BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Compact executive estates have been a small, but steadily growing market niche for a number of years now and Audi have been one of the prime movers and shakers with the A4 Avant. Primarily a 'lifestyle' estate rather than a dedicated load lugger, the Avant allows the A4 driver a few more practical options when it comes to transporting gear. The car's refined image and wide range of engine choices has, coupled with the A4's legendary residual values, made it an informed choice. Picking a used example shouldn't prove too difficult and now is a good time to buy. Here's what to look for when Avant shopping.
Models Covered: Five-door estates (1.6, 1.8T, 2.0. 2.4, 3.0, 4.2 petrol 1.9, 2.5 TDi diesel [base, SE, Sport, S line, S4])
December 2000 saw Audi thoroughly overhaul the A4 range, jettisoning many of the evolutionary design cues that stemmed from the old Audi 80 and giving the A4 a sharper suit with styling detailing reminiscent of the all-conquering TT coupe. The Avant was included in the UK line-up just over six months after the saloon's launch and there was no shortage of choice available to estate buyers. To whit, there was a 130bhp 2.0-litre engine, a 1.8-litre turbocharged 150bhp or a range-topping 220bhp 3.0-litre V6. Diesel fans were catered for with a 130bhp 1.9-litre TDi powerplant. 100bhp versions of the 1.9-litre turbodiesel lowered the bar slightly for those looking for a more affordable A4 while the 101bhp 1.6-litre entry-level model also aimed to make A4 ownership that little bit more accessible. Further up the range, there were the 170bhp 2.4-litre V6 versions and the stonking 155bhp 2.5TDi V6 turbodiesel variants. Summer 2002 saw the unveiling of the 2.0-litre FSI engine, a 150bhp high-tech petrol unit that offered an appealing combination of performance, cleanliness and fuel economy. This positioned it nicely between the entry-level 130bhp 2.0-litre and the 1.8T models. Along with the 2.5TDI engine, the 1.8T had its power boosted to 163bhp via some judicious tweaking of the engine management software. Early 2003 saw the introduction of the powerhouse S4 Avant quattro with no less than 344bhp emanating from its 4.3-litre V8 engine, stealing a march on BMW who offered no performance estate version of their M3 model. Then, in early 2004, the S line derivatives emerged to bridge the gap between the S4 and the rest of the range. Power came from a 187bhp version of the 1.8-litre Turbo engine. Just after this the entry-level TDI 100 engine was upgraded to 115bhp. The range was replaced at the start of 2005 with an all-new look.
What You Get
In producing second generation A4 Avant estates, Audi were under immense pressure to get things right. The shape was the thing that many customers loved about the original version, but the car had undergone a number of extensive revisions which had left that refined look largely unchanged. Not wishing to either kill the goose that was laying the golden eggs nor lay themselves open to the perception that they were selling an outdated car, the A4 preserved the character of the old model whilst freshening the style of Audi's strongest seller. It's a philosophy that carries on throughout the car - keep what was good with the old one and update and improve everything else. Criticisms of the outgoing model were largely aimed at the slightly less than top-drawer chassis and the relatively meagre rear seat packaging. This car rectified these complaints pretty thoroughly and offered a selection of impressive powerplants as well. The Avant estate bodystyle yields 442litres of space with the seats up or 1,288 litres with them folded. Audi makes great play of its quattro four-wheel drive transmissions, claiming that 30 per cent of new A4 buyers opt for them. Indeed, the whole range uses rear suspension based on the previous generation quattro models as well as a stiffer chassis and sharper steering. The car grew in size to help passenger space. The length extended by 2.5 inches, and although wheelbase improved by only half this amount, some clever repackaging of the bodyshell liberated extra rear legroom, and additional head, shoulder and elbow room front and rear. In the quattro versions, the transmission tunnel running to the back of the car means that there's effectively only space for four passengers. The interiors correspond to what we've come to expect of Audi - beautifully damped fitments, impeccable materials quality and an almost frightening logic to all of the major controls. As with many modern cars, the fitment of windscreen-pillar airbags makes all-round visibility less than optimal, the chunky pillars restricting views around sweeping bends. Should you fail to spot an oncoming tree however, the electronic sensors fitted to the A4 can detect how hard your impact is and 'tailor' the deployment of the airbags accordingly. In some areas, however, the A4 is not the advance some people expected. With many manufacturers incorporating many of the storage tricks they've learned from their MPV ranges into more mainstream cars, the Audi seems to have missed a trick with its meagre array of oddment spaces. Nevertheless, for most the sheer depth of engineering evident in the cabin will be ample recompense.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
You'll do well to find anything notable here. Early 1.8T models had some issues with ignition coils but these are largely ironed out, Do your homework and make sure buyers aren't trying to promote a 150bhp 1.8T as a 163bhp model and likewise a 163bhp car as a 190. Corrosion is simply not an issue with Audis and another reason why resale values are high. The load bay of this Avant isn't the most spacious and you may need to check it thoroughly for signs of damage. Also check that the very covetable tool kit is still in place as some unscrupulous buyers tend to ebay the tool kit when they sell the car.
(approx based on a 2001 A4 1.8T) A clutch assembly kit will be around £205 and an exhaust system (without catalyst) will be about £250. An alternator should be close to £120 and a radiator around £160. Front brake pads are around £75, rear brake pads will be £50.
On the Road
The A4 never built the reputation of a car to challenge the BMW 3 series or, latterly, the Mercedes C-Class as a driver's tool. This version does little to change that assertion. The ride is very firm, the steering still substitutes weight for feel and the brakes have that familiar overservoed feel common to all Audis. Roadholding is superb, however, especially if you opt for quattro all-wheel drive. The 1.6 and 130bhp 2.0-litre petrol engines don't really have the power to haul all of that quality with too much alacrity, the 1.8T being the favourite petrol engine. Likewise the 1.9TDI 130 may not be the most modern of diesel powerplants but it's the most popular and delivers a hefty punch through the middle of the rev range. The pick of the line-up has to be the 2.5-litre diesel. The driving position is near perfect although the chunky windscreen pillars can limit vision when circulating a roundabout.
The Audi A4 Avant is a car that identifies it owner as a creature of rare good taste, unwilling to indulge in brash one upmanship. Although some may have complaints about the ride quality or the amount of kit that comes as standard for the price, there's not much complaint about the quality of build or the fact that the car will retain its value well. Once you've overcome the initial asking price, A4 Avant ownership shouldn't prove expensive, especially if you opt for one of the 1.9-litre TDi models. Our choice would probably be a 2.5-litre TDi version although - if funds permit - it's hard not to be swayed by the awesomely seductive S4 Avant.