The D_TRB review: 2017 Audi A4 Avant 3.0 TDI quattro
Some premiums are well worth paying. I once bought a set of cheap drill bits and, after the sixth one had gone as dull as Jeremy Corbyn and sheared clean in half, I found myself wishing I'd simply paid the higher price for proper ones.
There are instances, however, where some premiums just seem unjustifiable. This Audi A4 Avant 3.0 TDI quattro S line S tronic, I thought, would be a great buy at around £35,000 – particularly given that it was the less powerful 215bhp version, not the full-fat 268bhp one. Then I realised it started at almost £40,000. Without options.
All in, it was knocking on the door of £50,000. Sure, it had a lot going for it on paper – six cylinders, all-wheel drive, five seats, a spacious cabin and a decent boot. Even devoid of options, though, it was hard to overlook the nigh-on £10,000 premium over a top-spec four-cylinder Skoda Octavia Estate.
There's plenty of space on offer in the Avant's boot and the rear seats split and fold, should you need more.
Don’t scratch the A4 off your list immediately, though. Firstly, the all-wheel-drive Skoda is considerably less powerful and also slower. Minus points for the Octavia there, right out of the gate.
Nor is the Skoda available with the latest Volkswagen Audi Group technology, like Audi's slick 'Virtual Cockpit' display. Chalk another one up for the four-ringed estate. Then there’s the A4’s more modern, elegant interior, which apes its more expensive brethren, and its sharper exterior styling.
What really distinguishes it from its Czechoslovakian cousin, however, is the option of a single-turbo 3.0-litre V6 diesel. For one thing, it’s satisfying to see a manufacturer bucking the persistent and seemingly unnecessary trend of downsizing.
Now, while smaller diesels generally deliver great economy on rolling roads in climate-controlled workshops, real-world use tends to tax them. Consequently, the average economy sometimes falls through the floor.
Many moons ago, as a prime example of this, I used to run a 1.6-litre diesel hatch – which would average about 44mpg on my commute. A 3.0-litre diesel coupe, which I later repeated the trip with, returned a calculated 50mpg dead. Why? Because it was barely breaking a sweat at those speeds, while the little four was far busier keeping me motoring on down the road.
You’re not going to mistake the Audi’s diesel six for a petrol, mind, but it’s far smoother and quieter than any four-cylinder option – making it less tiresome, and ideal for long-distance driving. It also serves up plenty of punch, allowing you to make quick getaways and overtakes.
The rapid-shifting dual-clutch gearbox, and all-wheel-drive system, make it particularly easy to deploy all of the V6's pulling power. Enough so that you’ll likely surprise many away from the lights, as the torque and traction on hand helps sling this subtle estate from 0-62mph in 6.4sec.
Even loaded up with people and luggage it still turns in a stout performance, and poor road conditions rarely faze it. Pick up a set of winter tyres, for when the colder months strike, and you’d have yourself a perfect all-year-round hack.
More remarkably, in this particular specification, this is a quietly satisfying car to drive. Admittedly its steering serves up little feedback, but there’s little body roll, lots of front-end grip and keen, quick responses to your inputs.
You can carry some impressive pace through corners, as a result, with the quattro system shunting torque between the axles to help quell understeer. This further helps the A4 feel far more positive and engaging than many a past Audi estate.
Consequently, with with strong, easily judged brakes and all that torque, it’s effortless to make quick progress across country. It even prompts the occasional smile of enjoyment, further adding to its already lengthy repertoire of talents.
The £1150 'Vision Pack' adds the Virtual Cockpit, a heads-up display and high-beam assist. If you can, it's worth opting for.
Spend a little more time with it and you'll find other facets that lend it extra appeal. Drive it in a conventional fashion, for example, and it'll easily cover 500 miles on a single tank – and more if you're a little mindful of how often you fully open the taps. Audi claims an optimistic average of 57.6mpg, but in any instance that's only 2.5 miles shy of the 187bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel.
That’s not to say this A4's devoid of faults, however. We’d recommend steering clear of the optional 19-inch wheels, and go for smaller alloys with higher-profile tyres. The extra sidewall should help settle the Audi's ride down, improving its compliance, and cut down on the thumps and bumps that occasionally intrude into the cabin.
Make no mistake, though, this is an expensive estate – but it’s worth remembering that most will be paying tolerable monthly sums, rather than the alarming list price. Regardless, whichever way you choose to fund it, this is a car that justifies its premium.
For one thing, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to have a far more gratifying engine without compromising excessively on the efficiency front. Now, if we could just convince Volvo to do the same…
Other options fitted to our S line S tronic test car included adaptive sports suspension and 19-inch alloys.
2017 AUDI A4 AVANT 3.0 TDI QUATTRO
Engine: 2967cc turbocharged V6 diesel
Layout: Front-engined, all-wheel-drive
Gearbox: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power: 215bhp at 4000-5000rpm
Torque: 295lb ft at 1250-3750rpm
Top speed: 152mph
Weight: 1735kg (inc. driver)
Economy: 57.6mpg (combined)