The Driving team has been testing the three key types of family car: a people carrier (Renault Grand Scénic), an SUV (Honda CR-V) and an estate (Audi A4 Avant, below). Which proved 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
- October 5, 2017: Options, options
- October 21, 2017: The good, the bad and the ugly (final report)
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.
UPDATE: I have since used Android Auto on another car and am a convert, having found that it will run Waze. It’s not perfect; the version of Waze for Android Auto that I used was missing a few features, including the ability to change settings to avoid motorways or toll roads, but for the most part it works well, and Amazon Music doesn’t have full search functionality, but one imagine these will improves over time via over-the-air software updates.
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…
Options, options: which ones to get with your A4 Avant
When the Audi A4 Avant returns to Audi, I’ll be sad to see it go, as it’s been a superb all-round family car, but a full summary will go into a final report, after it’s collected. Let me know if you have any specific questions for that ultimate update, @wdron.
In the meantime, I’ve been pondering which of the options fitted to the car I’d definitely order myself, and which I could do without. I’ve also looked at the full suite of options available to buyers when ordering the A4 Avant new, to see if I’m missing out on anything that would be rather handy. I know someone who bought one of these cars in almost the same spec (having read previous updates, above), so have been able to compare notes with him.
To recap, this is the 2017 Audi A4 Avant 3.0 TDI quattro 272PS S line Tiptronic. In other words, the A4 estate with the biggest diesel engine in its most potent form (a 3-litre V6 producing 268hp) and four-wheel drive, an automatic gearbox (with manual mode) and in the S Line trim. S Line is almost the top trim level but you can pay £1,850 more for the Black Edition, which varies in aesthetics, mainly, although it comes with bespoke 19in wheels whereas the S Line has 18in wheels as standard.
Our Avant test car is shod with 19in alloys, too, but the ’10-V spoke’ rims are a cost option at £900. Having not driven the car with 17in or 18in wheels, I can’t offer a comparison but smaller wheels usually means more height on the tyres (to make up the difference in overall diameter), which means more comfort but also more movement, so possibly reduced “responsiveness”.
This means larger wheels with lower profile tyres results in a harsher ride, but on this A4 you won’t find uneven road surfaces overly jarring as the suspension deals with bumps extremely well (despite the S Line models sitting 20mm lower than the “Sport” version, counterintuitively) while retaining a sporty feel through corners. If you want a supple ride, the standard 18s might be preferable but the 19s do suit the more powerful engines, such as this V6. Is it worth £900? If you’re an enthusiastic driver, possibly, yes. The fact that there’s also a ‘5-V spoke’ 19in option at £1,200 may make it easier to swallow but if you plan on cleaning the car yourself, spend the extra cash; ’10-V spoke’ actually means 20 spokes, and a lots of fiddly scrubbing.
I’m afraid I have to list a whole lot of kit now; do stay with me…
The S Line versions get a few styling tweaks above the SE and Sport trim levels, to the front and rear bumpers, as well as leather/Alcantara sports seats with ‘S’ embossed logo and four-way lumbar support, LED headlights and running lights, and “dynamic” rear indicators, which sweep from the inside out rather than simply flash on and off. I’ll admit to being a sucker for these – very cool, in my opinion. It also gets the 18in wheels and lowered sports suspension, as mentioned above.
This is all on top of the Sport trim, which includes Audi’s MMI navigation system with Audi Connect and 7in colour display, plus a 10-speaker Audi Sound system and heated front seats. Even the entry-level SE trim includes three-zone climate control, steering wheel controls, smartphone interface (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), cruise control, parking sensors and collision brake assist.
In addition, our test car came with £7,600 of options. Just think about that: for the same price you could buy a petrol Dacia Sandero Ambience and have enough change for four tanks of fuel, so it’s fair to say, you could get carried away with add-ons for the A4. Assuming you’ve got your heart set on the spec as seen here, let’s look at each cost option in turn.
Parking Assistance Pack Advanced £1,350
Parking Assistance Pack Advanced is a suite of safety systems on top of Audi’s Park Assist self-parking tech (which this car has, although you’d never guess that from our spec sheet or by going through Audi’s online configurator) and 360-degree cameras, designed to detect crashes in front, to the side and to the rear. It then helps protect occupants with measures such as tightening seat belts and closing windows.
