The Driving team is testing the three key types of family car over the coming months: a people carrier (Renault Grand Scénic), an SUV (Honda CR-V) and an estate (Audi A4 Avant, below). Which will prove the most useful for parents?
- Model 2017 Audi A4 Avant 3.0 V6 TDI quattro tiptronic S line
- Price (with options) £41,550 (£50,245)
- Delivery date April 5, 2017
- Starting mileage 101
- Options fitted Daytona grey paint (£645); 19in 10-V-spoke alloy wheels (£900); matrix LED front and rear lights with dynamic indicators (£650); extended LED interior lights pack (£100); S line seats with leather/Alcantara (£450); heated front seats (£300); electrically adjustable front seats with memory function for driver (£800); Technology Pack (£1,450); Parking Assistance Pack Advanced (£1350); folding door mirrors with memory function (£225); Audi Virtual Cockpit (£450); advanced key with hands-free boot opening (£525); folding tow bar (£850). Total cost of options: £8,695
- May 4, 2017: First impressions
- May 19, 2017: Space, the final frontier
- May 24, 2017: Ding it
- June 23, 2017: Wash going on?
- June 27, 2017: Summer holiday
- July 28, 2017: Return of the king
- August 22, 2017: Get yourself connected
The Audi is easily the priciest of the three family cars we are testing at the moment. The A4 Avant (estate) with a large V6 diesel under the bonnet and the top-spec S line trim starts at over £41,000, and Audi has sent us a car with nearly £9,000-worth of options. So, what do you get for the money?
Lots of tech, for a start. Such as: keyless entry and start, parking sensors and reversing camera, automatic parking, heated electric seats with memory function, three-zone climate control, hands-free boot opening and the very cool Virtual Cockpit (or fully digital instrument panel). But which gadgets do you need, and which are a little frivolous?
We’d assumed one immediate drawback would be poor fuel economy: that the 3-litre V6 diesel engine would drink a lot more juice than the four-cylinder motors of the Honda and Renault. It is said to return 52.3mpg on the combined cycle, which is promising, but we’ve had the car for a month and so far have been averaging less than 40mpg. A proper fuel efficiency report will follow. It appears to be a peach of an engine, though: so smooth and refined, it could be mistaken for a punchy petrol.
The look of the car is conservative but classy. With its V6 motor underneath the everyday load-lugging estate body shape, it could be a stealth sprinter: we’ll check out its performance over the coming months, too.
The ride is superb. We recently tested the new A4 saloon on hilly German terrain and found it to be the first Audi in living memory that was a match for the BMW 3-series in ride and handling. First impressions suggest the estate is no different.
We’ll find out more about that, and how well the estate handles the demands of a young family, in our next report.
Got a question about the Audi A4 Avant? Keep an eye on this page and contact me via my Twitter feed, @wdron.
Let’s be honest for a moment: although car buyers have numerous individual requirements when choosing a model, the badge on the front is one of the most important considerations. An Audi won’t appeal to everyone, but the brand does have cachet among the majority of motorists, so out of the three family cars on test it is undoubtedly the most desirable.
And while many might not be willing or able to stretch to £50,000 for a top-of-the-line model like this one, the entry-level Avant 1.4 TFSI 150PS SE costs a much more reasonable £28,700.
For family car buyers, space is hugely important and in the area of basic capaciousness, cost options and trim levels make little difference. The boot is of particular importance as pushchairs, baby bags, footballs, bicycles, hockey sticks and a host of other paraphernalia will at some point need to be carted around.
It’s often said that although SUVs look big, for interior space you’re better off with an estate car, whereas an MPV has a more versatile load space. Is that true?
Let’s look at boot capacity first. The Audi can take 505 litres of luggage with the rear seats in place, or 1,510 litres with them folded down. It just bests its chief rivals, the BMW 3-series Touring (495 litres and 1,500 litres) and Mercedes C-class estate (490 litres and 1,510 litres).
