Jeez, isn’t Audi busy right now? Unprecedented times on the back of WLTP regime shake-ups stymied Audi Australia’s usually prolific rollout of new and refreshed metal.
Now, with the sniff of relative normality in the air, shoppers and car reviewers alike can’t blink without a new four-ringed offering materialising.
With an awful lot of performance-oriented and electrified Audis surfacing right now, it’s easy for a fairly conventional and somewhat mildly evolved wagon like the 2021 Audi A4 Avant 45 TFSI quattro S line to slip through largely unnoticed.
But the mid-sized ‘estate’ is well worth your focus if you’re after an honest to goodness five-door family car that’s not an SUV and, frankly, far better than mere bread and butter motoring.
Like the sedan, there’s no seismic revolution in the A4 Avant. The new ‘quattro genes’ blistered guards do its form favours that are perhaps more subtle than you might expect, but why mess to much with a ‘classic’?
Further, inside and out, there’s been a bit of all-round massaging outlined in our Australian launch review.
While mid-sized sedan-based ranges from Audi and its rivals in BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class mightn’t own a large slice of the motoring pie in this SUV-loving era, they remain crucial to their makers to the point where the respective breeds are always developing and improving.
First off, for simplicity, let’s just call it the A4 Avant because, as the only A4 Avant variant in Australia, the whole exhaustive ’45 TFSI quattro S line’ thing is a little superfluous.
Our wagon lists for $71,000 before on-road costs as a cleanskin. It’s just $2500 more than its sedan twin in identical ‘45 TFSI’ trim ($68,500) and $1500 more affordable than the ‘45 TFSI’ high-riding Allroad five-door ($72,600 list).
Elsewhere in family, the ‘performance’ S4 Avant is a fair step up into six figures ($102,400 list) while the proper hi-po RS4 Avant is, at $147,900 before on-roads, over twice the list price than the A4 version it’s largely based on.
For similar powertrain prowess at BMW, the 330i Touring demands a bit more investment ($78,900 list), while over at Benz the C300 Estate is also further up the fiscal ladder ($77,400 list).
Our tester comes with options bumping the price up to $78,301 before on-roads, or more or less right on the money. So where’s the extra value?
Some of it is in those fetching titanium look ‘5 V-spoke’ rims ($501) and the Glacier White metallic paint ($1990) with black exterior styling tweaks ($1040) that are hardly essential. Easy to omit, then.
The range gets a choice of 12 colours, two of which are at no cost and remainder wanting between $1531 and $1990.
But the key option bundle fitted to our car is the Assistance Plus package. At $3770 it adds adaptive cruise with stop/go, active lane-keeping, all-speed forward collision warning, all-speed autonomous emergency braking, collision avoidance steering assist, high-beam assist, turn assist, a head-up display, 360-degree cameras and parking assist – which is a lot of goodness.
On one hand, yes, much of it arguably should be fitted to the mid-sized wagon as standard. But the flip-side is that if you don’t care for much or all of it, you don’t have to tick that box and simply opt to save coin.
Alternatively, if you consider the pack’s safety and assistance enhancements essential, its fitment present you with a wagon packed with lots of techy goodness no more expensive than its key rivals’ entry points.
There’s no cheaper ‘35 TFSI’ version of the A4 if you choose the Avant body style so the standard equipment is decent, if sprinkled with key goodies such as leather in lieu of cloth trim and digital instrumentation rather than plain old analogue.
Outside, it sits on 19-inch alloys and features sporty S line styling, LED headlights and tail lights, sports suspension, auto wipers and headlights, heated and power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and passive cruise control.
Highlights, such as the window trim, are finished in anodised aluminium and the powered tailgate with a sensor-controlled release mechanism.
Many owners are initially drawn to Audi for its appealing cabin fit-outs and the A4 is no exception. The front sports seats feature electric adjustment including lumbar and key to the upmarket vibe are the aforementioned Virtual Cockpit, leather trim and high-grade MMI navigation with 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen.
The latter brings with it proprietary sat-nav, DAB+, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both USB-A and USB-C facility, Audi connect plus and the support of inductive phone charging.
