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Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI SE

Click to view picture galleryThe A4 is Audis best-selling model
  range in the UK, narrowly ahead
  of the A3. Now, thanks to Audi
s on-
  going ‘product explosion
  unabated, there
s an even better A4
  — the new A4 Avant estate...”

THE UK IS AUDI'S THIRD LARGEST MARKET IN THE WORLD behind Germany and China, and Audi expects to become the top premium brand in the UK within the next few years. In the year 2000, Audi's UK sales were just over 43,000 units but by 2007 the brand broke the 100,000 new car sales milestone for the first time. And this year Audi expects to see another six per cent growth in sales.

Much of Audi's growth has been achieved by entering new market sectors with additional model ranges. Ten years ago Audi had 12 model ranges; today it has 25, and by 2012 it will have 40. This year's new model activities include the introduction of the new A3 Cabriolet, the revised A3 Hatchback, the A4 Avant estate, the RS6 Avant, TTS and TTD Coupes and the impossible-to-ignore Q7 SUV powered by a 493bhp 6.0-litre V12 TDI engine.

Like the all-new Audi A4 saloons launched earlier this year, the A4 Avant estates are longer, lighter, stronger and have more torsional rigidity than the models they replace. There is also a longer wheelbase, and the front axle has been moved forward by 154mm with the steering rack repositioned below it to improve handling. The entirely new body-shell is ten per cent lighter, with five per cent greater torsional stability, and 30 per cent of the bodyshell is made of ultra-high strength steel.

The 2,808mm wheelbase allows for much improved rear passenger legroom and load area space. With the rear seats in position, luggage space is now 490 litres and almost 1,500 litres with the rear seats folded — the largest, according to Audi, in its class. In both saloon and Avant estate forms, and with prices ranging from 23,400 to 33,640, the A4 sells against the equivalent BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class models.

Five engine options will be available from the new model's launch (on 21 June, 2008): two direct injection petrol and three turbodiesel. These are the turbocharged 1.8T FSI 158bhp and the 3.2 V6 FSI quattro 261bhp petrol models; and the 2.0 TDI 141bhp, 2.7 TDI 178bhp and the 3.0 TDI quattro 237bhp turbodiesel engines.

A 2.0T turbocharged FSI 208bhp all-new petrol engine will also soon be added — available with either front-wheel or quattro all-wheel drive. The 2.0 TDI engine will also become available with other power outputs including a 118bhp unit. All diesel engines meet the forthcoming Euro V emission requirements. Audi UK expects 77 per cent of Avant customers to order the 2.0 TDI power unit, with 14 per cent ordering the 1.8T FSI petrol unit.

All of the engines can be ordered with SE trim and equipment levels and these will account for 65 per cent of sales. A higher S-Line specification, costing 2,500, can be specified for all models and this is expected to be taken up by 25 per cent of customers. A 'standard' specification will also be available on the forthcoming Avant 2.0 TDI 120PS version.

SE equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, Audi 10-speaker sound system stereo radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility, colour information display screen, multi-function steering wheel, three-zone climate control with front and rear controls, driver's information system, aluminium interior trim package, electronic handbrake and automatic wipers and headlights.

Audis generally have a stylish finish to their interiors yet, strangely, the A4 Avant looks more functional than plush — although it will undoubtedly prove to be very durable. Having seen the rather sombre cloth upholstery against the leather trim option, my suggestion is Pay the extra 1,300 and go for leather — it greatly improves the interior's appearance and quality. The interior design follows the usual Audi wrap-around facia with all the controls neatly to hand, even if they are laid out in a somewhat fussy manner.

Extra space throughout the Avant is the most noticeable improvement. Rear seat passengers will enjoy the extra legroom, and A6 Avant customers might just be tempted to downsize. The boot is huge — 490-1,430-litres — with lots of novel ideas for storage and load security. A minus point is the split rear seating arrangement, which doesn't allow them to be folded down completely flat when the extra load bed length and space are required.

As for driving, refinement is as you would expect from Audi A4s of the past: good, but perhaps not quite the best in its class. The A4 Avant estate feels less agile than the saloon version but then neither is as accomplished in the road-holding department as the rear-wheel drive BMW 3-Series.

That said, on wet and muddy roads the Avant quattro models certainly offer huge amounts of grip and security. The ride comfort without the Sports option is good but with some body roll evident, although for most customers the handling and ride comfort will be fine. Start specifying the Sport package with its stiffer suspension and larger wheels and be sure the ride comfort will be compromised and the driving quality will be reduced — plus the price goes up considerably.

As for the choice of engines? The new 2.0-litre TDI direct injection turbo unit is a real peach as we know from the recent A4 Saloon models. Although the old 2.0 TDI 'Pumpe Duse' was noisy, delivered its power in a surge and was pretty flat at low engine speeds, the new direct injection 141bhp/236lb ft unit — with more power, more torque, better fuel economy and lower emissions — is more progressive with its power supply and vastly more refined. CO2 emissions are now 149g/km, putting it in Band C for an annual 120 road tax bill. However, go for the Multitronic automatic transmission option and the vehicle moves up to VED Band D, which costs 145 a year.

Whilst the 2.0-litre TDI is the best choice for most people, we have now, because of the disproportionately higher diesel fuel prices, got to the point in the UK new car market where petrol power might now be the better option.

The all-new turbocharged direct injection petrol 1.8T FSI Avant with SE specification costs 23,400; the 2.0 TDI 141bhp diesel SE 24,750. So there is a cost saving in buying the petrol estate. It also currently costs roughly 10 pence-per-litre less to buy petrol than diesel — but with emissions at 172g/km, the road tax goes up to 170 a year and the fuel economy is less.

How much less? Well, in official figures the 2.0 TDI diesel returns on average 49.6mpg; the 1.8T FSI 39.2mpg. In like-for-like, back-to-back driving this week using the same route at the same speeds, the diesel returned 34.4mpg and the petrol 30.7mpg — not so much of a difference, and it will still only be high-mileage users who will get the real benefit of opting for diesel power.

Overall, the A4 Avant really doesn't disappoint and there is a wide choice of engine and specification options to suit current and new A4 customer's financial situations. For your money you'll also get a smart — but not plush — interior, controls that are a tad fussy and rear seat backs that do not fold completely flat. What will particularly appeal to customers is the much improved passenger space, extra load space, a wide choice of great engines and, not to be underestimated, pride of ownership. — David Miles

Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI SE
| 24,750
Maximum speed: 129mph | 0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 34.4mpg | Power: 141bhp | Torque: 236lb ft
CO2 149g/km | Insurance group 12