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

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 vs BMW 3 Series Touring vs Volvo V60 Cross Country

The Contenders

Audi A4 Avant 40 TDI quattro S line S tronic

List price when new £42,520
Price today £28,000*
Available from 2015-present

The A4 Avant received a sharper face and updated tech as part of its 2019 facelift

BMW 3 Series Touring 320d xDrive M Sport

List price when new £41,325
Price today £28,000*
Available from 2019-present

Based on the best executive cars around and has the potential to excel in Touring estate form

Volvo V60 D4 AWD Cross Country Plus

List price when new £41,530
Price today £28,000*
Available from 2019-present

The regular V60 is a previous used group test winner, but how does this SUV-inspired version stack up?

*Prices today are based on a 2019 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

They say love conquers all, but does it really? After all, it won't conquer your daily commute, family holiday or shopping run. For those tasks, look to estate cars instead. They're much more versatile, capable and, frankly, dependable than said emotion, however powerful it may be. 

Speaking of power, you can still expect a fair amount from the likes of the BMW 3 Series Touring. It's long been the driver's choice of the class, due to its impressive performance and handling traits. This latest car can tackle motorways and country roads with great competency, all the while remaining a practical car every day of the week.

Audi A4 Avant front cornering

The Audi A4 Avant boasts similar credentials. Its design is a tad old now, but the model remains competitive thanks to a hefty update in 2019. Not only did this tweak its looks a bit on the outside, but it also gave it a refreshed infotainment system inside. We’re featuring a sporty S line model here – Audi’s answer to M Sport.

Though it trades some athleticism for a slice of SUV style, the Volvo V60 Cross Country is also worth considering, nonetheless. Like its rivals (in their respective guises featured here), it gets four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox – two things that should make life that bit easier. 

Choosing a used example will help make your wallet's life easier, too. Buy either of these three estate cars at three years old and you can pick them up for reasonable money – around £12,000 less than what you'd have to pay for them when new. 

BMW 3 Series Touring front cornering

So, which wonderful wagon should you give your heart to? Read on to find out. 


Performance, ride, handling, refinement 

With our trio having such similar engines, it’s no surprise to find that there’s not a great deal to separate them in terms of outright acceleration. However, regardless of whether you’re blasting away from a standstill or trying to build speed swiftly on the move, the 3 Series is slightly ahead of the A4, which in turn has the edge over the V60. That’s despite our V60 having been fitted with a Polestar Performance software upgrade from new. This feature boosts mid-range muscle and increases the responsiveness of the accelerator and gearbox.

Volvo V60 Cross Country front cornering

What happens before the cars surge forward is rather more disparate. Although the 3 Series hesitates for a moment when you put your foot down, its gearbox is much quicker to shift down than the A4’s and V60’s. The A4 also has the most sluggish engine stop-start system, which can be a pain in town.

On the other hand, like the 3 Series, the A4 has handy gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel, whereas the V60 only lets you change gear manually by nudging the gear selector back and forth. The Volvo's gearshifts aren’t as crisp as those of its rivals, either.

Each car has a distinct character in corners, too. The A4 may not be all that exciting on a sinewy stretch of B-road, but it inspires confidence even if the road is wetter than an otter’s pocket. Grip levels are exceedingly high and spread evenly front to rear, plus there’s minimal body lean and the steering is quick enough to make the car feel agile, even though you don’t get much feedback.

Audi A4 Avant rear cornering

Should you want more involvement, the 3 Series delivers. Its steering far better connects you to the front tyres and responds even faster than the A4’s, making twists and turns a joy. The 3 Series is a little quicker to slip wide at the front if you enter a bend too enthusiastically, but there’s even less body lean.

Both the 3 Series and A4 feel happier to be hustled than the softly suspended V60, which grips well enough but sways around the most and feels the least composed during fast changes of direction. Its steering isn’t as precise as its rivals', either.

BMW 3 Series Touring rear cornering

Sadly, the V60 doesn't compensate by being the most comfortable. Despite its raised ride height and extra suspension travel it feels rather unsettled on bumpy roads, while motorway expansion joints can be heard and felt as an intrusive thud. A regular V60 on smaller wheels will give you a more comfortable ride.

The A4 and 3 Series both feel significantly firmer at first. However, they actually deal with sharp bumps better, in addition to remaining much more controlled at all times. The 3 Series occasionally struggles with particularly poor surfaces, but overall it’s the most settled car here – although, like the V60, the A4 and 3 Series are at their most comfortable if you opt for the cheaper trim levels with smaller wheels.

Changeable conditions during our testing meant we can’t directly compare the braking distances recorded for our contenders, but all three pulled up straight and true from 30mph and 70mph and instilled plenty of confidence. As for noise, the V60 is the rowdiest at all speeds and the 3 Series the quietest.

Volvo V60 Cross Country rear cornering

We didn’t exactly go on safari in our contenders, but one of our photo locations did call for some mild off-road driving. None struggled for traction on hard-packed dirt, but the V60’s additional ground clearance came in handy when climbing up a small bank. We had to pick our line carefully in the other two to prevent them from burying their noses in the mud.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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