Circle the wagons, the SUVs are coming. That's certainly the case in Australia as buyers opt for a higher ride but the Europeans still mount a solid case for a load-lugger. In the case of Audi's A4 Avant, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel is a piece of precision German engineering that works well in the city or on the highway and comes with a build quality second to none.
At $60,900 the Audi 2.0 TDI wins the price war by $2000 against the Volvo V60 D3 Teknik, BMW 320d Touring and Mercedes-Benz C200 CDI Estate. There's not much else separating this group the Volvo wins the space race, the Beemer has a marginal edge in performance; the Merc carries the most cache.
So it comes down to which car you like the look of. The Audi is packaged with cruise control, auto lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and a bunch of clever interior features like the velour/rubber reversible cargo mat.
The engine stop/start system in the Audi is good but the version in the 3.0-litre diesel fires up faster and with no shudder, rather than the negligible shake in the 2.0-litre wagon. Either way, it helps trim 0.3 litres/100km off the fuel use. Once underway the Audi's baby diesel is impressive and is matched to one of the few CVT systems Carsguide can recommend.
The "Multitronic" on the A4 makes light work of pedestrian cruising or off-the-line charges and has a faux eight-speed manual shift mode.
Audis are unmistakable erentiating the model from the brand isn't as easy. The A4s lines are refined in an era of razor-sharp creases and that isn't a bad thing. The interior is classy enough o have forced BMW and Mercedes to lift their game. High-quality plastics and chrome highlights are packaged with leatherette/leather trim and a multimedia interface that doesn't take Einstein to interpret.
Prestige cars in this class are expected to have five stars and the Audi doesn't disappoint. In the crash-test lab it just trails BMW and Mercedes, according to ANCAP. Put that down purely to age the A4 hit the wall in 2008 while the other two are newer models that were tested in 2011. Six airbags and an advanced ABS system with traction and stability control are standard on all A4s.
This is a good wagon, as befits the volume seller in the Audi range. The fact it's front-wheel drive is irrelevant for most it takes far more provocation to unsettle this vehicle than sane people will attempt with their friends or family on board. Body roll is minimal and it handles mid-corner ruts at any pace. Around town it still achieves a cushy ride and the electric steering adjusts to suit the speed, making light work of carpark manoeuvres then weighting up on B-roads.
The standard sound system isn't as good as the Merc's, at least according to my keener-eared kids, though it still pumps out crisp notes at high volumes. Otherwise, the interior is first rate it smells, touches and reacts like a much more expensive vehicle in the understated way that isAudi's signature style. The engine note is one of the few criticisms we can mount Euro diesels are starting to sound growly good but the CVT on the Audi keeps things too atonal.
The segment price-leader is just plain old good value. The A4 Avant doesn't skimp on features or performance and the $2000 saving on its rivals will buy a lot of diesel given its fuel economy.
Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Resale: 56 per cent (three years, Glass's Guide)
Safety: Six airbags, ABS, TC, ESC, Attention assist
Crash rating: Five stars
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel, 130kW/380Nm
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Dimensions: 4.7m (L), 1.83m (W), 1.44m (H)
Thirst: 4.9L/100km (diesel), 129g/km CO2
Volvo V60 D3 Teknik
Price: from $62,490
Engine: 120kW/400Nm two-litre five-cylinder DOHC 20-valve turbodiesel engine
Transmission: six-speed auto, front wheel drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 6 l/100km, on test 8, tank 67.5 l; 160g/km CO2
Mercedes-Benz C200 CDI
Price: from $62,900
Engine: 2.1-litre, 4-cyl turbodiesel, 100kW/330Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automated manual, rear-wheel drive
Body: 5-door wagon
Thirst: 5.5L/100km, CO2 144g/km