The pack also includes Cross Traffic Assist, which detects vehicles crossing behind the car as you reverse, and an exit warning designed to stop occupants opening a door into the path of cyclists.
Self-parking tech is a fun gimmick but unless you struggle with getting into spaces, I’m not sure I’d bother – it’s quicker to do it yourself, and on a parallel parking manoeuvre I’ve found you don’t get quite close enough to the kerb; in London your outside wheels may overlap the bay markings, which could earn you a ticket from a warden.
As far as the safety systems are concerned, I could live without them, too, but might curse that decision the day a distracted driver decided to drive into the back of the car or failed to react in time to a major collision ahead of me. Having said that, the pre-sense has predicted a frontal collision twice when there was never any such danger. It also gave me a jolt (literally) when stopped at a red light and a fast-approaching scooter rider set of the rear-collision warning; the belt tugged tight and the hazard lights began flashing.
Verdict: For the less confident drivers only.
Advanced key with electric hands-free boot opening system £525
When our car was delivered in April, this option was available on its own but is now bundled within the Comfort and Sound Pack (£1,295). It allows the car and key to talk to each other so that when you grab the door handle, the car unlocks. You can also lock the car just by touching the outside of the handle. I use this feature every time I lock and unlock the car – it’s so convenient as it saves time rummaging for the key, and if you have shopping bags in your hand you don’t have to put them down to unlock the car before opening the door.
The hands-free boot is another good idea in principle but in reality is more smarting than smart; I cannot seem to activate it by waggling my foot under the rear bumper – I just stand there looking like a weirdo who enjoys kicking my car up the bottom. If you manage to get yours to work every time, do let me know @wdron. The only time I seem to be able to activate the boot is to close it onto my back while leaning in; I think set off by my size 13 feet protruding under the bumper.
If this was still a separate option, I’d advise that you add it. As it’s now part of the Comfort and Sport pack, we’d better look at what else you get with that:
- Bang & Olufen: 19 speakers and 755 watts sound excellent. It’s not fitted to our test car but Audi’s 10-speaker sound system is OK at best. This upgrade would certainly bring some punch and clarity for those who demand top end audio.
- Rear View Camera: In a word, yes.
- Hill Hold Assist: Useful in a manual, not so much if you have the S Tronic or Tiptronic auto transmission.
Verdict: Now part of the Comfort and Sound Pack, which is a lot of money at £1,295, but we love the keyless entry feature and the sound system upgrade should clinch it for those who demand audio clarity.
19in ‘5-V spoke’ design alloy wheels £900
One of two 19in options. See above for more.
Verdict: Larger wheels suit the big V6 diesel but if we were buying a less powerful model, we’d stick with the 18in rims (and the added comfort they provide).
Door mirrors, folding with memory function £225
If you’re spending more than £40,000 on a car, you expect the one of the minimum requirements is for the mirrors to fold when you lock it. Not so with the standard A4, even in S Line trim – you need to spend £225, or £325 for folding mirrors with an auto-dimming and memory function.
You should also be aware that if you want electric front seats, for whatever reason you must also purchase one of the two.
Verdict: Disappointing that this is not standard on S Line models.
Electrically adjustable front seats with memory function of the driver’s side £800
The electric seats work well, they include four-way lumbar support and I use the memory function to set the seat up for when I do and don’t have passengers behind me. But if I were pinching pennies, I could get by without electric seats and mirrors. What’s more, I am still trying to find the perfect seat set-up, even after six months and 5,000 miles; take away the option and I might not care.
Verdict: A luxury you could live without.
Matrix LED headlights with LED rear lights and dynamic front and rear indicators £650
I’ve already said I like the dynamic (sliding) indicators, but they’re merely garnish. You do want this option, though, as the Matrix LED headlights are one of the best features of our test car. They automatically dip the full beam around moving objects – cars you’re following and even oncoming cars – keeping the rest of the road ahead fully illuminated. It even points into corners as you round them.
Verdict: Works brilliantly, dramatically improving visibility while driving at night and removing the distraction of manual headlight dipping. Well worth it.
Extended LED Interior Lighting Pack – multi-coloured £100
Allows you to choose one of three colours for LED lighting around door trims, storage areas, cup holder, centre console and footwells.
