, is beautifully wrought, and all-round visibility is even better than in the saloon thanks to the higher roofline and wider rear window. As an option, you can have the same 12.3-inch ‘virtual cockpit’ display that was introduced in the Audi TT and Audi Q7, which replacing the analogue dials. It looks great and displays a lot of useful information at a glance, but with a superb central display already standard, we're not sure it's worth it.
This is another area where the A4 Avant delivers. It feels very spacious up front, and those in the back are treated to a generous amount of legroom. Headroom in the back is a step up from the saloon's, too, with an extra few millimetres ensuring that even six-foot passengers have space to spare. The high transmission tunnel eats into the amount of foot space, though, so three adults might feel a tad cosy in the back. Boot space has grown in line with the other dimensions, with 505 litres available with the seats up. Split folding rear seats are standard on every trim, with a 40/20/40 split making it easy to carry long or awkwardly shaped items of luggage. Fold the seats down via the natty plastic levers in the boot, and the load bay increases - leaving 1,510 litres to fill - but the seats don't fold totally flat. That puts the A4 Avant on par with its premium rivals, but if practicality is your chief concern, then roomier options like the VW Golf and Passat Estates, or the Skoda Superb Estate, will all comfortably swallow far more luggage, and at a significantly lower price.
Ride and handling
The BMW 3 Series Touring is still the benchmark in this class for poise, handling balance and overall agility, but this A4 Avant comes much closer than any previous model. For starters, it's lighter than the old car, so it instantly feels more responsive in corners, and it steers nicely too, with accuracy, if not much in the way of feedback. As with the saloon, there are four different suspension set-ups to choose from: two are on standard springs, and two use an adaptive system, with a ‘comfort’ and a ‘sport’ option for both. We've driven the A4 with both the standard suspension and the optional adaptive set-up, and the latter is well worth the extra. In short, it works brilliantly, smothering uneven bumps in the road and providing tight body control at all times. It also means the ride on the motorway is really cossetting, even on the larger, optional, 19-inch wheels. By contrast, cars with the standard set-up don't ride as comfortably, feeling more unsettled over rough surfaces. A few of the versions we tested were the 'Ultra' models, which use low rolling resistance tyres, and therefore run out of grip and start to squeal a bit sooner than you might expect in tighter corners, but fortunately the standard models, in both front- and four-wheel drive guises, have no such issues, and feel sure-footed and secure at all times.
If you're after an A4, then you'll certainly be spoiled for choice when it comes to the engine. There are several to choose between, with three different gearboxes, plus either two- or four-wheel drive. So far, we've only tried four different versions, but all of them impressed. Company car-buyers will be delighted that even the economy-focused Ultra engine has enough pace for everyday use, but the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel - which is smooth, punchy and brilliantly refined - is a very tempting upgrade and offers appreciable extra performance without too big a penalty in economy and emissions. There’s also a brace of 3.0-litre V6 diesels to choose from - the faster of which will hit 62mph in just 5.3 seconds - but it's the less powerful one that really impresses. Smooth, flexible and hushed, it delivers spirited performance and sets the efficiency benchmark for six-cylinder diesels engines by posting returns similar to the 2.0-litre engines. The only petrol we tried was the potent 249bhp 2.0-litre, with four-wheel drive and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox. The transmission provides quick, precise shifts, but it's not quite as speedy between the ratios as the eight-speed auto' in the BMW 3 Series. All of the engines are very competitive when it comes to sheer performance, but they also manage to be noticeably smoother and quieter on the move than what you'll find in rival estates from BMW and Mercedes.
With so much choice, flexibility, power and refinement from the engine range, you'd have thought something would have to give, but the A4 Avant is up there with the best-in-class when it comes to economy and CO2 emissions as well. Its aerodynamic shape means that it competes with the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class (the cleanest 2.0 TDI Ultra emits 104g/km and returns 70.6mpg) but without the need to fit tiny 16-inch wheels. Better still, choose the more powerful 2.0-litre diesel and those emissions rise by just 2g/km, so there is only a tiny tax penalty for the extra poke. Likewise, there is no penalty for picking the automatic transmission, as the CO2 emissions remain the same. Even the petrols do a decent job, with the automatic version of the 187bhp 2.0 TFSI managing 53.3mpg and just 121g/km, although all these figures do go up quickly once you add on larger alloy wheels. In terms of pricing, the A4 Avant's list prices are slightly lower than its rivals', which makes it seem good value. It has marginally weaker residuals then some of its competitors, but servicing and other running costs should still be competitive with its peers.
Audi has never done particularly well in customer satisfaction or owner reliability surveys. Buyers often complain about the number and cost of the repairs required, and as a result the brand now sits well down the manufacturer rankings in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index. Mercedes and BMW both perform better, and the previous A4 Avant put in an equally poor showing, with issues with the electrics and engine trouble among the biggest complaints from buyers. Hopefully with an all-new chassis, overhauled engine range and much higher-quality interior, Audi can improve its patchy record. At the moment, though, it's far too early to know if this model will buck the current trend, but it does at least come with a standard three-year, 60,000-mile warranty.
The A4 Avant has not been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the saloon earned a maximum five-star rating, so the estate should hold up just as well in an accident. It comes reasonably well equipped as standard, with all the usual boxes ticked when it comes to keeping you and your passengers safe. That means you get six airbags and anti-lock brakes, as well as traction- and stability control. For even more security, there is also cruise control, reversing sensors to help you park, and a pop-up bonnet to protect pedestrians. There's also a system that'll brake for you at low speeds to prevent a crash around town. If you want to splash out on the full suite of features, then there are a huge number of active systems, too. These include an adaptive cruise control and lane assist system that is so advanced the A4 can almost drive itself. Traffic sign recognition, cross traffic assist and a head-up display are all available to those with deep enough pockets.
There are three trims to choose from in the A4 Avant, which is a welcome change from some of the more convoluted ranges offered by its rivals. For the most part, the standard specification SE is generously equipped, getting three-zone climate control, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, and xenon headlights with LED running lights. Rivals will often make you pay extra for those last two. However, BMW provides sat-nav as standard across its range, and you'll need to step up to a Sport model before you'll get it fitted in the A4 Avant. Similarly, most mid-range trims offer leather upholstery and heated seats for the front two passengers - key extras that boost resale values - but even on the top-spec S line cars, you have to pay extra for these luxuries, and they don't come cheap. Ultimately, all the basics are covered, but by the time you end up with the car you want, the price may have risen sharply. Audi has bundled a lot of these desirable options together into packs, but the bottom line is that other estates do give you more, especially the Mercedes C-Class.
If you value comfort, space and refinement, the A4 Avant should definitely be on your shopping list. It’s quieter than its rivals, rides beautifully (on adaptive springs at least) and has a truly stunning interior. Combine that with class-best efficiency and strong performance, and it's hard to argue with this estate's appeal. Our only caveat is that many mainstream rivals offer considerably more space in the boot, and if you value driving enjoyment above all else, then the BMW 3 Series Touring is still a better bet.