Elsewhere, ‘45 TFSI S line’ brings with it a flat-bottom sports wheel, three-zone climate control, ambient lighting, a frameless auto-dimming mirror, aluminium trim work, keyless go, a retractable partition screen between row two and the boot space, and a space-saver spare wheel.
It’s a solid and well-rounded features list that plays to Audi’s techy Teutonic leanings with design and vibe.
The facelifted A4 carries over a five-star ANCAP safety rating published in early 2016 from Euro NCAP assessment conducted in back 2015. It applies to all petrol and diesel four-cylinder model variants released since.
Adult occupant protection is a high 90 per cent with child occupant protection at 87 per cent. Both vulnerable road user and safety assist each returned a 75 per cent result, with a 0.0 out of 1 for lane support in the latter, with no explanation in the ANCAP report other than the fact that lane keeping is optionally available.
The ‘45’ has eight airbags, ‘pre sense city’ low-speed autonomous emergency braking, pre sense rear, blind-spot monitoring with exit warning, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention alert, an active bonnet and a tyre pressure monitor.
There’s enough safety augmentation in the optional Assistance plus package that we reckon it should be considered essential, though some of the features, such as the active lane assist, arm automatically and need to be switched off after each restart – a good or bad thing depending on user preference.
Audi knows a trick or three about injecting a premium feel to its cabins and the sport-leaning 45 S line is rich and satisfying without being overwrought, as can be the case in some of the pricey RS gear. Interesting, the Carbon and Black package, with its fancy carbon twill interior inlay treatment, is only offered on the sedan version of this variant.
As we found with the four-door, the refreshed Avant benefits over the outgoing version with a bit of massaging. It’s a little flashier, a little simpler in console and centre stack design – the MMI Touch controller is no more – and generally just a bit more premium than what was a fairly good baseline.
Case in point is the enlarged 10.1-inch infotainment, up on the somewhat pokey old 8.3-inch unit. Rivals BMW and Benz have really upped their game in this area and Audi has responded nicely.
It’s up to measure on resolution, speed and general intuitiveness but the conflicts between the MMI format Audi wants you to favour, and the must-have CarPlay mirroring, does get tiresome.
Sometimes it wants you choose one or other to continue a function, other times one locks out another’s functionality: in CarPlay, it won’t allow you to choose outgoing call number’s in Virtual Cockpit.
Also, the Google-sourced map imagery of Audi’s navigation swaps between high and low and indistinguishable resolution seemingly dependent on how the software is feeling in a given moment.
Is the removal of the now defunct MMI Touch console hardware an upgrade (as Audi claims) or a downgrade? It’s debatable.
The 360-degree camera system is excellent despite a slightly too-distorted rear view and the (optional) front-view camera is good for avoiding collisions between the low-hanging front-bar lip and too-high kerbs.
There is an optional S line pack with Nappa leather, fancy 30-colour ambient LED lighting and other spruce-ups, but the regular spec doesn’t lack for its absence.
The regular leather is supple and delivers a sense of quality in the right places, such as the three-zone climate control with dedicated temperature controls in row two. Switchgear and HVAC controls have a satisfying feel and there’s no conspicuous cost consciousness in the material choice and placement.
Your reviewer’s pet hate that seems to afflict many Audis remains: crook pedal placement that affects basic driver ergonomics. The left footrest sits too deep, the pedals too proud and the seat base too low, causing right leg discomfort for lack of under-thigh support and some fairly radical seat adjustment to alleviate its foibles.
That said, almost nobody I know – including my A4-owning father – seems to have any issue with it. Maybe it’s just me.
Rear roominess is decent and middling in spaciousness, with decent seating contours and enough sense of airiness as to avoid claustrophobia.
Despite the tri-zone air-con the lack of device power is an omission, given the general obsession with iPads among kids these days. You do get a 12-volt outlet and, push come shove, you can run a USB-C cable into the console bin for a messy solution.
The 495-litre bootspace isn’t much larger than the 460L you get in the sedan. Worth a shout out here is that the five-door A5 Sportback alternative isn’t realistically all that much less practical for times when you’re not sudden tasked with transporting a wardrobe or something similarly bulky.