Verdict: One of the less expensive options but one for the Laurence Llewelyn-Bowens.
Technology Pack £1,450 (now £1,395)
I talk about this in my previous update, in relation to smartphone connectivity. The pack bundles together a larger, 8.3in high res colour screen, 3D sat nav with online map updates, voice recognition, a 10Gb hard drive for music, DVD drive, two memory card slot, Audi Connect (Google Earth, weather and news info, Twitter, a WiFi hotspot, etc.), a wireless phone charging pad and a touch-sensitive MMI dial controller so that you can draw letters on the top (rather than twist the dial).
Audi Virtual Cockpit was an extra option but is now included in the £1,395 Technology Pack. It’s a 12.3inch digital instrument binnacle ahead of the steering wheel showing speed, trip info and so on but also allowing you to scroll across to view maps, music info or your phonebook. It’s the future of car instrumentation, without doubt, and a great party piece. It’s available on its own for £450. But can you live withou it? Yes.
As for the rest of the Technology pack, I don’t use the WiFi hotspot, nor Twitter, or the DVD drive, or the hard drive… a smartphone does all this. I don’t even use the built-in navigation any more, as the Waze app on my phone tends to be more reliable through traffic. The 8.3in MMI screen is nice, but a luxury. The only thing I might miss is the wireless charging plate, but then again the phone spends much of its time in a cradle on the dashboard, so the charging plate goes largely unused.
Verdict: You probably won’t miss it.
Audi Virtual Cockpit £450
A separate option when the car was new, in April, but now comes with the Technology Pack (see above).
Verdict: A fun add-on if you’re not getting the Technology Pack but don’t be surprised if the novelty wears off over time.
Towbar (folding) £850
This pops out from under the rear bumper at the touch of a button in the boot, and is then locked in place by hand. Despite having this hinged set-up, it can take a decent load: 80kg.
Obviously this is essential if you have a trailer or caravan but I found it indispensable during the summer holiday, when I mounted a Thule bike rack to it. This allowed me to fit a roof box for additional storage.
Verdict: Essential for outdoorsy-types.
Heated front seats £300
I consider this a luxury. My wife insists it’s essential. They are listed as a cost option for my car but now appear to be standard on S Line models.
Verdict: In more than one respect, it could make life that bit more comfortable.
Right, that’s a summary of the usefulness of options fitted to our test car. Is there anything it doesn’t have that I’d add?
The panoramic sunroof would be nice, but at £1,250 I’d think twice. The Privacy glass (side and rear windows) and Acoustic glass (front side windows) for £450 is worth a look as, apart from making the car look cooler, it should reduce wind noise on motorways.
The Storage Pack, for £175, could be worth it for the nets behind the front seats and in the boot, and 12V socket in the boot (my model has net and 12V socket in the boot, which I use for a rear-facing dash cam but could be handy for refrigerated cool boxes, etc.).
If you’ve got kids, and £995 to splash, it’s worth thinking about the Audi Entertainment Mobile – two detachable high definition 10.1in touch screens fitted to the back of the front seats with headphones and storage bag. Music and video can be streamed from a smartphone or played from a USB or SD card. You can get cheaper twin DVD players from Halfords (I did this) but with cables all over the shop, it looks messier. Or you could mount your own tablets to the headrests, of course.
Heated front seats are now standard on S Line, but you can replace that with Heated front and outer rear seats; our kids use child seats, so it’s a waste of £300, in my opinion.
Of the safety and driver assistance options, I’d like to have the Head-up display but at £900, ticking the box would be more than a little difficult. The Driver Assistance Pack – Tour costs £1,250 and includes Active Lane Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control with Traffic Jam Assist, as well as other camera-based crash prediction technologies. I’d probably skip this, as people can still crash into you, given half a chance (unfortunately I know all about this), and I find adaptive cruise control intensely irritating, given how drivers ahead of you find it impossible to stay at a constant speed.
I might add the Rear-view camera for £450, though, assuming I was forgoing the 360-degree cameras contained in the Parking Assistance Pack Advanced.
Adaptive sport suspension with damping control? At £600 it looks like bargain and may improve the ride in different conditions, but the passive Sport suspension on the S-Line model is superb and, I’m guessing, less likely to fail later in life.
