Space; it's the main reason you'd buy a wagon right? But does the need to cart things around mean you have to sacrifice style? Not if you buy an A4 Avant with 1184 litres of boot space it doesn't. The B7 generation of Audi's 3 Series rival provides all the practicality and understated good looks you could ever need.
Lets begin with those looks. Audi designs of late have tended to evolve rather than change dramatically and although some might say this is rather lazy on the part of Ingolstadt I think it's a stroke of genius. It's helped give Audi a brand identity and an instantly recognisable face. It also means that to the untrained eye the big grill, angular nose and smooth surfaces of my 2007 wagon bear more than a passing resemblance to this cars successors. And surely there's nothing quite like tricking people into thinking your cars newer than it actually is?
Moving inside and I reckon the interior has aged very well too, if it weren't for the lack of a central multimedia screen and a few missing gadgets like seat heaters and parking sensors, you'd be hard pushed to know this car is approaching its 9th birthday. The switchgear is beautifully weighted, the dash board soft to touch and the wrap around metal trim is cool both literally and figuratively. The leather wheel is a lovely thing to hold too, not too thick and with wheel mounted controls perfectly positioned for opposable thumbs. With your bum snugly slotted into the bolstered S-Line seats, elbow up on the leather arm rest, cruise set to something sensible the A4 is a comforting way to haul your board, bike or suitably shabby chic coffee table to it's destination.
Highway cruising as it happens is also where this car feels most at home. The slow witted CVT is really at its best when it's helping to average economy of 8l/100km. At all other times even in sport mode using the wheel mounted paddles to change gear the A4 just fails to deliver on the driver involvement front. Light steering and an engine that sits right behind the headlights upsetting weight distribution don't inspire spirited driving either, push the Avant hard and all you get is understeer. And although the S-Lines low ride height and 235/45/17 rubber do their bit for road holding they translate to a pretty harsh ride on anything other than smooth bitumen, which in rural Australia is hard to come by. All in it's probably best to just stick to a cruise. Something which usefully the torquey 120kw 1.8 litre turbo motor is great at, powerful and quiet but with just enough turbo whistle to be entertaining. This engine in various guises was the staple of Volkswagen and Audi group cars for a decade, meaning reliability woes should not be an issue. And on that note I reckon it's about time to debunk some myths about Euro running costs.
Purchased from a dealer my A4 came with a warranty and fixed price servicing for 3 years. $192 is all I pay to get the car serviced every 6 months and coming from the UK where Euro cars are perceived to be as cheap as chips, my current A4 is no more expensive to run than the one I had over there. However, what if I didn't have the luxury of a warranty, would I still be as smug? In short, yes, here's why. Thanks to some truly awful roads I broke a drive shaft last week, needing it fixed quickly I took the car to my local independent European car specialist. I had the car back within a week for a little under $500, almost half the cost that an Audi dealer would have charged. There are Euro specialists all over Australia making European ownership not nearly as expensive as it's made out to be, all it takes is a little research to get a good deal.
Style, space and a comfy place to sit, for me the A4 Avant has it all. Yes the car does have its drawbacks but they don't detract from how much I love it. The quality of fit and finish is just so high that I can instantly forgive it and the fact it costs me no more to run than a Toyota Camry just adds to the enjoyment. If anything the B7 A4's failings just make me want to buy a newer one to see if Audi have fixed the issues.