I'm warming to the idea of wagons now that they aren't those enormous, hideous boats of my youth, with faux-wood paneling and their own ZIP codes. The Audi A4 Avant is none of those things. It's not measurably larger than its sedan counterpart, and it has all the style and driving joy of the sedan, with some added function thrown in. The A4 Avant starts at $35,350, and my test car cost $44,100. I love driving a car that's fun, fast and great looking, while still being able to haul sports equipment, bikes or dogs.
And driving the A4 Avant is fun. The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine gives it plenty of zoom to get the errands done in the nanosecond of time between dropping the kids off at school and picking them up again. In fact, there was enough power that I had to lay off the gas a bit, as I might have caused the car to make an unseemly squeal when accelerating. Turns and corners were smooth and solid, even in wet weather, thanks to Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive. The entire driving experience was refined and elegant, but never boring. Stacy and Clinton would be so proud.
In the same way that a structured jacket and tasteful accessories can make an outfit, clean lines and just the right amount of sparkle make the A4 Avant a style icon. Everywhere I took the A4 Avant, people commented on it. It was generally agreed that this wagon is a looker.
For me, the appeal starts with the A4's available LED running lights and taillights. I absolutely loved the dip and curve of those tiny LEDs under the available xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights. At night, especially, those lights are just sexy. I also liked the subtle sculpting on the hood and along the side panels. It's nothing particularly bold or outrageous, but those lines add a bit of interest and movement to the larger planes of the body.
Part of what keeps the A4 Avant from looking like those uber-wagons of olden days is its sleek profile. Rather than a long, boxy roofline, this wagon is gently rounded, from the slope of the windshield to the echoing slope of the rear window. In the rear, the A4 Avant is a bit more wagon-y, but there's only so much that can be done there. It's enormous rear window provides really excellent visibility. It makes the backup camera and parking sensors almost unnecessary. Almost. My test car had a panoramic sunroof that extended over both rows and brought in tons of light and a feeling of spaciousness.
This isn't a car that's trying to get by on its good looks. It's 211-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gets an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg city/highway. Although I didn't have to hit the gas pump too often, I did have to shell out more money for its premium gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Groove On
They say that black is slimming, and Audi seems to have taken that message to heart with their interior in the A4 Avant. The interior of my test car was, um, black. The seats are black. The dash is black. The carpet is black. If it weren't for all the light from the windows and panoramic sunroof, the black interior would have been oppressive, but somehow, the A4 manages to stay just this side of funereal. That's because of the aluminum trim on the steering wheel, over the glove box, and around the vents and center console. Those subtle reflections brighten up the cockpit considerably. The red and white colors of the gauges and information screens are sporty, easy to read and add a much-needed dash of color.
I enjoyed the heated leather sport seats in this five-seater. They're a bit firmer than the regular seats, but have great support and manage not to be difficult to climb in or out of. My test car came equipped with the Sport Package, which included a three-spoke steering wheel with perforated leather grips that felt terrific underhand. The steering wheel also had controls for the audio system and Bluetooth, which was crystal clear and easy to connect.
Audi's MMI system wraps all the audio, navigation and information functions into a knob controller. Twist the knob to navigate the information screen and push it down to select an item. It's that easy. Four function buttons surround the knob and their function changes depending on the MMI screen that's being used. MMI has a little learning curve to it, but it quickly becomes second nature. What I really liked about this system is the driver doesn't need to look away from the road to hunt for one of countless buttons/wheels/knobs; everything is in one place.
In the backseat, my kiddos were content and did their best to filthy up the place, which was when I began to see the blessing of black carpet. Sure, it shows every blade of muddy grass their baseball cleats drag in, but that goes away with a quick pass of a vacuum. What you don't see is the dirt or food or wet who-knows-what that's so painfully apparent on lighter carpets. The lesson? It's impossible to stain black carpet, not for lack of trying on my boys' parts.
If I were to ask for anything more from the A4 Avant, it'd be interior storage. The center console has a small bin that can hold chargers and a lip balm, but not much more. I managed to stuff a pack of baby wipes in the door bin, but there really wasn't anywhere good to hide all the stuff I usually haul around in a car. I guess that's European minimalist style. At least it had cupholders. There are two in the front row and two in the rear armrest, which also has a small storage compartment, and a bottle-holder in every door.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The A4 Avant's safety features start with its Quattro system, a full-time all-wheel-drive system, with rear-torque bias. Under this system, power is supplied to all the wheels, but automatically directed to the ones with the most traction, which really helps in slippery conditions. Under normal circumstances, the rear-torque bias means the rear wheels get most of the power, creating a sportier driving experience.
The A4 Avant also comes with four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control and traction control. It has six airbags, including front- and side-impact airbags for the front row and side curtain airbags for both rows. Rear side-impact airbags for the backseat are available and cost $350.
There's plenty of legroom in the back for adults or massive rear-facing infant-safety seats. Thankfully, the rear seats are mostly flat, so booster seats sit nicely without tilting or sliding over the seat belt receptors, which are also nice and firm. The two sets of Latch connectors should make Audi a favorite of parents everywhere. They're — wait for it — visible to the eye. They sit beneath a plastic cover that pops off easily, and the Latch connector is out there in plain view. Amazing, right? No hunting, digging, scraped knuckles or broken nails.