Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
All the regular petrol engines are 2.0 litres in capacity and turbocharged to boost power. The range kicks off with the 148bhp 35 TFSI, which needs working fairly hard if you want to accelerate briskly. Next up is the 187bhp 40 TFSI, which offers a considerable performance boost without pushing up running costs too much. There’s also a 245bhp 45 TFSI that comes with quattro four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox. As you might expect, it feels pretty rapid.
However, we reckon the diesels make more sense thanks to their better blend of pace and fuel efficiency. The 148bhp 2.0-litre 35 TDI has decent low-end shove for driving around town but can feel a little flat if you’re overtaking on faster roads – a failing addressed by our favourite, the more powerful 187bhp 40 TDI version of the same engine. This has noticeably more pull from lower revs, making for easier progress and a less strained driving experience.
If you want still more oomph, there’s the mighty 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine in the Audi S4 Avant.
Suspension and ride comfort
Three suspension set-ups are available for the Avant, depending which trim level you go for. Technik and Sport trims have our favourite Comfort Dynamic setup, which uses conventional springs and dampers. This setup will give you the smoothest-riding A4, especially if you stick with the default 17in or 18in alloy wheels. It puts comfort first, dealing effectively with all manner of lumps and bumps, yet controlling body movement extremely well over dips and crests. It pays to remember that larger wheels tend to make the ride harsher.
The pricier S line and Black Edition come with Sport suspension as standard and larger 19in wheels. As a stiffer, lower setup with less rubber as well, it further sharpens body control but that comes at the expense of comfort, introducing a little extra bumpiness at low speeds. In our opinion that penalty isn’t worth paying, and it's something of a pity that Audi doesn't let you choose Comfort Dynamic suspension instead.
The third setup is Audi's Adaptive suspension system, which can be stiffened or softened to your taste. This sounds ideal, but it's only available in range-topping Vorsprung models, and the big 19in wheels of that trim take their toll on the A4's ride quality, especially on pockmarked urban roads.
Above all, the Audi A4 Avant handles predictably and securely, and grips the road exceptionally well. Versions equipped with the stiffer Sport suspension feel the most nimble, remaining pretty flat through corners and changing direction with reasonable eagerness.
However, despite a little added body lean, the Comfort Dynamic suspension provides a better balance between ride and handling. Front-wheel-drive versions can struggle for traction out of slow corners when the road is wet, but quattro models are pretty much unflappable.
The standard steering is precise and weights up consistently as you turn in to bends, but it doesn’t give you a huge amount of feedback through the wheel. Of course, fun handling isn't necessarily a priority for executive estate buyers, but if you want something entertaining to drive you’d be better off with a BMW 3 Series Touring – this rear-wheel-drive rival is more involving on a spirited blast along a country road.
Noise and vibration
Refinement is one of the Audi A4 Avant’s strongest suits, as none of the engines – even the diesels – transmit much in the way of vibration through the body of the car. They can be a bit more vocal and boomy at motorway speeds than the petrol engines, but are no louder than their 3 Series or C-Class equivalents.
The A4 betters its rivals in suppressing wind noise, though, and you’ll only hear the occasional muted thud from the suspension over even the roughest patches of Tarmac. Road noise is also very well suppressed, although the bigger wheels have the potential to generate a lot more tyre roar.
The seven-speed automatic – badged S tronic – suffers the same flaw as most modern Audi gearboxes, there’s a considerable lag when you put your foot down, leaving a frustrating delay when building speed. This is most noticeable when leaping into a roundabout gap or changing lanes on the motorway.