But how does it fare against the Renault Grand Scénic and Honda CR-V? Not so well. With the third row of seats in the Renault folded down, leaving spaces for five passengers, it can swallow 596 litres; folding the second row as well provides 1,737 litres. The Honda is nearly as roomy, yielding 589 litres and 1,627 litres.
The larger Audi A6 Avant does fare better: 565 litres and 1,680 litres are its vital statistics.
But size isn’t everything. There are other factors to consider, such as the shape of the cargo area, the shape of the boot opening and how high off the ground the boot sill is.
The Audi scores well here: its sill is the lowest of the three (2.4cm lower than the Honda’s and 5cm lower than the Renault’s), so parents won’t have to hoist heavy buggies too far off the ground, and it’s a fairly deep boot, so most buggies slide in easily — the one shown in the picture above is particularly long; a Phil and Ted’s double buggy slots in easily lengthways. With the rear seats up, there’s 1,050mm of load length, which beats the CR-V by 90mm.
The Renault has the deepest boot, with a load length of 1,074mm. It also has the squarest boot aperture, and the roofline doesn’t slope down, as it does in the Audi, cutting vertical space. However, there are aerodynamic and handling gains from not being brick-shaped.
All of this, plus long-distance comfort, will be tested soon on a family holiday in the UK. With my wife and two small children, the boot is sure to be piled high with luggage, so we’ve taken the precaution of ordering a roofbox. We’re also taking a couple of bicycles, which will sit on a bike rack mounted to the optional tow bar, which neatly tucks away under the rear bumper when not needed.
Heathrow’s meet and greet service allows you to drop your car off with a parking company in the short-stay car park, near the terminal, and pick it up there when you get back. While you are away, the car is taken off site. It’s less expensive than the short-stay car park but a bit pricier than using the long-stay and taking the airport bus to Departures.
The risk is that the person to whom you hand over your keys will ding the car, kerb the alloys or worse — there have been horror stories, such as valets borrowing cars for their own use, and this shocking affair at Gatwick. I took a leap of faith with the Avant last week.
Just in case, I filmed a walkaround of the car, paying particular attention to the alloys,and noted the mileage. When I returned, I checked the car again. To my horror, there was a small ding to the driver’s door.
The parking company staff told me the car had not been moved; they suspected a trolley had been pushed into it by another traveller. For this reason I had little hope they’d accept responsibility, so I took photos and informed Audi.
The company accepted full responsibility and offered to repair the damage at its expense. It was a reassuring denouement, but I was left wondering whether it might have turned out differently if I hadn’t documented the condition of the car so thoroughly before I handed it over.
If you’ve had a similar experience but feel you have not been dealt with fairly, here’s some advice from the motoring legal expert Nick Freeman (aka Mr Loophole).
With the arrival of midges in the hot weather, and a long trip down to Devon with the family (report coming next week), the Audi’s screenwash has been seeing a lot of action. You can’t miss the warning that it needs a top up — the message on the virtual cockpit instrument display pops up with alarming enthusiasm, accompanied by an audio alert. It was so vigorous that for a split second I thought something critical had gone wrong.
To help the poor thing calm down (and because it’s illegal to drive with a dirty windscreen) I headed directly to a nearby petrol station and bought a refill, then popped the bonnet (the lever for which is on the driver’s side of the car, which is handy).
I stood there for at least two minutes, studying the engine bay. No. No, I can’t see the filler cap. Coolant, yes. Screenwash? Nowhere to be seen.
Was it in the boot, I wondered after some more time. Surely not? Am I going to have to check the manual? Come on, chap, the situation can’t be that bad. Can it? More seconds ticked by. OK, I’ll have a look.
And then, walking round to the car door I noticed the familiar blue cap just in front of the A-pillar, behind the bonnet hinge on the driver’s side. “There you are!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing there?!”
While pouring the wash I took another look at the 3-litre V6 under the bonnet. The huge 3-litre V6. Yeah, not a lot of space left in there, so perhaps the Audi engineers had to get creative.
Who wants an ugly blue cap in a beautifully packaged engine bay like that, anyway? Not Audi.
