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Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI: arrival
Model: Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 177 S line
On fleet since: May 2012
Official combined mpg: 58.9 (126g/km CO2)
Costs: £0 so far
Pros: Extra value, extra sportiness and extra performance over our former A6 Avant
Cons: No sat nav as standard, smaller than an A6 Avant...
Why are we running an Audi A4 Avant?
Spot the difference, you may think. My last long-termer was an Audi A6 Avant: now I've switched into its apparently-identikit baby brother. Audi's design chiefs are musing on whether their cars need to look more distinct from one another in the future, and the fact A6 and A4 look so similar suggests this is perhaps wise.
So, why are we doing it? Because I want to put a marketplace trend into practice: downsizing. Over the past few decades, people have been buying smaller cars in greater numbers. Back in the 1980s, the Ford Granada was a top 10 best seller: today, we're lucky to see the Mondeo in the country's best sellers, and Ford doesn't even make a big executive car anymore.
Today, downsizing is big news. The best selling car sector in Britain is the supermini, the second best is the family hatch: big is not clever these days - so I've decided to put this into stark practice by swapping from the huge A6 into the smaller A4. Like many new car buyers, I'm moving a class down, and I'm going to see what the implications are.
There's added interest here from the fact I have an eight-month-old daughter. We took Daisy home from the hospital in the A6 and have since become reliant on the enormity of its boot. But given how millions of British car buyers can apparently cope by moving into a smaller car, we're interested to see how we fare too.
The key aspect, however, is value for money. Smaller cars are, generally, cheaper than larger ones. So it proves here: by choosing the smaller A4, we've been able to get the same engine AND a higher-spec S line trim for less money up front. Even better, the extra added equipment means less to spend on options too.
Our A4 Avant, with options, costs £32,775. The A6, with options, cost £40k yet was still, with one exception, less well equipped than this A4. That exception? Sat nav. Yes, downsizing means mimicking British buyers in another way too: instead of spending £1,500 on inbuilt nav, we're reverting to a £100 TomTom, again to see how we fare after the luxury of using an inbuilt system.
I was able to draw literal first comparisons, as the A6 was exchanged key-to-key for the A4. So, what did I note? That the A4 is more striking in S line guise, significantly lower than the A6 and also much sportier inside. The bucket-style seats are superb and the low-set driving position is immediately comfortable (in contrast to my longstanding issues with A6 comfort).
The pedals are less offset than the A6 and although it is more dated, the dashboard still feels confident to sit behind. Pity about the cheap-looking climate control buttons and very low-res Audi MMI colour display, though. The ignition key mounted to the left of the steering column is also fiddlier than it needs to be.
Our A4 arrived already run in, with 2,900 miles on the odo. So I was able to enjoy its extra oomph right away: it's 105kg lighter than the A6 so hits 60mph in 8.4secs rather than 9.0secs. Doesn't sound much but you really feel it on the road - this is much livelier and more surging than its bigger sibling.
It's also much wieldier. Yes, the ride is appreciably stiffer and knobblier, crashing over bumps the A6 absorbed, but the pay-off is sharper steering response, more agility and a general feeling of lithe, sport-style immediacy. I much prefer it and am looking forward to enjoying the extra alacrity of the smaller A4's S line setup.
What do you get for your money?
Audi's S line trim is a familiar sight on British roads: the rectangular wing and front grille badges are so popular because the specification is so well judged. Basically, it's mimicking the RS cars but with a mainstream focus - see it as an alternative to BMW's M Sport trim line, which does the same with M cars.
S line buyers are expected to fork out extra
Over SE trim, it brings a full S line bodykit and 18-inch wheels, 20mm lower suspension and standard xenon headlights (with matching rear LED lights). Inside, there are part-leather sports seats, a perforated leather S line steering wheel and Golf GTI-style black rooflining. It's a very tidy setup indeed.
To this, we haven't added much: the key option is DAB, which is now a must-have for me, given my long commutes and love of BBC 6 Music. The lack of sat-nav has been discussed: Audi does offer a company driver-focused SE Technik trim, which has it as standard, but S line buyers are expected to fork out extra for it. Mindful of our downsizing premise, we didn't.
What you do get less of is, well, space. The A4 is 4,699mm long instead of a massive 4,936mm, and the seats-up boot is 490 litres instead of 565 litres. Seats down, it's 1,430 litres instead of 1,874 litres - but as we rarely had the A6 seats folded, this will be less of a worry.
We're now putting downsizing in action. The A6 was massive and has perhaps spoiled us: we may find we have to think more about what we take with us, and my partner may discover it's preferable to sit in the front rather than the palatial rear of the A6.
Hot hatch sensations for the family man?
That's one side of downsizing though: the other is the extra vibrancy of this smaller, more sporting model. I've already become quite taken with this, enjoying the lighter kerbweight and blend of stiffer suspension and more compact dimensions. Bring it on, I say: can downsizing bring back hot hatch sensations for the family man?
Another big test is ahead of it too: fuel economy. This is the exact engine whose average efficiency so disappointed us in the A6: it's quoted as 56.5mpg yet we rarely saw more than 45mpg. OK, official figures are always optimistic - but my history of long-termers with MSN Cars has never realised economy so far off the government stats.
Already here, though, the A4 Avant is proving interesting. Our first tank-to-tank average? 49.8mpg - far closer to the official 58.9mpg average. There's a story developing here, then... read more next month!
Need to know
Performance: 0-62mph 8.4secs / 134mph
Power/Torque: 177@4,200rpm / 280@1,750-2,500rpm
List price: £31,330
Insurance group: 28
Options fitted: DAB (£305), metallic paint (£615), storage pack (£100), interior light pack (£170), Audi music interface (£255)
Price as tested: £32,775
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