Our motoring lives these days are predominated by a blend of compact and medium sector motorcars of all types but Iain Robertson suggests that it has become too easy to overlook dependable large cars, which can satisfy many other factors.
If you are seeking a large estate car, you might settle on any number of SUVs, or MPVs, that provide the height, width and length of load deck, allied to easy access, and be eminently happy with your choice. Many of them sit on shorter footprints but they may also introduce a number of non-dimensional aspects that are unwanted.
The UK has always been a haven for the estate car. While such vehicles grew out of a perceived need to transport luggage from local stations to a grand country estate, yet proved their viability by also transporting up to five people in moderate comfort, the demand for a longer-bodied version of a classy saloon expanded over the years. In fact, all manner of businesses, from estate agents to antiques emporia, would be lost without the practicality of a big estate car, or station wagon, which was a sound reason for traditional vehicles like the Volvo, Ford, Vauxhall, Citroen and Peugeot estate cars to thrive over the past few decades.
Ever since Audi adopted its single letter/single number model naming policy, the stalwart A6 has provided a (just) sub-5.0m length saloon, Avant (estate) and allroad (4WD) line-up. Delightfully spacious, possessing an unerringly superior build quality, the latest estate car in 50TDi quattro S-Line form is engagingly handsome and bridges the gap between A4 and A8 models (the A5 is a coupe class). Its key rivals are the Merc E-Class estate, BMW 5-Series Touring, Volvo V60 and Jaguar XF Sportswagon, which underscore its place in a competitive class.
Conventionality is king in this segment, although Audi digs into its Group’s technological capabilities to result in weight-saving construction (steel substructure, with aluminium alloy elements) and fuel-saving mild hybrid aspects (48v for its stop-start facility). In fact, the familiar 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine, which meets EU6 ‘clean’ legislation, produces a moderate 282bhp, allied to a hearty 457lbs ft of torque, which enables a 0-60mph acceleration time of a blisteringly quick 5.2s, before topping out at a restricted 155mph. It is mated to an efficient 8-speed automatic transmission (with Tiptronic paddles/manual shifter).
To suggest that it is eager would be an understatement. It uses that trough of mid-range punch to make overtakes an effortless breeze. Truth is, the maximum torque band is a very narrow 750rpm from 2,250rpm, but the engine pulls cleanly from less than 1,400rpm, all the way to its typically low (diesel) maximum of around 4,000rpm. It is exceptionally refined, thanks to partial encapsulation of the engine and first-rate noise suppression.
However, its most vital statistic is the 50.4mpg official combined fuel economy and a mere 146g/km CO2 emissions, which are headlining figures for a fully-automatic vehicle. In top ratio (8th), it is geared to pull 60mph from as little as 1,250rpm, which makes for near-silent A-road cruising. Depress the accelerator pedal and the A6 Avant can take-off like the proverbial scalded cat; whisker it and the fuel economy figures make more stately progress rewarding.
Carrying a list price of £51,870 means that road tax fee will be supplemented with a hefty annual penalty for the first five years of ownership, but that is common for the class and needs to be factored into any running cost considerations. This A6 Avant is priced class-competitively, even though it is carrying £11,560’s worth of ‘extras’, which whisks its invoice value to £63,430. The most expensive options are £1,895 for the sound and mood lighting pack, £1,495 for the technology pack, £1,950 for the tour pack, with the city assist pack weighing in at £1,350 and the electronically managed suspension factoring in a further £1,150. It has become the Germanic way to price-up motorcars and has been adopted across the entire industry.
Away from the pricing issues, the Avant possesses an accommodating 530-litres of boot space, which almost trebles in practical capacity, once the rear seats are split-folded to increase the deck length. With the seats erected, the amount of rear occupant space is limousine-like, with plenty of space for feet, legs, shoulders and vital headroom. Of course, the front of the cabin is also capacious and exceedingly comfortable, the entire car being clad in a leather/Alcantara combo for added luxury. Mood lighting is applied tastefully across the door cards and the centre console side rails, with small LED strips that also change colour. The footwells are also illuminated.
There are three digital screens (a configurable one ahead of the driver; a touchscreen atop the centre stack, which is also reconfigurable; and another one for heating/ventilation controls just below). They add a touch of class to the stitched leather and alloy panelled dashboard. Unlike the equally classy Range Rover Velar model I sampled over a year ago, these screens behaved themselves. However, it is worth contemplating their reliability five, eight and ten years down the road, by which time up to five owners will have hammered them senseless…
Typical of Audi, the driver can also select one of four driving modes, although I felt well-supported and the car felt eminently capable in the default Comfort setting, its electronic damper control compensating consistently for any changes in road surface to provide a firm but resilient ride quality. The car’s grip levels are exceptional and the quattro all-wheel drive system provides the customary, expected slip-free traction, regardless of weather conditions. Final credit goes to the outstanding LED headlamp array, which, on ‘auto’ setting, adjusts constantly to provide glare-free night-into-day illumination. In light fog, watching the various elements working around vehicles ahead, or approaching, it was magical, all without driver intervention.
The bottom-line, if you desire a practical and well-proportioned estate car, the Audi Avant more than exceeds expectations, the 50TDi engine providing copious amounts of grunt, when needed, with outstanding fuel economy when cruising at steady speeds. The car is surprisingly uncomplicated in regular use and presents a hewn-from-the-solid air that feels unbreakable. Classy, handsome, elegant and comfortable, the Audi A6 Avant is a fine contender for large car honours, where high-end space and practicality are the key requisites. It has rivals, of which I would suggest that Volvo’s V60 is its greatest threat. However, Audi’s place in the business car scene is well-established and virtually unassailable.