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Used test: Audi A4 Avant vs BMW 3 Series Touring vs Volvo V60 interiors

These used executive estates all offer plush interiors and the security of four-wheel drive, but which is the best buy? We've tested them back to back to find out...

Audi A4 Avant interior


Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality

If you’re looking for the plushest interior, we’d steer you towards the Audi A4 Avant. It feels incredibly solidly constructed and makes the most gratifying use of soft-touch plastics and attractive trim inlays, while every switch, button and dial works with great precision.

The Volvo V60 gets the closest to that level of build quality, with only a few flimsier buttons and plastic parts letting it down. However, while the BMW 3 Series Touring certainly doesn’t feel cheap, it isn’t quite as luxurious as its rivals; there's not as much use of dense-feeling plastics, and the gear selector feels a bit low rent.

The 3 Series compensates with a great driving position, at least when it’s equipped with the Premium Package of our test car. This adds adjustable lumbar support to the front seats (an option that was also available on its own) and electric adjustment, with a memory function on the driver’s side. Tall and short drivers are both well catered for, and the seats are as supportive in hard cornering as they are comfortable on long motorway drives.

BMW 3 Series Touring interior

Switch to the V60 and you’ll notice that its driver’s seat doesn’t hold you in place quite as well, but in other respects it’s even better, proving that bit more cushioning on long drives and coming as standard (from new) with electric adjustment, adjustable lumbar support and a memory function.

The A4 is by no means bad for comfort, but its driver’s seat doesn’t offer quite such a wide range of movement and the only way to get full electric adjustment is to look for one of the pricey and rare Vorsprung-spec cars. You do get electric lumbar support adjustment, though.

Visibility is best in the V60, thanks to its big, square windows and parking sensors front and rear. That said, we'd be tempted to buy one equipped with the optional rear or surround-view cameras. The A4 had a reversing camera as standard, but its windows are smaller and rear pillars thicker. Meanwhile, the 3 Series treads the middle ground for visibility while coming with a side distance warning system as well as a rear-view camera.

Volvo V60 interior

All of these estates have digital displays instead of traditional instrument dials, with the A4’s being the clearest and most configurable, allowing you to change the information shown and the size of the dials. The 3 Series’ display is a bit overstyled, but it has a reasonable amount of configurability.

By contrast, the V60’s display feels like a wasted opportunity, showing little more than conventional instruments do. It’s also a pain that the V60’s climate controls are on the infotainment touchscreen; the traditional switches and dials of the other two are much easier to operate on the move.

The 'upgraded' infotainment system fitted to facelifted A4s is actually a step backwards in some ways. At 10.1in, the screen is bigger than the previous one, and the graphics are sharp, but the old rotary controller has been binned. Instead, the system is fully operated via the touchscreen, which makes it more distracting to use on the move, plus reaching the top left corner of the screen is a real stretch.

There’s a multitude of ways to control the 3 Series Touring's 10.3in screen, including touch, voice, gesture (optionally) and a rotary dial between the seats. The screen is responsive, with sharp and attractive graphics, too. The V60's 9.0in touchscreen is portrait-orientated and much like a tablet to use. Unfortunately, while this makes it easy enough to navigate when you're parked up, it's very distracting on the move.

Audi A4 Avant boot

There’s a clear winner in terms of boot space, with the V60 easily swallowing a useful eight carry-on cases, while the A4 Avant and 3 Series Touring just managed seven. But to put that into perspective, the cheaper Skoda Superb Estate swallows a mighty 11.

Despite the similarity in capacity between the A4 and 3 Series, the latter is let down by the fact that its boot is the narrowest between the wheel arches and the shortest with the rear seats in place. However, each car has a range of hooks, straps and netted areas to stop smaller items from rattling around, while our 3 Series has anti-slip floor rails that were an option when new. The V60 on test didn't have the optional Convenience Pack fitted from new; we'd recommend looking for this because it gives you a handy load separator that folds out of the floor.

BMW 3 Series Touring boot

If you need to transport something really big, you’ll find it’s easy to lower the rear seatbacks in the A4 and 3 Series because they have remote release levers near the boot entrance. You don’t get boot-mounted seatback releases in the V60; it forces you to go around to the side doors or stretch across the boot to lower the seats, and it’s the only one with a 60/40 seat split rather than the more versatile 40/20/40 configuration of the other two.

For those who are part-giraffe, it’s the A4 that has the most front head room and the V60 the least, although none of our 6ft-plus testers had any issues with their hair rubbing the roof in any of our contenders. Similarly, all have seats that will slide back enough to accommodate those with even the longest of legs and interiors wide enough to give you plenty of elbow room.

You can tell our contenders have been made with long journeys in mind. Each has a pair of sizeable cupholders that will securely hold a king-sized coffee cup, door bins that are big enough for plenty of clutter and a tray in front of the gear selector for smaller odds and ends. Under the comfortable central armrest of each (adjustable for height in the A4), you’ll find yet more storage, although this is a bit small in the V60.

Volvo V60 boot

Meanwhile, our 3 Series’ optional panoramic roof (part of the Premium Package mentioned earlier) limits head room. As for the A4, it has a little less space than the 3 Series but is less restricting for head room when no panoramic roof is fitted (as is the case with our test car).

In the rear seats, our tape measure suggests that the 3 Series and V60 are similar in terms of space, but in practice there’s more knee room over a wider area in the V60, because its front seatbacks are a better shape. The V60 also has the most comfortable centre rear seat, thanks to having the least intrusive central hump in the floor.

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