Versus the competiton:
Practical people will find little value in the 2002 Audi A4 3.0 Avant wagon. It has less cargo space than the comparable Subaru Legacy GT AWD — 27.8 cubic feet for the A4 Avant vs. 34.3 for the Legacy.
Five adults can find more seating comfort in the Legacy GT AWD than they can in the A4 Avant. The comment is based on personal experience. No passengers complained about rear-seating space during my recent test drive of the Legacy GT AWD. But whenever three people sat together in the rear seats of the A4 Avant, there inevitably was a gripe from at least one of them.
Of course, there is also the matter of price. The A4 3.0 Avant has a base price of $34,140. The Legacy GT AWD wagon costs nearly $10,000 less.
Yet, Audi is selling every A4 3.0 Avant it can ship into the United States from its plant in Ingolstadt, Germany. There is no mystery here. Drive the Avant, and if you can afford it, you won’t want to drive anything else.
To put it another way, the people who are buying Avants aren’t buying station wagons. They’re buying dreams, entertainment, pleasure and possibilities. By emotional contrast, the people who are buying Legacy wagons are buying socially acceptable trucks.
I side with the dreamers on this one.
Driving is not a pedestrian experience to me. It is not a simple act of utility, of getting from one place to another, or hauling something from one place to another. Instead, it is an act of unmitigated fascination. I’m smitten by the idea of being able to get into a private car and choose a destination.
It is a sensual experience. Exceptional cars have a certain feel, a discernible tightness. Everything in such a car, such as the vinyl covering atop the instrument panel of the A4 Avant, has tactile superiority.
The way the car moves sends a message. The A4 Avant, for example, neither “takes” nor fights curves. Nor does it lose its composure in sharp turns. Instead, it adheres to them. Much of the credit here goes to the wagon’s suspension system. Audi lightened the load up front and improved the A4 Avant’s handling by installing a mostly aluminum four-link front suspension system.
The rear suspension is fully independent. When combined with the A4 Avant’s standard electronic stability and traction-control systems, the result is a remarkably sure-footed ride. For the driver, that means pleasure in the anticipation of any piece of road that isn’t a straightaway.
On another matter, someone with more technical expertise will have to point out the differences between the all-wheel-drive systems on the A4 Avant and the Legacy GT AWD. Both seem to work equally well on rain-slick roads. Neither system requires driver intervention. Both automatically transfer power from slipping to gripping wheels.
But when it comes to engines and transmissions, there is no real comparison. The A4 Avant is an easy winner. It is equipped with a 3-liter, double-overhead-cam V-6 that develops 220 horsepower at 6,300 revolutions per minute and 221 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm.
By comparison, the Legacy GT AWD comes with a very decent, horizontally opposed 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 165 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 166 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. There also is a 212-horsepower horizontally opposed V-6 available in the Legacy Outback all-wheel-drive wagon. The A4 Avant engine not only beats both Subaru engine’s in power but also outclasses them in quietness and smoothness.
The A4 Avant is available with a six-speed manual transmission or the tested five-speed Tiptronic (automatic/manual) gearbox. The Legacy GT AWD comes with a standard five-speed manual.
It is arguable that a better comparison to the A4 Avant wagon would be the BMW 325xi, the Lexus IS300, Mercedes-Benz C320 SportWagon, the Volvo V-70 or possibly the Saab 9-5 Aero. But that ar ument misses the point.
The point is that there are a number of less-expensive station wagons that are superior to those more expensive models in terms of overall utility and practicality (though the Saab 9-5 Aero is a formidable competitor in this category, too). The people who can afford to buy the A4 Avant can afford to buy the Legacy GT AWD. But they won’t do it. They are looking for joy, not hauling capacity.