Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz; these three brands are the titans of the compact executive estate car class, and for the first time in a while now, each has a product that’s new enough to stand comparison with the other.
The old A4 Avant had become the bit-part player of this trio, clinging onto its rivals' coattails and feeling rather outdated. That’s all changed now, and although this new version might not look radically different, don’t be fooled. It really is all new and when it goes on sale in November, it will face a Mercedes C-Class Estate that was fresh out the box last year, and a BMW 3 Series Tourer that was re-booted just a couple of months ago.
So, what tricks can the new A4 Avant conjure up to give its rivals a bloody nose? For a start, it’s longer and wider than the old car, so there’s more interior space; this includes a 505-litre boot, which is bigger than what both its chief competitors can offer.
The A4 Avant is also lower and lighter, which should bring better agility plus greater efficiency, and certainly that last box seems to have been ticked. If you go for this 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine in Ultra specification, despite being more powerful than the version it replaces, it also produces lower CO2 emissions.
It’s also claimed to return up to 68.9mpg, and that’s the same whether you choose the six-speed manual gearbox or optional seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
Audi’s interiors have become synonymous with elegance and quality, and the German manufacturer’s ramped up the ante with the A4’s cabin. It apes the feel of more expensive models like the Q7 and nabbed a few of its high-tech goodies as well. Now you can add features such as the Virtual Cockpit, a head-up display, and adaptive LED headlights.
What’s the 2015 Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 190 like to drive?
This 2.0-litre 187bhp diesel engine is likely to be the second-best seller behind the less powerful 148bhp version. It pulls well from just 1800rpm so it’s easy to drive in most situations, but when overtaking on faster roads it can leave you wishing for a bit more pace.
It’s quiet, though, sounding much smoother than the noisier 3 Series or C-Class diesels and although you get a slight buzz through the pedals and steering wheel at around 2000rpm, wind and road noise are fairly well suppressed. Add in the smooth-shifting auto 'box and the A4 Avant has all the hallmarks of a supreme mile-muncher.
The trims range from SE through Sport to the even sportier S line. With S line models you can choose sport or comfort suspension at no extra cost, and pay extra for adaptive dampers on both - our car was fitted with comfort springs and adaptive dampers.
As with all A4s, you get a button that allows you to switch between Comfort and Dynamic settings to change the steering weight and the engine response, but with the adaptive suspension you can alter the ride and handling, too.
In Comfort mode, the steering is very light and the A4 wafts along soaking up most surface undulations. The trade-off is that it leans more in corners and floats a little over dips and crests.
Switch to Dynamic and everything sharpens up. The steering feels weightier and the body hunkers down so you can be more precise with your cornering lines and gain the confidence to push on. It’s still not as much fun to drive as a 3 Series, but even in this tensed-up mode – yet admittedly on rather smooth French roads – it did feel like it had the edge for comfort.
What’s the 2015 Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 190 like inside?
Quite astounding is the simple answer. The level of perceived quality is arguably the A4’s game-changing attribute. It feels as well finished as Audi’s more expensive offerings, and that’s high praise indeed. Not only does it look good, when you start prodding, poking and playing with all the buttons, it feels solid, too.
All models come with Audi’s MMI infotainment and a 7.0in screen, with sat-nav standard from mid-level Sport trim upwards. It’s a much better system than the C-Class’s, and not far off the slick-functioning i-Drive in the 3 Series. As we’ve found in other Audis, the Virtual Cockpit is also superb for putting lots of information right in your line of sight.
There's plenty of space in the front and the S line seats we tried were comfortable, supportive and highly adjustable. One complaint when we tried the A4 saloon a few weeks back was the tight head room in the rear. With the straighter roofline in the Avant, this isn’t such an issue, although the rear still feels a little pinched for those above six feet tall.
There’s no issue with the boot space, though. It’ll swallow a couple of large suitcases with ease, and if you need more space, simply pull the convenient levers by the tailgate and the rear seats fold flat in a useful 40:20:40 arrangement.
You get a powered tailgate as standard, with the option of a motion sensor to activate it by waggling your foot under the rear bumper if your hands are full. There’s also an electric load cover that retracts automatically when the tailgate lifts.
Should I buy one?
While this 187bhp diesel engine is remarkably efficient for the power it offers, we still suspect that the less powerful 148bhp version will make a better all-round buy. That lower-powered engine is cheaper to buy, cheaper on company car tax, and the claimed fuel economy goes up to 70.6mpg.
However, with either engine the A4 Avant is a great car. We already know that it’s practical and has the best cabin in the class and while it’s not as sharp to drive as a 3 Series, first impressions are that it's more comfortable in this guise. We’ll know more when we’ve driven it in the UK, but there’s already little doubt that the A4 Avant is a real contender.
What Car? says...
Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 190 Ultra Sport S Tronic
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £33,930
Torque 295lb ft
0-62mph 7.9 seconds
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 68.9mpg