27 September 2023

Smooth Family Wagon

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By Paul Gover.

A week with the Audi S4 Avant was even more enjoyable than expected.

The Avant – that’s code for a wagon in Audi land, just as BMW calls its wagons the Touring models – does everything you want and need with style and elegance.

It can also crack on a bit, with a 0-100km/h time of 4.9 seconds, but it’s not cheap at just over $100,000.

Then again, if you really want to go – think 4.1 seconds with a Valhalla V8 soundtrack – it costs a whopping $147,900 to upgrade all the way to the RS4 that ticks all the boxes for an A4 wagon.

At the opposite end, there is a nice basic A4 hauler for $71,000 that should be getting more support in Australia despite the overwhelming desire for SUVs.

The reason the Avant is so good is simple: it’s a family car that drives like a sedan, has the fuel economy and quietness of a sedan, and is as easy to park as a sedan.

It outsells the A4 sedan 2:1 in Australia because of its combination of strengths, across the Avant line.

But it’s the S4 that ticks the boxes for people who like to drive.

The family package is good, although only kids will be happy to sit three-wide across the back seat, and the luxury is everything you expect in a mid-level Audi. There is leather, great sound, big infotainment screens, USB ports and 12-volt power for the travel toys.

On the subject of infotainment, the latest update to the A4 range has brought a switch from Audi’s easy-to-use rotary controller system to touch screens. They might be the choice for kids with iPads, but they are far less good – or worse – in a car.

Using a touch screen can be distracting, it’s easy to touch the wrong button on a bumpy road, and you always finish with fingerprints all over the centre of the dash. It’s a black mark for me.

Thankfully, the S4 has great stuff including brilliant LED headlights, a full suite of safety stuff – although the lane-keep assist is intrusive and there is no ANCAP safety rating – and the cabin work is as impressive as always.

So it’s a well-rounded and well-equipped package.

But what really makes the S4 Avant a winner is the driving.

It has a strong V8 petrol turbo engine with really impressive overtaking power, as well as the punch that makes a twisty road into real fun. Perhaps without all the family onboard…

The eight-speed auto is smooth and has flappy paddles for manual shifting, the quattro all-wheel drive grip makes it easy to handle in any conditions, and the ride – although sporty – is nicely compliant, even on the worst of Australia’s backroad conditions. There is predictable road noise, the penalty that must be paid for grippy tyres with aggressive tread for grip, but the wagon is no noisier than an equivalent sedan and that’s a tribute to the engineering in the car.

But, otherwise, the only niggle in the S4 is the touch screens.

It’s a car that sells well enough, but deserves more attention from the SUV families who might be well surprised if they were prepared to invest in a test drive.

Position: family wagon with a sporty edge
Price: from $102,000
Engine: 3-litre V6 petrol turbo
Power: 260kW/500Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Safety: not tested
Plus: practical while enjoyable
Minus: fiddly touch screens
THE TICK: definitely a winner
Score: 8/10

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