We’ve already established that, of the three family cars on test right now, the Renault Grand Scenic is the most capacious and the Honda CR-V’s arguably got the ground clearance (and four-wheel drive) to best the other two on greenlanes. But, as I found out on a family holiday to Devon, by God the Audi is good on the black stuff.
Clearly, the A4 Avant was never going to accommodate two adults, two toddlers and everything needed for two weeks away by the sea, so I took the precaution of stopping by Halfords for a little help. The manager at our local store personally fitted Exodus roof bars in a matter of minutes, followed by a Thule Motion XT XL roof box. What a brilliant bit of kit that is; it opens from both side of the car and attaches via screw clamps that click when the correct tightness has been set.
We also needed a bike carrier (we took two adult bikes with child carrier seats stowed in the roof box) and, as the A4 is fitted with the optional folding tow bar (see price at top of the page), I went for a carrier that sits on that rather than one that clamps to the back window. I was concerned the Thule VeloCompact 925 carrier would slip around on the ball of the tow bar but it doesn’t. Don’t ask me how, but the clamp is tight and secure. The carrier can handle around 50kg but the Audi’s tow bar can take 80kg loads. The Thule also has a kick plate that allows you to lean the bikes back to access the boot, which is very clever indeed. And Halfords can make up a number plate for the carrier in-store, while you wait (given you have proof of identity and proof of entitlement).
With everything loaded it was a tight fit, still, but the cabin was free from bags so passengers were all very comfortable for the journey. As any parent will attest, you want to get to your destination as fast as possible. For that reason I avoided the more direct route from southwest London to Barnstaple along the A303, past Stonehenge, which can get rather snarled up with holidaymakers at peak times, and instead took the long way around, along the M4 and M5, before joining the A361.
The Audi was in its element. This car makes motorway cruising so easy, its eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox keeping the engine noise down and the 3-litre V6 diesel providing effortless propulsion, while the Continental rubber on the 19-inch rims keep comfort levels high and road noise low, and the steel spring suspension (it doesn’t have adaptive damping) providing a pliant but stable ride.
The top box adds wind noise but not much. It also increases fuel consumption, of course, but not by much; the average for the journey was 38.4mpg over 213 miles, which isn’t much less than the economy it gets without the box. And don’t forget, we had two bikes hanging off the tow bar, too. Max range on a tank is around 500 miles so we arrived at our destination with half a tank left.
“If you buy one option, make it the matrix LED headlights”
The Avant is supposed to have adaptive cruise control, which can maintain a set distance between you and the car in front, but it seems to be in “dumb” mode currently. So if I set it to 70mph, it stays at 70mph, which is by far my preferred option (other drivers can’t seem to maintain a constant speed, which is a constant frustration).
The A4 is laden with sonar sensors, though; they cover the entire perimeter, which allows it to self-park in parallel or perpendicular spaces. I’ve tried both, and it works, although it doesn’t seem to like getting too tight to the kerb, I’ve noticed, so I tend not to bother. The sensors also make the A4 somewhat of a hypochondriac. “Argh, there’s something near me!” it seemed to scream as we pootled along a narrow driveway with long grass either side.
I digress. The important point to stress is that the motorway trip flew by and the kids were happy, especially with a pair of Nextbase DVD players set up. See here for some more tips on keeping the kids entertained on long car journeys.
Once in Devon, the Audi came into its own, though. On day trips to the beach or National Trust properties (I have reached that stage in life), I flicked the transmission into manual (using the paddle shifts), switched the driving mode into Dynamic (max throttle response, quicker steering response) and suddenly I found myself enjoying a truly rewarding driving experience as we darted along narrow, twisty country lanes, most of which were traffic free. I can say I genuinely had fun behind the wheel while down there, and I’m not sure there are many cars that can put a smile on my face and transport the family and all our gear at the same time.
Even more impressive was that we had quite a lot of rain for much of the trip, making the conditions potentially treacherous, but the A4 never felt like it was running out of grip, the quattro four-wheel drive providing excellent traction at all times.
