Luckily one or two manufacturers realised a while
ago that not everyone doomed to pilot an estate really wanted to drive round in a bread
van and actually started to attempt to style the things and give them decent levels of
The enlightened ones realised that whilst space is handy, most of us only need a wee bit
more than saloons offer and if we really wanted to carry 2 tonnes of s**te constantly we
would have bought a transit van. Do you know what most of us want?
All the good things
from the top of the range saloons and the occasional ability to squeeze a wardrobe in.
Audi have always been the vanguard of these super estates to the extent that the term
Avant has become synonymous with stylish estates. With the A4, Audi have taken an already
handsome saloon and created an equally, if not more, stylish Estate Car.
And what's more,
where other manufacturer's may limit your choice Audi offer the full range of engines and
trims. Although with Audi trim levels you only really have the choice of glut or famine so
that's no big deal. This A4 was the poverty spec model ie not the SE but it did include
air con, super widgets and gross luxury like electric leather seats are missing but that's
no biggie, the only things really noticeable by their absence was a centre front arm rest
and rear electric windows. This is probably a bit of a faux pas in something which will
inevitably be filled with small children and many owners would probably like
to be able to disable the rear windows in the normal electric one button way, to stop the
little sods messing about and probably eventually falling out. Audi have made a very nice
job of the floppy winder thingamabobs which are inset with quality chrome highlights and
will probably cost you nearly as much to replace as the electric windows would have cost
in the first place, when the brat pulls them off and slings them out.
Interior-wise the car is built to
Audi's usual high standards. The plastics are two tone, dark with light grey inserts
separated by a sort of metallic/carbon-look thin centre strip with the seat and doors
trimmed in a subtle hardwearing grey cloth trim.
The whole effect exudes class without having to resort to a rainforests worth of wooden
planking and there is a distinct lack of bare metal surfaces to gripe about.
The dashboard is plain and simple but fully functional.
Three precise stalk controls leave little for other buttons to do and those that are left
are large and neatly arranged across the centre.
Below the buttons lives the digital air con resplendent with tiny electronic controls and
clear obvious iconery, most of the time you just leave it set to Auto and it does its job
With the winter gloom here though its nice to know that, should you touch the
the screen clears in an instant. The buttons and dash all give off a homogeneous soft
red glow when lit which is not only the same colour as, but also very easy on, your blood
shot eyes late at night.
The only niggle I would have is the strange shielded guillotine of a hand brake which
really isn't an improvement over a conventional gaitered item.
The Audi V6 is a smooth as silk and remarkably quiet. It
barely raises its voice above a whisper until you venture deep toward the upper regions of
the rev counter and even then it sounds sweet. Its smoothness is matched by its totally
linear power delivery, it doesn't really matter where in the rev range you are
as it just
pulls strongly and unfussily from anywhere, the gearbox only needing to be used when
really hard acceleration is required. This does not feel like a sporty exciting motor, just
a very, very, very good one, its smoothness disguising its real urge. It may not be the last
word in all out power but it delivers constantly and predictably on everyday roads. Its
actually a shame that the engine was so good as the gearbox was short, sharp and swift and would
have covered up some engine deficiencies had it actually had any. The pedals all seem to
have the same weight, ie the clutch and brakes are light and the accelerator slightly
heavy, but their effects are completely different, the light progressive clutch makes for
smooth changes even under power, the long travel throttle needs a real push to elicit
true power but the engine rewards when you do and it is very controllable. The brakes, though,
have a short, lightswitch-style action, grabbing hard and stopping you very swiftly
indeed, they are a little difficult to modulate at first acquaintance though the ABS
should solve any difficulties it may cause (apart from getting rear ended that
Handling and ride are up to the usual A4 standards.
The ride is a little fidgety on less than perfect roads, though it never becomes harsh or
uncomfortable. The steering is still overly light when cornering at
speed but fine around
town and for general running around, though you can forgive this lightness more
easily in estates
which don't claim any sporting pretensions. For most of us it will always be a smooth,
safe, grippy handler more than up to our expectations. There is, of course, the Quattro
version should you require more grip again, but tiptoeing around
December flood warnings
presented no problems, though the snow coming down as I write this may have led to a
different conclusion. The A4 saloons one let down is that it lacks a little rear and boot
space. The Avant more than adequately solves that problem. Whilst many estates will claim
to have bigger load areas than the A4 Avant, let's be really honest and think of how often
we would really fill it and any way there's still the equally stylish A6 for those who need
more room and we could forever go down the line of this-is-bigger-than-that, etc. Suffice
to say, if you want a stylish estate then the Avant can't really be beaten and if you really
need a lot more room than the Audi offers then you're probably into Citroen XM, MPV or
Transit van league.