BY ANDY ENRIGHT
In certain respects the Avant estate versions of Audi's A4 have been more significant than the conventional saloon versions upon which they were based. Part of the reason for this is that the BMW 3 Series Touring estates have always been greeted with mild distrust here in the UK whereas small Audi estates have long been extremely popular. What's more, Audi responded by giving the Avant additional prestige by launching the range-topping RS4 model solely in this bodystyle, following a trend established by the Porsche-developed Audi RS2 super estate.
Models Covered: 1.6, 1.8, 1.8 TURBO, 1.9 TURBO DIESEL (90BHP, 110 BHP, 115BHP ENGINE), 2.4 , 2.5 TURBO DIESEL, 2.6, 2.8, S4 AVANT QUATTRO, RS4 AVANT QUATTRO
The A4 Avant range was launched a year after its saloon counterpart back in March 1996 to replace the 80 and 90-series cars. This marked an enormous step forward in terms of both quality and design complexity for Audi and the company managed to catch main rivals BMW and Mercedes on the hop. With a range consisting of 1.6, 1.8, 1.8 turbo, 2.6 and 2.8 petrol models as well as 90bhp and 110bhp TDI diesels, there was a decent selection available. Then you have the choice of front-wheel-drive or quattro four-wheel-drive transmissions. Changes for 1997 included aluminium trim strips framing the side windows (on six-cylinder front wheel drive models), an aspherical driver's door mirror, colour-keyed door mirror housings and door handles, a modified rear light cluster and a new-style door sill trim strip. The so-called '1998' models arrived in September 1997 and changes centred mainly on equipment upgrades and one new engine. All A4s now came with alloy wheels and the 30-valve A4 2.4 replaced the old A4 2.6. The performance S4 Avant was launched at the end of 1998. Early 1999 saw the introduction of second generation A4 Avant models - though it was hard to tell the difference. Minor visual changes included a slightly more prominent front grille, revised tail light clusters and a new interior which provided space for the optional satellite navigation system. A new roof-mounted airbag was introduced, as was an automatic stability control system. The ultra high performance RS4 Avant quattro model made its debut in summer 2000 and lasted for little more than a year before being phased out. Although winter 2000 saw the saloon A4s replaced by an all-new version, the Avants soldiered on, finally being superseded in autumn 2001.
What You Get
An advanced front or four-wheel drive chassis; elegant, well-proportioned looks, superb build-quality and, so far, good reliability. The diesels are remarkably economical, the petrol 1.6s a bit on the slow side and the 1.8 turbos understated motorway flyers. These cars are an intelligent buy as well as a desirable one. Equipment levels are relatively high (for a German vehicle at least) and you'll find that most cars have the superior SE spec. An A4 can be optioned even further though, so don't be surprised to find air-conditioning, leather trim, remote central locking and rear electric windows in many cars. Don't expect Volvo-sized lugging ability, but having said that, the Avants are a step above cars like the Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon when it comes to hauling the goods and their loading bay is a decent shape.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
You'll do well to find anything notable here. Check the service books, especially with Quattros and/or diesels as repairs will be frighteningly expensive if there's major transmission or turbocharger trouble. Corrosion is simply not an issue with Audis and another reason why resale values are high. Tyre wear can be a problem on S4 and RS4 versions. Uneven wear on the tyres may mean that the suspension is out of alignment. This can be caused by enthusiastic track day kerb-hopping.
(approx based on an M-reg A4 1.8 Avant with air con) A clutch assembly kit will be around £185 and a exhaust system (without catalyst) could be about £225. An alternator should be close to £100 and a radiator around £130. Front brake pads are around £70, rear brake pads will be £45, a replacement headlamp lens is close to £30 and a starter motor close to £145.
On the Road
The chassis set up is biased towards security and control, and the ride is a good deal firmer than those who habitually buy estate cars may expect. Wet or dry, the chassis grips supremely well, inspiring confidence with its steering sensitivity and elastic ability to change direction even after you've committed yourself to another course. The quattro four wheel drive versions give an added level of traction which comes in handy if you're well loaded up. The diesel cars are well worth a look, with the 2.5TDi Avants being especially impressive. It helps, too, that the driving position is also almost faultless, thanks to a low-set dashboard and a height and reach-adjustable steering wheel, banishing the feeling you got in previous Audis that you were sitting at the bottom of a pit. Of course, if you're serious about driving, you'll want to check out the S4 and RS4 models. With 265 or 380bhp respectively and four-wheel drive with which to deploy it, these are consummate all-weather autobahn stormers. Capable of putting the wind up a Porsche 911, these truly are cars for all seasons.
The Audi A4 Avant has always made a sensible used buy. With a very mild depreciation curve, it's not a car you're going to lose your shirt on. With renowned engineering, a prestigious badge and a level of utility that's always in demand, the Avant is a very practical ownership proposition. The pick of the range are probably the 1.8T, 2.8 and 2.5TDi models but it genuinely is difficult to put a foot wrong.