And if you buy one option, make it the matrix LED headlights (£650). They took much of the stress out of late night drives on tricky roads, as they not only dip automatically for on-coming cars (or when following someone) but also dip just a section of the full beam — around the other vehicles — keeping the sides of the roads fully-lit. I now know what it must be like to have cataracts removed; the system is that good.
Downsides? There could be a little more space in the rear and boot, the sat nav can’t always be trusted (Google Maps is much better for avoiding traffic), and there isn’t a lot of ground clearance, which proved an minor concern on our holiday home’s overgrown driveway (the A4 allroad would be more practical for genuine country-dwellers). But it’s hard to think of a better all-rounder than this A4 avant. I’m growing to love it.
Want to ask a question? Contact me via email or Twitter…
July 28, 2017: Return of the king
“This car, it may be…”
Audi’s press officer paused while she carefully considered her next word.
“Cursed?” I ventured.
“Well, I didn’t want to say that.”
I had called to inform her that A4 Avant had been involved in another scrape the morning after it was returned from the repair centre, following the trolley incident at Heathrow. This time, I had been driving. An impatient driver had darted in behind me from the outside of two lanes, as we crawled through traffic lights near Tower Bridge. He’d misjudged the manoeuvre and clipped the rear wheel arch, taking off a small amount of paint. Not a major incident at all, but more than a little frustrating.
It was made all the more “interesting” due to the fact that the culprit, who had to wait at the next set of lights, didn’t seem interested in stopping to exchange details when he caught up with me. I had pulled over and climbed out of the car and found myself stepping in front of his Mercedes C-class in an effort to force him to put on the brakes. He didn’t run me over. Just.
Anyway, it’s lovely to have the A4 back after a week and a half with a replacement diesel VW Golf with DSG automatic transmission. Sunday Times Driving writer Jeremy Clarkson owns a Gofl GTI and says the answer to which car to buy is almost always a Golf.
This A4 is perhaps one of the ultimate “Q cars” on the road today
“I sometimes wonder why anyone ever buys anything else,” he wrote in 2014. “You want a fast car? Buy a Golf GTI. You want an economical car? Buy a Golf diesel. You want a cheap car? Buy a Golf from the second-hand columns. You want a big car? Buy a Golf Plus. You want a convertible car? Don’t buy a Golf convertible. It’s terrible. But do buy a Volkswagen Eos. Which is a Golf.”
And it proved a very decent car for a week and a half. So why did I end up pining for the Audi?
Part of it is surely the 3.0 V6 turbodiesel under the A4’s bonnet. You can buy it in 218PS (215bhp) or range-topping 272PS (268bhp) form, and our test car has the latter. The key performance statistic is the torque figure of 442.5 lb ft, which comes between 1,500 and 3,000rpm. Torque is twisting force, or “grunt”. It’s what gets you off the line quickly. You can get a petrol-powered Golf R with 306bhp but that only produces 295 lb ft of torque.
That perhaps gives you an idea of what you have under your right foot when behind the wheel of an A4 with the 3.0 TDI 272PS engine. It’s an engine that can’t be found in any other VW Group car (although the 218PS version can be chosen for the Q7). If you want a more potent diesel, you have to go for the 320PS V6 BiTDI available in the A6 allroad, the 385PS 4.2 V8 TDI in the current A8 (which is being replaced later this year) or the new “triple-charged” V8 TDI found in the Audi SQ7 and Bentley Bentayga.
Combined with the quattro (four-wheel drive) system, the A4’s acceleration can be very rapid indeed, and wrapped in the estate body, this A4 is perhaps one of the ultimate “Q cars” on the road today.
The Golf loaner wasn’t anywhere near as impressive. It was a diesel, but just a 1.6 TDI with BlueMotion. Acceleration was perfectly decent, and fuel economy was definitely better, but the immediacy of performance was lacking.
Also, it became clear that the automatic DSG gearbox wasn’t quite up to the standard of the Tiptronic ’box in the Audi. DSG, found in other VW Group cars, is a clever dual-clutch system that switch cogs very rapidly, but Tiptronic is a different sort of tech (using torque converters and dampers that I won’t pretend to fully understand, even after reading this) and seems just that little bit faster, smoother and more responsive. It’s like the car has a second sense, knowing what gear you need to be in before you do.
