AUDI has a useful portfolio of brands on which it can call, such as quattro, vorsprung durch technik and RS. But other premium manufacturers have successful brands too.
However, none has a brand for its estate cars that resonates like Avant.
Audi has recognised how strong its load-carrying name is and wants buyers to see the A6 Avant as something of a halfway house between the A6 and the A8, which is a nod to the Avantissimo luxury estate concept of a few years ago that never made it into production.
However, for this to happen, the Avant would have had to have interior qualities of the A8, but the dash and materials used are resolutely A6. So it feels like an A6 estate.
Fortunately, the fashion for flogging these cars as some intrinsic piece of outward bound equipment seems to be flagging. Apart from the odd Audi mountain bike at the launch, there was a conspicuous and refreshing lack of windsurfers, jetskis or mountaineering images.
Instead, there was plenty of discussion about deeply unfashionable things like space, load securing and usefulness. Has practicality become the new cool? It would seem so, thankfully. Buyers spending £40,000 on an estate want one that actually carries stuff, and doesn’t just look good on a poster with a couple of chisel-chinned fitness freaks.
Although it has to be said that between all this logic, one German executive did claim that the Avant was the ideal car for carrying ‘diamonds and caviar’, but perhaps his exact inference got lost in the interpretation. Hopefully.
So the Avant is now longer, wider and with a better load area than the old car. But don’t assume that the Avant is some utilitarian load-lugging barge.
As with any Audi launched in the last decade, it is striking in the metal, with long, finely-scored lines and wide, muscular shoulders over the rear wheelarches. Better-looking than the saloon? Probably, and that’s quite a feat.
Initially, the Avant comes with a choice of five engines: four V6s in the form of 2.9, 3.2 petrol and 2.7 and 3.0 diesel and a 4.2-litre V8 model.
Importantly, later in the year there will also be a 140bhp 2.0 TDI which is likely to be the most popular among fleets, although in a car of this size you have to wonder if it will start to struggle. Prices for the launch range will start at £26,505 for the 2.4 SE manual, rising to £46,265.
As Audi hopes this car will be seen by buyers as being positioned closer to the luxury segment, it chose the launch of the Avant to introduce to the A6 some of the features that are becoming increasingly important on cars of the well-heeled.
The Avant, and its saloon counterpart will now come with options requisite for any luxury car, such as air suspension, adaptive headlights, LED rear lights and active cruise control, while the Avant gets a powered boot option which has a programmable maximum height for opening in low-ceiling buildings, adjustable by dabbing the button on the boot when you want it to stop, or by using the key fob. Holding it for six seconds stores the opening angle for future use.
So who’s going to buy an Avant?
Companies, both large and small, are likely to account for three-quarters of total sales of 5,350, with 75% diesel.
In terms of residual values, the old Avant was often way ahead of the saloon at resale time, by a couple of thousand pounds or more, which more than made up for its higher front-end price. However, with the fact there are now thousands of the old car about to satisfy the demand of used buyers (who are less worried about new and old models) and the saloon, which is predicted to do well, the new Avant isn’t expected to hold such a large margin over the four-door model.
Behind the wheel
FROM any of the seats, either front or back, there is not really much to report that is different from the saloon A6. So you get a high-quality cabin, with almost limousine-like space in the back, top notch materials and a calming ambience that is missing in the button-festooned cockpit of the Mercedes-Benz E-class and the angular, iDrive-befuddled BMW.
There’s is also very little discernible difference in the driving experience, which means that the Avant is very easy to drive for such a big car, with very powerful brakes and a slightly overly firm ride. There’s some tyre noise from the front wheels, but otherwise the Avant is as consummate and powerful a fast executive express as the saloon.
The optional air suspension seems to have been designed to keep the loads level rather than firming or softening the dampers to any marked degree – in a Mercedes-Benz the difference in ride firmness between the softest and hardest settings is more pronounced.
Technically, the Avant is the largest car in its class, as it is 80mm longer and 38mm wider than even the Mercedes-Benz E-class, and Audi executives were keen to stress this. It’s slightly misleading though when it comes to the size that actually matters. The Avant is suitably more capacious than the car it replaces although it still can’t match the E-class estate for volume. Seats up, the A6 takes 565 litres to the Merc’s 650 and with the seats down loaded up to the roof, the Audi manages 1,660 litres to a massive 1,910 for the E-class.
Partially, that is down to better seat arrangement in the E-class. The rear seat backs in the Audi only fold onto the squabs, which means the extended floor doesn’t go entirely flat.
But there are some cunning innovations that still make this a practical vehicle. The optional boot carpet is double-sided – carpet, obviously on one side, and rubber on the other so it can be flipped when carrying dirty loads. It also has a fold-out section that drapes over the bumper, which is really handy if you are sitting in the boot taking muddy shoes off. It also stops the bumper getting damaged if something large is being slid into the boot. The Avant also has space in the spare wheel well for a plastic tray, which is very handy for muddy boots and the like.
Audi is also using the storage box arrangement, as in the E-class, that butts up against the length of the rear seat, so there are plenty of options when it comes to carrying. And as with the E-class, there’s a very similar rail system in the boot, with both an adjustable strap and metal rails to hold all the luggage in place. It’s a worthwhile investment.
As for the engines, there are no surprises and all are superb (as on the saloon launch the 2.0 TDI was conspicuous by its absence), propelling the Avant along swiftly. The new 2.7-litre TDI is the best combination of all though.
It is quiet, vibration-free once warm, has good fuel economy figures and while it might not quite have the kick of the wonderful 3.0 TDI, it will be more than adequate for the majority of people.
THE Avant delivers everything a driver of a premium estate is looking for. Diamonds, caviar, furniture, waterskis or muddy dogs will all be at home in this ultra-stylish, well-built and accomplished car.
|Model: A6||2.4 V6||3.2 V6 FSI||4.2 V8||3.0 TDI||2.7 TDI|
|auto||quattro auto||quattro auto||quattro|
|Max power (bhp/rpm)||177/6,000||252/6,000||331/6,600||222/4,000||176/3,300|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm)||170/3,000||243/3,250||310/3,500||331/1,400||280/1,400|
|Max speed (mph)||140 (139)||155||155||149||140|
|0-62mph (sec)||9.2 (9.4)||7.0 (7.4)||6.2||7.6||8.3|
|Fuel consumption (mpg)||28.5 (25.6)||25.6 (25.9)||24.1||33.6||40.3|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)||238 (264)||264 (262)||281||226||187|
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 70/15.4 quattro: 80/17.6
Transmission: 6-sp man, 6-sp auto
Service interval (miles): Variable
On sale: June 12
Prices (OTR): £21,475-£42,775 quattro for 2.4 and 3.2 figures in brackets