WITH THE Australian-built wagon on its death bed and Jaguar threatening to stop making estates, Germany is fast becoming one of the last manufacturing bastions of the longroofed load-lugger.
Audiís latest is the Avant version of the new A4. Despite the relentless onslaught of SUVs, the brand believes it can convince enough Australians to snub its Q-badged models to double sales of the last generation.
Thereís certainly an enticing package: heaps of standard or optional tech, a spacious cabin of superb quality, and a quattro variant that can offer all-wheel drive where the rival BMW 3 Series Touring and Mercedes C-Class Estate are only rear-drivers.
Best-in-class boot space created by the A4ís increased dimensions also doesnít hurt: 505 litres Ė or a C Estatematching 1510L with the more flexible 40-20-40 rear seats (previously 60/40) folded down.
Of course, we prefer our wagons to be fast, and the S4 Avant doesnít land until the end of the year. So for now the best bet is the more convolutedly titled A4 Avant 2.0 TFSI quattro sport.
At a quoted 6.0 seconds, itís a couple of tenths slower to 100km/h than the 30kg-lighter (and, at $69,900, $3000 cheaper) sedan that shares its 185kW/370Nm 2.0-litre turbo four.
Accelerative performance feels solid rather than rapid; nanna wouldnít be dropping her knitting for the handles.
Itís edged by the 330i Touring, despite the BMWís traction handicap.
Audiís petrol four-pot is an admirably flexible engine, and itís matched well to the seven-speed dual-clutch auto that swaps cogs both quickly and smoothly.
The quattro system shuffles the torque seamlessly between the Avantís axles, and on saturated roads it provided plenty of confidence for exiting slippery corners.
However, steering that has about as much life as the main population of The Walking Dead means there wasnít quite the same level of assurance going through a corner. Choosing ĎDynamicí mode brings some welcome heft to the rack, though itís still artificial.
Itís far more linear than the previous A4ís steering Ė one of myriad dynamic improvements over its predecessor brought by the new MLB architecture.
As with the sedan, ride quality is also immeasurably better. Even with the 20mm-lower adaptive sport suspension Ė the $1100 version optioned on our test car Ė the jiggly nature of the old model is gone and in its place is a suspension that, especially in ĎComfortí mode, chooses to sail over bumps rather than try to weigh anchor on them.
A Commodore Sportwagon and a hypothetical XE Estate would offer similar ride comfort as well as a more involving drive, though Audi engineers have done more with less for previous S4s and RS4s.
Improved ride; great interior; practicality
Lifeless steering; not particularly quick