Audi A4 estate performance
All the petrol engines use turbochargers to boost power, including the entry-point 148bhp 1.4-litre unit. Despite its relatively small capacity, it manages to feel pretty perky, but it does need to be revved hard to extract all its performance.
As a result, if you’re after a petrol, we’d stick with the 2.0-litre engines. The 187bhp version is brisk enough to keep up with rivals, while the 249bhp engine that comes with quattro four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox feels pretty rapid.
However, it’s the diesels that we think make the most sense, offering a better blend of pace and efficiency. The 148bhp 2.0-litre engine has decent low-end shove for around town but can feel a little flat if you’re overtaking on faster roads. This is less of an issue with the 187bhp 2.0-litre engine, making it our pick.
As for the 215bhp V6 diesel, there’s so much shove at low revs that there’s rarely any need to push it. But on those rare occasions when you need maximum performance, it delivers in spades. If you want more power, try the 268bhp version of this engine, which has all the performance you can reasonably need.
Adding quattro four-wheel drive (standard on V6 models) improves the acceleration at low speeds because you can get the power down more easily – especially in slippery conditions. Specifying an automatic instead of a manual gearbox has no detrimental effect on performance – even improving it on some variants.
If you're after maximum performance, then the S4 will be of interest. This gains a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that is also turbocharged. With 349bhp, it's certainly fast, but it will be costly to run. In the real world, it's not much quicker than the 268bhp V6, either.
Audi A4 estate ride
The Avant is available with no fewer than six suspension set-ups: Comfort Dynamic; Sport; Adaptive Comfort; Adaptive Sport; S Sport; and Adaptive S Sport.
So how does that lengthy list relate to the various trims? Well, it’s a little convoluted, but we’ll try to break it down in as straightforward a fashion as possible.
First, our favourite set-up is the passive Comfort Dynamic, standard on SE and Sport trims. Go for one of these and stick with the default 17in alloy wheels (larger wheels tend to make the ride harsher) and you’ll have the best riding of all the A4s; as its name suggests, this set-up puts comfort first and deals effectively with all manner of lumps and bumps, while controlling body movements over dips and crests extremely well.
Upper-level S line versions come with passive Sport suspension as standard. This is stiffer and lowered by 20mm, which further sharpens up the body control, but at the expense of extra bumpiness at low speeds. That penalty isn’t worthwhile in our opinion, so swap it for the Comfort Dynamic set-up – something that Audi lets you do free of charge.
The popular and efficient Ultra models also come with passive Sport suspension, but because they employ that lower ride height for better aerodynamics, which contributes to their improved efficiency, unlike S line you can’t simply swap to the softer Comfort Dynamic option. However, you can pay a bit extra for the Adaptive Sport suspension. It’s still lower and stiffer, but being an adaptive means you can press a button to soften things a little.
Both adaptive systems – Adaptive Comfort and Adaptive Sport – are available as options on SE, Sport and S line models. Don’t worry about that, though; the passive Comfort Dynamic system is so good that you don’t need to spend the extra.
Finally, S Sport is a bespoke set-up that’s only fitted to the high-performance S4 model. It’s noticeably stiffer, but as S4 buyers are looking for something racier, this is more acceptable. An optional variable system called Adaptive S Sport suspension lets you flit between softer and harder modes to suit your mood.
Audi A4 estate handling
As with ride quality, the A4 Avant’s various suspension options also create quite a variance in the way it handles.
Mind you, the A4 Avant handles predictably and securely and grips the road exceptionally well. Versions equipped with Sports suspension feel the nimblest (see the Ride Comfort section for a rundown of the suspension options), staying flattest through corners and changing direction eagerly. Despite a little added body lean mid-bend, we’d stick with the Comfort Dynamic system that’s either standard or a no-cost option on SE, Sport and S line trims, because it offers the best ride and handling balance. Front-wheel-drive versions tend to struggle for traction out of slow corners when the road is wet, but four-wheel-drive models are pretty much unflappable.
The S4 has its own unique S Sport suspension set-up, although we’ve only tried it with the optional adaptive version. Even in its softest mode, the S4 feels agile and stable; if you can bear the jarring ride, the firmer setting feels totally planted to the road.
You can also adjust the steering’s weight from the Dynamic Select switch in the cabin. Whatever setting you opt for, you don’t get an awful lot of feel through the wheel, but the A4 Avant’s helm is quick and accurate, making it an easy car to place on the road. There’s lots of grip, especially on versions with bigger wheels, and the quattro system gives loads of traction on slippery surfaces.
We’d still say the BMW 3 Series Touring offers more fun behind the wheel, but the A4 Avant is at least a match – if not better to drive – than its other rivals.
Audi A4 estate refinement
All the petrol engines are smooth, but it’s the popular diesels that really stand out next to the competition for their relatively muted tone and lack of vibration through the cabin. The 148bhp unit is the best of the 2.0-litre engines and far quieter than the equivalent unit in BMW or Mercedes-Benz, while the 3.0-litre TDI V6s are outstandingly refined, even when accelerating hard.
Cars fitted with manual gearboxes are easy to drive smoothly around town, thanks to a slick gearchange and positive clutch. The S Tronic dual-clutch automatic, which is optional on the 2.0-litre cars and standard on the 215bhp 3.0-litre TDI, changes smoothly through its seven gears but lets itself down slightly with some hesitation and jerkiness in traffic. This isn’t a problem you’ll notice on the near-seamless Tiptronic auto fitted to the 268bhp 3.0-litre TDI, though.
Wind and road noise are also much better suppressed than the A4 Avant’s chief competition, especially if you add the optional acoustic glazing.