There are other things about the A4 that are better, too: the interior layout and quality of materials; the quieter (and slightly firmer) ride; the infotainment system; the virtual cockpit; seats that hold you just that little bit better. The Golf’s steering was a lot lighter and gave less feedback than the A4, too.
It occurred to me, after a few days without the A4 Avant, that after a while of owning the same car you can forget the positive attributes that so impressed you when you first drove it. Step into another car for a while and they’re brought back into sharp relief.
Want to ask a question? Contact me via email or Twitter…
One of the things I love about the Audi A4, which to be honest is common to most VW Group cars I’ve tried of late, is that when you park, switch off and open the door an alert tells you, “Your mobile phone is still in the vehicle.” It’s prevented me from walking away without my Samsung on several occasions.
In the Audi, this is a voice alert. I believe EuroFighter Typhoon pilots call their warning voice “Nagging Nora”, as there are so many alerts about wings falling off and impossible manoeuvres, but this is the only time the Audi will speak to you, I think. I really like it, though. Sometimes I even reply, “Oh, thanks, Audi.” And then have to have words with myself for talking to a car.
The A4 knows my phone has been inside because it’s been connected via Bluetooth, but I imagine it would sound the warning if I had simply been connected in any way, for example charging the phone wirelessly on the induction plate, under the central armrest (another excellent feature).
Phone connectivity to Audi’s MMI (Multi Media Interface) is pretty comprehensive. This A4 is loaded with the Technology pack, a £1,450 option that adds MMI Navigation Plus with MMI touch, which upgrades the screen from 7in to 8.3in, adds a DVD drive and 10Gb hard drive, and online map updates and traffic updates.
You also get touch-sensitive rotary controller so that you can draw letters and numbers on the top when entering addresses, rather than having to scroll to each letter in a menu. The Technology pack also includes Google Earth with Street View, a WiFi hotspot (more on this below), a wireless phone charging cradle and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit (the digital instrument binnacle).
If you don’t want to blow nearly a grand and a half on all that, though, the smartphone interface is standard on all models of A4, so you get a USB connection and Bluetooth for calls and to play music, and voice control for phone and radio functions. Android Auto and Apple Car Play are also available; by plugging your smartphone in via USB you can change the whole interface from Audi to Google or Apple’s version, allowing you to run apps like Spotify. It also uses the smartphone’s navigation system, which even Audi admits will be superior to the basic in-built version thanks to live traffic alerts and map updates.
But… having dabbled with Android Auto, I have deleted it from my phone as I now use the Waze app for navigation (superior to anything else I’ve tried when it comes to traffic) and have a phone holder on the dashboard. Everything else works fine using Audi’s standard interface and the Bluetooth connection; I use voice activation to call people in my phonebook (it works seamlessly) and simply switch from “Radio” to “Media” when I want to listen to a phone app, such as iPlayer, ACast or Amazon Music.
Honestly, I’m not sure what the point of Android Auto integration with cars is any more, especially as the app now runs as a standalone – you don’t need to plug it into a car at all, meaning even classic car owners can use it. In the Audi, it got really annoying when connecting the phone via USB to recharge while using Waze, as it caused Android Auto to launch automatically every time and when I closed it, the app simply popped back up again and tried to take control of the whole device.
The WiFi hotspot: also pointless. I get a better 4G signal on my phone than I get from the car, and when I tried to connect to the Audi hotspot all I got was text message after text message from Vodafone, concerned that I had swapped my sim card. Top tip, in case you also have this problem and want to undo it: in the phone menu, slide the rotary dial to the right to bring up the options menu, then scroll down to find the WiFi devices.
With all this in mind, when it comes to tech options you may want to save some money and keep it simple. And when you connect via Bluetooth for the first time and it asks, “Would you like to connect your mobile phone to the Internet via you vehicle’s mobile Wi-Fi hotpsot?” the answer should be an emphatic “No.”
Want to ask a question? Contact me via email or Twitter…