Wagon lovers rejoice: the all-new 2016 Audi Avant has arrived in Oz, aiming to move the game forward for mid-sized premium family haulers. And after sampling the five-door range at its local launch, it’s easy to be convinced that it’s muscled in to new territory.
There’s much to whet Mum and Dad appetites. This new B9 generation promises heightened tech and sophistication together with A4 sedan-matching driving dynamics, so that’s three dangling carrots for a start.
And from its core DNA to its fanciful options list, it flops faithfully from the sedan mould that scored an impressive nine-from-ten CarAdvice rating back in February at the four-door’s launch. So make that four nice lures. Sharper looks (five), expanded cabin (six) and luggage space (seven), and a host of unique-to-segment safety equipment (eight) and gadgetry (nine) all stack the lists of pluses high.
That the Avant plays some role of resistance, however small, against the car buying epidemic that parks SUVs in 11 out of every ten Aussie driveways is, in itself, a cause for admiration.
Looking nice and fuzzy on paper, then. But even before we drive the two-variant, all-petrol-powered Avant range, there’s cause to temper enthusiasm. For one thing, unlike the A4 sedan, there’s no diesel option - unless you wait for the forthcoming, plastic-clad Allroad version later this year. It’s also a bigger car than its forebear, though perhaps not necessarily better because of it.
Then there’s pricing. Both the $63,900 (plus on-roads) base front-driven 140kW and the $72,900 (plus on-roads) all-paw quattro 185kW versions – both called Avant 2.0TFSI S tronic, confusingly - are pricier than the last-gen two-variant range ($3900 and $1200 respectively).
And while Avant offers ample equipment in basic forms, the long list of not-insignificantly priced cost options brings sharp focus on what we don’t get standard. For a full rundown on pricing and specifications, see our report here.
Start ticking options boxes and be prepared to be seated before you do the sums.
The well-endowed 185kW quattro test car we drove at launch had 10 extras fitted, totalling $95,324 before on-roads. Call it six figures once parked in the driveway! Similarly, the front-driven 140kW version we sampled, with its nine various options, rose to $75,020 plus on-roads, or circa-$80K parked at the curb.
Audi loads its test cars with goodies so scribes can ring bells and blow whistles, which is great. But what I can’t tell you is how a Plain Jane $64k Avant rides and handles on standard comfort suspension, what the regular analogue instrumentation is like, or if the normal rear-view camera is any good. But an $80K version with Assistance, Parking and Technik packages and optional Adaptive comfort suspension, however…
As for our six-figure quattro, the standard-issue adaptive LEDs, passive sports suspension, instrumentation, seats, wheel (inside), wheels (outside), trim, upholstery and almost everything from its safety package to the sound system have been sprinkled with cost-optional fairy dust.
Where to start? How about the handy ($350) load-area rails and load-securing gate – which stows neatly under the floor beyond the space-saver spare tyre – in the all important luggage space separating the A4 Avant from sedan…
Audi’s big boast is that its mid-sized wagon can swallow marginally less family addenda than its mid-sized Q5 SUV: so 505 litres plays 540L rear seats in play; 1510L plays 1560L with the Avant’s 40:20:40 split-fold rears folded flat, handily via dual remote latches in load area’s sidewalls. It’s a slab-sided area that practically balances depth and height, and offers a handy one-metre load-through width, and includes extra-bright LED lighting and luggage hooks.
Even the base Avant gets electric-powered tailgate and sliding luggage cover, together with a sensor-controlled ‘kick motion’ opening that actually responds after the first kick or two (unlike some rival systems out there). Nice work, Audi.
Moving forward in the cabin, the A4 has finally moved on from the stale, by-the-numbers cabin design of its forebears. For now, at least, there’s a freshness that its rivals the 3 Series and C-Class can’t quite match - though it’s hardly inimitable design, its look and features pilfered from A8/S8, Q7 and TT. The gut feel is that material quality and tactility is class leading: the standard aluminium inserts are the real stuff (as are the $400 optional real oak or walnut wood alternatives).
The electric front seats are only moderately form fitting, the partial leather trim adequate rather than sumptuous – properly plush Milano or (S line-only) Nappa leather are an extra $1500 either way. Similarly, the second-row is comfortable rather than opulent, though the Avant’s modest growth in length (26mm extra length, 12mm-longer wheelbase) has added 23mm of extra rear legroom, and it feels it. The same can be said for head and shoulder room in both rows. Top marks for the three-zone climate control, offering dedicated rear passenger controls.
I’m less taken by ($2100) virtual cockpit digital dash trickery than the great many - including CarAdvice colleagues – who’ve tried and love it. At least, that is, outside that of the minimalist TT cabin design with no added display. Add the MMI navigation plus’s centrally-mounted 8.3-inch screen (standard across the range) and the system’s eight ‘favourites’ shortcut buttons to what’s already a button-frenzied dash fascia and central stack and, to my eyes at least, it’s information overload to the point of distraction.
