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Too sexy by far - the Audi A4 AvantBy: Tim Gibson

Audi A4 Avant
I blame my brother. For years, I’ve been arguing that Audi is the new BMW. By this I mean it’s the go-to car for people who want to scream their wealth from the rooftops. It’s the vehicle you drive –usually far too close to the car in front – if you want to tell your Mondeo-owning neighbours that you’re doing all right. It’s the car you buy if badge prestige trumps modesty in your litany of vehicular requirements.

And then, casting a seemingly impenetrable shadow of doubt on my professional judgment, my brother took delivery of a brand new A4 Avant. In black.

Now, let’s be clear. My brother is the least flashy person you can imagine. He’s down-to-earth, intelligent, quietly spoken, classy. Everything you don’t expect from an Audi driver. He doesn’t even work in sales.

The only response to this bombshell was to get my hands on an A4 Avant of my own, to see if I’d been too quick to judge the UK’s legion of Audi lovers.

I drove an SE-spec vehicle, with a 143bhp TDI turbo diesel engine. The range has recently been updated, and this engine has been revised to create a smoother driving experience, especially at low revs.

In this regard, the Audi doesn’t fail to deliver. It’s a very refined drive, and even when crawling through traffic it’s hard to notice anything but the faintest of rumbles from the engine. Get the vehicle out on the open road, engage sixth gear, and the soft whistle of the turbo is only discernible if you focus all of your sensory energy on your ears. Since this leaves the eyes somewhat short-changed, it’s probably best avoided.

That’s especially true if you want to make the most of the Audi driving experience. The manufacturer has always been associated with sporty vehicles, but previous- generation Audis only lived up to this billing in so far as they were fitted with improbably large alloy wheels, and low-profile tyres. The new era A4 is a much more authentic proposition, with sharp steering, road-hugging handling and a quite startling response from the throttle.

This makes for a genuinely sporty performance, from a car that is also a moderately practical family wagon. I say ‘moderately’, because it pays to be realistic about the A4’s load-lugging credentials. I wouldn’t want to sit three people – even kids – in the back seat for any length of time. And you’d struggle to fit more than a couple of suitcases in the so-called estate boot.

Still, if practicality is what you’re after, you can always buy a Volkswagen Passat. That’s what I told my brother to do – which just goes to show how much I know.

In the end, though, the A4 trumps the Passat when it comes to sex appeal. The VW tells the world you’re a married family man, with two kids and a Labrador. The Audi probably sends a similar message… but it hints that you might just consider an affair, if the right opportunity came your way.
And while for many of us that’s a reason not to like the Audi, it’s also what keeps the manufacturer popular. After all, who doesn’t want their car to be just a little more exciting than their actual life?

The A4 Avant scores, then, because it’s got more to it than many of the other family estates available on the market. Perversely, its very lack of practicality is one of its main draws: it makes a statement about your priorities as a driver, showing that sporty handling is more important to you than load space and wipe-clean surfaces.

Trouble is, for me, that just isn’t the case. For me, comfort is everything in a car. That’s why I drive a Volvo. And it’s why I couldn’t live with the A4 on a daily basis. Even with the leather upgrade fitted to my test car, its seats were hard, unwelcoming and too small. That’s because they were bolstered sports seats, of course – great if you’re driving at high speed around a race track; not so good if you’re stuck in traffic on the M5.

Even so, I find it hard not to like the A4. Its kerb appeal is undoubted, and it does have a very definite sense of occasion that’s lacking in many of its estate-car rivals. It is safe, economical, with favourable BIK tax rates for business users, and very well-equipped. I can see why so many people choose to own one.

There is just one question that lingers in my mind: if you don’t worry about being thought of as flash, can live with a smaller-than-average boot, and crave a sporty driving experience, why look any further than a BMW 3-Series Touring? One to ask my brother some time, I reckon…

Vital Statistics

  • On test: Audi A4 Avant, 2.0-litre TDI SE 5d six-speed manual
  • Power output: 143bhp
  • Top speed: 130mph
  • 0-60mph: 9.4 seconds
  • Fuel economy: 50mpg (real world)
  • Price: £27,755

Tim Gibson

About the author:

Tim Gibson is a freelance journalist who writes for publications including The Daily Telegraph, Civil Service World and Total 4x4. He is a founding Director of The Writing Hut Ltd, a copywriting agency based in South Somerset


Tags: Motoring

Features June 2012

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