IN A world increasingly consumed by SUV ownership, itís easy to overlook the virtues of a well-executed wagon.
The lower centre of gravity, improved driving dynamics and generally sleeker aesthetics all trump a higher seating position and light-duty off-road ability. A good wagon visually speaks of utility and true dayto- day functionality, rather than suggestions of rugged, once-in-ablue- moon recreation.
Audiís new B9-generation A4 Avant aims to seduce those not sold on the SUV Ďdreamí, and its powers of seduction are strong.
The new model is 26mm longer than the outgoing B8 Avant, and underpinned by a 12mm-longer wheelbase. Its stance is made more planted and purposeful thanks to a 16mm increase in width to the wheelarches, and an 8mm wider track.
The main change from the outgoing line-up is the deletion of a diesel variant, cleaving the way for a two-model range.
Both are 2.0-litre turbo-petrols with seven-speed dual-clutch (S-tronic) transmissions; entrylevel is a front-driver delivering 140kW/320Nm, above it is a highoutput quattro model punching out 185kW/370Nm.
Prices also rise, offset to some degree by increased spec. The front-driver is $63,900, or $3000 more than the equivalent sedan, while the quattro variant helps justify its $9000 rise over the FWD model (to $72,900) with standard 19-inch wheels (over the base modelís 18s) and larger brakes.
A standard electric tailgate rises to reveal the Avantís beautifully finished cargo compartment thatís marginally larger than the B8 with the seats up (+15 litres) and up an appreciable 80 litres (to 1510) when the rear seats are folded.
New touches include LED strip lights on either side of the inner arches (vodka-bar cool in your cargo compartment!) and the option of a load-area rail system with load-securing kit that stores neatly in an underfloor nook when not needed. Oh, and the main floor panel can be flipped to reveal a durable, laminated surface for when your gear is too wet, grubby or stinky for the carpeted side.
So the load-carrying ability and attention to practical details scores a bullseye, while the driving dynamics really donít differ appreciably from the sedan variants. Audiís chassis engineers still insist on a steering calibration that seems to want to isolate, rather than involve you with the driving experience, but even this isnít enough to mar the whole wagon experience.
The new-generation Avantís crisp, responsive drivetrains, styling, practically and allpervasive Ďpremiumnessí make sure of that.
For A4 owners a bit thingy about crashing their new Avant, Audi offers an optional assistance package that, for $1900, crams in a startling array of avoidance or mitigation systems. Along with the usual lane-assist, adaptive cruise control (with stop and go and traffic-jam assistant), thereís a presense system that prepares the car for rear-end impact, turn-assist (which prevents you turning into the path of an oncoming car), and Ďexit warningí, which alerts a driver about to open a door into the path of a cyclist approaching from behind.
Isolating steering calibration; higher prices and premium over sedan Dynamics; muscular stance; extra equipment; cargo compartment Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI quattro Sport 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 185kW @ 5000-6000rpm 370Nm @ 1600-4500rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1585kg 6.0sec (claimed) 6.6L/100km $72,900 Now