Yes, virtual cockpit is configurable. Yes, like any complex venture, with user practise comes familiarity. But I’d be reluctant to throw the keys to an uninitiated loved one without providing lengthy instruction. And, frankly, I’ve gotten along in 28 years of driving to date just fine without the need to be assaulted by so much information…
The chosen drive routes, from surf to the mountains and back around the NSW/Queensland border, certainly tested the pair’s touring manners across road surfaces varying from brilliant to atrocious, often through grin-inducing corners. There wasn’t much low-speed, urban-typical driving, bar a short stint in Byron Bay peak-hour where, after some button fiddling, I’d managed to activate the ‘adaptive cruise control with stop and go including traffic jam assist’, where the Avant kinda-sorta drove itself. It did wail on the brakes to avoid a turning vehicle in an adjacent lane. In summary, the ($1900) Assistance package is, at once, impressive and not entirely infallible.
The high-compression, low-boost 140kW 2.0-litre turbo four has ample shove and its pairing with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is, well, getting better for the breed if not quite faultless. From a standstill, there remains a hesitation between applying throttle and actual forward motion that becomes exacerbated with stop-start activated. The transmission controller’s tap-for-Sport is a temporary fix that sharpens the gearbox’s responses, if one required each time the car comes to a stop.
On the move, the engine and transmission union is a happy one, without strain or noise from the former and silken and intuitive gearchanges from the latter. There’s not, however, much torquey urgency once you sink the throttle – overtaking taking patience and timing, even with Dynamic drive mode activated. The freewheeling function, which automatically coasts the car at idle in neutral at speeds of between 55 and 160km/h, works beautifully and is utterly transparent switching in and out.
The 140kW is a sweet and well-resolved car to drive out on the open road. It’s sedate enough that you can leave its drive mode in Dynamic to light some fire under the serenity and it won’t unduly impact on core comfort. And even then it returns a handy 6.0L/100km average while making hasty progress when, despite wheel selective torque control, it doesn’t take much provocation to wake the traction control system. Reasonably gusty, too, as the base car is rated to tow up to 1700kg braked (the 185kW quattro will do 1900kg braked).
Without the standard suspension to sample, it’s tough to discern what the adaptive ‘comfort’ upgrade ($1700) brings to ride and handling, but the optional system is beaut. Regardless of which damper setting is chosen, the continuously variable trickery at play never loses compliance nor creates flaccid body control. Surefooted and inherently comfortable, the entry-level Avant delivers well on its sedate, premium wagon promise. Bar some tyre noise on coarse surfaces, it's a quiet operator, too.
The 185kW quattro, in our well-optioned six-figure guise, unabashedly drinks from the RennSport well, if in a fairly diluted form. Much of the effect is the S line package ($3200 for quattro, $5000 for the front-driver) that adds revised front and rear styling and exclusive, oh-so-RS 19-inch rims. But it’s the combination of this pack’s more supportive and upmarket leather/Alcantara seats and the chunky flat-bottom wheel, together with the 23mm-lowered Adaptive sport suspension ($1100), that doesn't merely suit the high-power quattro Avant format, but seems to beg for it.
The engine’s superior 370Nm torque makes the dual-clutch transmission a happier operator, though some off-the-mark hesitation is still present. But this high-boost, low-compression two-litre turbo engine feels markedly more responsive and potent, while the quattro eliminates traction issues completely. It’s swift on its feet – though, at 6.0sec for 0-100km/h, not scintillatingly so. Our more leisurely road loop activities returned a decent 7.5L/100km/h consumption figure, a litre thirster than its maker's combined cycle claim.
In the corners, the combination of the adaptive suspension and all-paw system – plus the superb, linear steering – conspire to create proper driving engagement. It points with confidence and accuracy entering a corner, and the quattro’s wheel-selective torque trickery – it’ll also ply up to 85 percent of drive to the rear axle - affords keen agility from the middle to the exit of a curve. And the suspension channels exceptional grip the far surpasses that of the adaptive comfort system we tried in the front driver, allow the Avant to hang on harder through a chosen line or adjust the given the line more responsively.
There’s nothing lairy or lurid about this go-faster optioned Avant quattro. It won’t slide its tail or act like a rally car. But it will cover A to B at a pace that can be, at first, truly underestimated.
This evidence suggests that a quattro version fitted with just S line and Adaptive sport suspension updates could well be, at $77,200 all up (plus on-roads), the centre of the A4 Avant universe. That said, the kids may well hold Mum and Dad at Nerf-point to have the rear, dual-10.1in Audi tablet entertainment system ($3600) installed, which allows open and frank communication between both seated rows (you have been warned...).
So does the new Avant breed now lead the mid-sized premium wagon segment? We’ll have to throw the Audi up against the no-brainer German opposition in 3 Series and C-Class to find out. The early signs are that Ingolstadt's nemeses will want to be very much on their toes.