A4 AVANT – It’s more than just a facelift

 

By Philip Hedderman

To say things in the compact executive segment just got a little more interesting is the understatement of the year.

Yes folks, with the arrival of the new 3 Series is gonna stir things up no end.

You see, the mid range BMW may very well be bad news for Audi and utterly devastating for Mercedes, but it’s a major boost to the car-buying public.

Competition – and I mean a real rival who’ll take cold, hard cash off brand-loyal punters – invariably means more for less.

The only alternative is failure.

Mercedes are only now waking up to smell the coffee – several years too late.

The result? – Only two middleweights remain slugging it out for the crown.

Until last Wednesday Audi had the upper hand across the board.

The A4 had made huge strides since it replaced the 80 in 1998 both in style, performance, but most importantly in technology.

The term ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ is not some marketing tag – no, it’s far more important than that.

It is a way of life for anybody who dons the white coat sporting the entwined circles.

Their cars are, beyond doubt, the most technologically advanced in the automotive world.

Whatever state-of-the-art gadget that debuts on the fleet-leading A8 eventually trickles down to become a feature on the more affordable models.

Wi-Fi is a prime example of that – which is now available on the A1 as an optional extra.

Internet access on the smallest car in the 43 model German fleet?

Who’d have thought you could Tweet or check your email while testing a car inNorthern Spain?

Truly amazing.

The big problem with that though, is once you’ve sampled the delights you kinda come to expect it.

Now, the current version A4 has been around since 08 and proved highly successful, but with news of a new 3 series on the horizon hadMunichtwitching – and a facelift was announced.

The body gets a bit of a firm-up, but the most striking new feature is the redesigned signature headlamps which almost circumvent the light unit – which are in turn complimented by new angled air vents and restructured fog lamps.

It’s on the inside though, where the real magic unfolds.

The boffins in the ergonomic department have simplified the whole cabin – de-cluttering the dash and removing any extra buttons to avoid confusion.

Smatterings of Piano Black trim twinned with smidgens of chrome give the whole cabin a younger, sportier feel to the already class-leading interior.

The tweaking doesn’t end there. Under the bonnet little green fingers have been tinkering away – boosting power and reducing emissions across the vast engine range.

The best selling 134bhp, 2.0litre TDi oil burner sees CO2s reduced to just 112g/km (making it one of the cleanest in its class) – meaning road tax of just €160 per year, while returning over 65mpg.

In fact, 10 models in the diesel range from the 120-177bhp are all Tax Band A – so you don’t have to compromise, whatever your preference.

The whole engine line-up has seen a reduction in CO2 of around 22 per cent while poke is ever so slightly increased.

We drove the 177bhp Avant (estate) which surprised and thrilled in equal measure.

Most station wagons are gruff and workmanlike and tend to handle more like a bendy bus than a luxury chariot.

Not here.

It had the constitution of an executive saloon with responsive acceleration, taut suspension and plenty of feedback from the steering.

Thanks to Drive Select – one of those gadgets handed down from the daddy A8 – it allows you to manipulate the steering, suspension and gear change ratios to suit the conditions.

Settings include Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Efficiency – should you need to hit the motorway, rally circuit or pot holed roads of theNorth West.

This ensured the perfect mix of motorway cruising with the winding, rugged coastal roads of the sunny south east.

Road noise was astonishingly absent from the MPV-sized cabin, capable of lugging a massive 1,500 litres of luggage.

On brilliant touch is the reversible floor which on one side is covered in plush carpet and the other a hard-wearing dirt tray.

Couple that with the clever sliding rail system which keeps everything secure and you’ve pretty much the complete estate.

Price-wise it is cheaper than the BMW 3 series, starting at €32,770 and the Avant coming at premium of around €2,000 extra.

Standard kit includes 17′ inch alloys, leather multi-function steering wheel, Stop/Start, Bluetooth, chrome roof rails.

Optional extras include Audi Drive Select (€275) Cruise Control (€372) and Colour Driver Information System (€163) which eats into the price advantage.

But the good news is that if BMW are offering all of the above as standard today then it’s only a matter of time before Audi buckle to the pressure.

One final distinct advantage the Audi holds is it actually comes with a spare wheel (albeit a hideous space saver version) unlike the Bimmer which relies on a puncture repair kit.

Not something I’d relish using in the pouring rain on the M1 on a winter’s evening.