Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

THE new Audi wagon is an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion, as much for its on-road be­hav­iour as its chic lines, un­like the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion.

But you will need deep pock­ets. The pretty-much­stan­dard 1.8 Avant we drove from Mel­bourne to Bright in the Vic­to­rian alps had Mi­lano leather up­hol­stery, Ser­votronic steer­ing, eight airbags, day­time run­ning lights and $1600 metal­lic paint.

The S-line pack­aged ver­sion in which we re­turned also copped great, grippy 18-inch low-pro­file rub­ber, pad­dle shifters, per­fo­rated leather and the op­ti­mum ver­sion of Drive Se­lect (through which steer­ing, gearshift and damp­ing re­sponses are al­tered to mood or cir­cum­stance).

Even without the ful­l­length sun roof ($2850), this car re­turned lit­tle change from $70,000.

That is steep, even when placed next to the Audi’s di­rect ri­vals, BMW’s 320i Tour­ing and the MercedesBenz 200K Es­tate. And not a lit­tle silly if you’re not so badge-be­sot­ted that you can’t see the mer­its of Skoda’s Oc­tavia (with the same en­gines) and the Mazda6.

Both are equally good if not bet­ter drives, both are big­ger and both are $25,000 to $35,000 cheaper. We could also point to Holden’s new Com­modore Sport­wagon, but badge blind­ness goes only so far.

We’ll get to the diesel in com­ing weeks, but on the word of trusted col­leagues it re­flects the equiv­a­lent sedan’s dis­po­si­tion.

That’s to say that the ex­tra weight, es­pe­cially over the front axle, drags it back against its more adroit petrol sib­ling. Audi’s per­sis­tence with lon­gi­tu­di­nal en­gines means the big­ger the donk the more negated the ad­van­tages of its much-vaunted new me­chan­i­cal plat­form.

Nor can a decisive econ­omy ad­van­tage be claimed for the oiler. When push­ing on, it needs to be spurred.

In city traf­fic its con­sump­tion ap­proaches that of the petrol car. In fact, the petrol 1.8 TFSI com­bines the best char­ac­ter­is­tics of petrol and diesel, with the flex­i­bil­ity of the for­mer (at 8.9 sec­onds it’s al­most one tick quicker to 100km/h) and the low down re­sponse of the lat­ter. And all of its 250Nm is avail­able from 1500 revs — al­most the in­stant the throt­tle is floored.

It’s a light­weight con­tender that punches above its weight to give the Avant a dy­namic be­hav­iour that’s about as re­ward­ing as you’re go­ing to get in a front-wheel-drive wagon. While never a fan of CVT, there are few grounds to com­plain of the way in which it trans­mits power to the road.

As ever with Audi, the in­side story is one of tac­tile de­light. The in­te­rior of even a ba­sic Avant has an air of com­fort, con­ve­nience and sheer qual­ity that ex­ceeds the Mercedes C-Class and leaves the BMW 3 Se­ries for dead.

So, when you’re sit­ting this pret­tily, you don’t mind so much which wheels are do­ing the driv­ing.

Supreme power: the A4 Avant’s be­hav­iour is as good as a front-wheel-drive wagon gets.

AUDI A4 AVANT PRICE $56,400 TFSI, $57,800 (TDI) EN­GINES 1.8-litre four-cylin­der petrol, 2.0-litre tur­bod­iesel POWER 118kW (TFSI), 105kW (TDI) TORQUE 250Nm (TFSI), 320Nm (TDI) TRANS­MIS­SION Con­tin­u­ously vari­able au­to­matic FUEL ECON­OMY 7.4 litres/100km (TFSI), 6 litres/100km (TDI)

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