Speaking of failures, and without wishing to imply they’re at all likely on the Audi, a warranty extension (£385 for four years/75,000 mile or £905 for five years/ 90,000 miles) may provide peace of mind.
Want to ask a question? Contact me via email or Twitter…
October 21: The good, the bad and the ugly (final report)
Mileage 5,665 miles
Distance travelled 5,564 miles
Average fuel economy 37.3mpg (over final 4,222 miles)
The Audi A4 Avant has gone. It didn’t put a foot wrong but sadly, goes back with a little body damage after someone in a banged up Fiesta decided it would be a good idea to attempt to overtake on a roundabout, misjudged his speed (above the limit, I might add), locked up and slid into my off-side rear three quarters. The car was still perfectly drivable but it’s not how I wanted the car to go back, given that it had treated me so well over the last six months. Fortunately, I had fitted dash cams front and rear… the insurers can take it up amongst themselves.
Anyway, when we started our three-way test of family cars, comparing this estate with an MPV and an SUV, we wanted to find out which served parents best. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the A4, with some thoughts about which you might like to go for out of our three bodystyles at the end.
Power: What an engine. There’s oodles of poke and it’s delivered so smoothly across the rev range. Put your foot down and the 3-litre diesel flies.
All rounder: The Dr Jekyll to its Hyde is that it can be a very relaxing cruiser. There’s more road and wind noise than you might expect but it’s decent for its class for sure and there is a quieter glass option for the doors, if you want to go to the next level of refinement. And the fact that you can hear the wind on a motorway shows how quiet and refined the motor is under the bonnet; it is by no means a diesel clunker, and this spec, with quattro, means you can have fun on twisty roads, cruise at ease on motorways, safely overtake when needed and deal with heavy rain and adverse weather conditions if required. Traction is unbelievable, which inspires confidence.
Fuel economy: Given it’s got a 272PS (268bhp) V6 engine under the bonnet, and a sophisticated four-wheel drive system to send the power through, 37.3mpg is better than I expected. Yes, the official figure is 52.3mpg (combined), so that’s a substantial difference, but you must always take the figures from the official test, as it currently is, with a pinch of salt. Nearly 40mpg for what is a smartly-dressed Q-car isn’t bad.
Build quality: Not a rattle, creak or squeak was found over the full six months, suggesting quality materials, precise tooling and a great attention to detail during assembly.
Coasting mode: Helping to improve the fuel economy is its coasting mode. Lifting off the accelerator, depending on conditions, may disengage the drivetrain from the wheels meaning the car rolls without engine braking, helping improve economy. It all happens without you having to think about it.
Handling: With the sports suspension (but without adaptive dampers), this car handles so well. Not too firm that speed humps are uncomfortable but not soft enough that there’s noticeable body roll through corners. Turn-in to bends at speed is precise and predictable, while the quattro system and electronic stability control ensure grip and power is at each corner as required.
Voice recognition: Some cars are still a bit slow when it comes to understanding names in your phonebook, or place names in the nav. Not a bit of it with Audi’s system. Even better, when it pulls up your contact and lists several numbers as options, you don’t have to wait for a beep to state which number you want to call; it’s listening even while asking you which line number you want. Smart and quick.
Wireless charging: When not using Waze for navigation, having the optional wireless charging cradle in the centre armrest is brilliant. And if you’re connected via Bluetooth, the Audi will remind you not to leave the phone in the car when you switch off.
Power sockets: My spec had two USB connections and a 12V socket up front, as well as one in the boot. I used the latter to power a second dash cam, pointing out of the rear window, but it could be used for a tyre compressor, refrigerated coolbox, etc.
Easy Isofix: All cars now have Isofix points for child seats in the rear, but it can be hard to locate the connections between seat fabric. The Audi’s are set within hard plastic housings, making it incredibly easy to install and remove child seats. Little things like this this can be so important to families.
Boot space: Yes, there’s more room in the boot than the A4 saloon but the Avant’s aperture isn’t huge, the steeply-raked back window reduces capacity (that’s why Volvo estates were “boxy but good”) and compared with the Honda CR-V and Renault Grand Scenic, it’s not especially voluminous. I bought a desk on eBay 1.2m x 1.2m, thinking it’d fit through the boot opening diagonally. I was wrong. I went back the next day in a 2009 Citroen C4 Picasso and it slid straight in and I was able to lay it flat over the folded rear seats, such was the width of the rear end.
Smartphone connectivity: Bluetooth connection works beautifully but then you’re asked about WiFi hotspots and Audi Connect and a load of stuff that I initially tried out but had to remove because my mobile operator kept sending me text messages saying, “We see you’ve swapped your sim card…”. No, I haven’t! Sorting that out was a pain, as was removing Android Auto, which I initially found pointless but subsequently realised will allow you to run the Waze, Google Maps or other navigation apps (see update above), along with Amazon Music or Sportify. Some drivers swear by this type of connectivity but I’m happy with a simple Bluetooth connection for music streaming and phonecalls.
Storage: Door pockets are tiny and not suitable for large bottles. The pockets in a Golf are much better designed. And the quattro/ Tiptronic combo means there’s only space for a mobile phone between the front seats and the floor in the rear isn’t flat.
Fixed screen: Previous generation Audis had infotainment screens that folded away. In fact, the RS 3 we have for a shorter test still has that set-up. The new A4 follows Mercedes’ lead in fixing the screens to the dashboard. On the car’s launch I was told this frees up space under the dashboard but I’d rather be able to hide the screen when I don’t need it.
RHD conversion: Audi’s done a pretty decent job of converting this car from its left-hand drive design to right-hand drive for the UK market, but some of the more important switchgear (buttons) are still on the left side of the cockpit, including the Drive Mode Select. This means Brits find it less easy to locate the switch when we need it. A minor grumble.
Tiptronic judder: Woah there… what do you mean, “Tiptronic judder”?! Well, it happened infrequently, and when the engine was cold, but after releasing the brake from standstill, sometimes the transmission was a little hesitant. I’ve seen a Tiptonic transmission with the side cut off and it’s a complex bit of kit. It’s better suited to handle high torque than the S tronic system, which makes it the only choice for the 3.0 V6 diesel. And as I said, the car was absolutely free from faults during my time with it. All I’m saying is be gentle when it’s warming up. That is sensible advice for all cars, of course.
Collision warnings: This is common with many new cars, but in traffic the Audi could think we were about to have an accident when nothing of the sort was on the cards; perhaps a scooter rider had passed close to the front bumper, or a car had cut in front where two lanes merged. The irritating thing is that not only do the sensors beep but the stereo drops in volume, too, meaning you have to reach for the parking sensor button to switch it off.
Auto boot lid: The only time I could get the boot to open or close with a waggle of my foot under the rear bumper was when I didn’t want it to. I’d be leaning in to arrange something and the damn thing would try to close on my back. This doesn’t hurt – it stops as soon as an object is detected – but it’s irritating.
Folding mirrors when you lock the doors: This is an option for a £40,000 car? Sorry, what?!
As mentioned, someone drove into me shortly before the car was collected. In truth, there was a previous incident in central London where someone else scraped the car having misjudged a last-minute lane-change. I have never had any incidents like this before, where people (let’s be honest: men) feel the need to out-drive you at all costs, except while driving flash sports cars. And this is a family estate, for goodness sake. It seems Audis still attract one-upmanship from certain types of road users.
Estate, SUV or MPV?
As we’ve proved, if you need to lug loads, particularly wide or tall ones, an SUV or MPV is possibly more suitable than the Audi A4 Avant. Looking at the official specs, the 1.2m x 1.2m desk I tried to transport in the the A4’s boot probably wouldn’t even have fit in the larger A6 Avant. And we were so glad of the roof box on our trip to Devon this summer.
The seats are also a bit lower than both the MPV and SUV, which wasn’t a problem for me but my wife has a dodgy hip and found the A4 less easy to get in and out of than her C4 Picasso.
Having said that, getting the child seats in and out was a breeze and there’s an acceptable amount of room for rear passengers. And in terms of driving pleasure, as an estate with a low centre of gravity and sports suspension,the A4 is leagues ahead of the Renault Grand Scenic MPV and Honda CR-V. If you can afford to compromise slightly on practicality, the A4 Avant is a rewarding drive.
So, despite the negative points, I still loved this car. Bye, A4; I’ll miss you.
Want to ask a question? Contact me via email or Twitter…