The 60:40 split-fold seats drops for a flat-ish load bay and 1495L of total space. The elasticised grocery bag net is handy and the only real pain is that the rear partition housing and parcel shelf housing are two separate pieces that are cumbersome to remove and store.
The evergreen ‘45’-spec 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four is fairly unremarkable engine when it comes to sonics and vibe but, at 183kW from 5000rpm and 370Nm between 1600-4500rpm, it fits the bill for a car like this.
It’s backed by a familiar seven-speed dual-clutch ‘S tronic’ gearbox and quattro all-wheel drive as the only configuration you can get badged as an A4 Avant.
Frankly, the front-driven turbo two-litre ‘35’ combination in the base A4 sedans is, at just 110kW and 270Nm, a bit undercooked for a smart-looking and sport-tinged mid-sized German.
That it’s not offered in five-door Avant form is no great loss.
At 1665kg, the wagon lugs around an extra 45kg than the sedan and it does, partly, impact the numbers. At 6.0 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, the Avant is 0.2 seconds slower. It’s also, at 7.3L/100km, 0.2L/100km thirstier.
On test, during mostly urban driving, it happily spent most travel time sat under double figures which is quite decent for a vehicle of this size, level of spec, and performance credentials.
Suspension wise, it sits on the same passive ‘sport’ tune as the ‘35’ spec that’s “20mm lower”, in comparison to the non-S line A4. Adaptive damped suspension, as featured on the S4, isn’t optionally available on the regular A4 Avant.
Turbo four-cylinder power has become the norm for mid-sized German sport-luxury motoring and Audi’s wagon balances eager progress and efficiency quite nicely.
It’s a willing if largely character-free engine, with ample shove without messing around with its choice of five drive modes, accessed via the ever clumsy toggle where you have to shuffle through different mode to arrive at the desired one.
The transmission is reasonably crisp and fluid, changing gears with few of the low-speed palpitations that once plagued the dual-clutch design. It plucks the best from the 2.0-litre’s broad torque spread and there’s always a handy ‘sport’ mode when you want it.
There’s a bit of on-the-move stop-start trickery in the A4, but it activates infrequently and only in certain modes and situations, so the net benefit to real-world consumption in negligible at best.
The ride and handling balance is well struck, with compliance polished to a degree that even the so-called sport suspension is ideal for family-focused owners who want a comfortable daily-driven experience.
This is not one of those Euro-centric tunes that feel brittle and jarring once it’s made the trip across the pond to local conditions.
The steering suits my personal tastes fine. It’s no sports car and I’d happily trade the under-assisted heft and keen load-up of a pure-bred driver’s machine for what the A4 offers: a crisp, user-friendly tune that’s maybe slightly light on feedback.
The A4 Avant is a fairly innocuous drive, satisfying at a cruise with a reasonable sheen of enjoyment factor once you push on and the added 45 kilos of weight over the sedan – presumably all of it over the rear axle – doesn’t seem to impact its nice rounded balance.
I just wish Audi would deal with the crook driver ergonomics, even if to placate the odd ones out such as me.
The excellent camera system makes it easy to judge and park even if the front sensors get a little to eager, activating when the nose dips when leaving driveways. At 11.6m, the turning circle fairly decent.
Audi offers an ordinary three years of unlimited-kilometre warranty.
By comparison, rival premium brands like Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have moved to longer five-year programs.
In terms of servicing costs, Audi offers upfront packages of $1710 for three years and $2720 for five years with intervals of 12-month or 15,000 kilometres, whichever comes first.
While there’s no cheap ‘35 TFSI’ access point to A4 Avant, the higher-powered ‘45’ Quattro with just enough S line sportiness is a nicely-rounded package at about the right price. Changes to this facelifted version might be mostly subtle, but they’re decent tweak in the right places.
For this reviewer’s money, offering an Assistance plus package to either add or omit more expansive driver safety and systems is actually a good thing.
Adding the pack makes A4 Avant fulsome with a comparable bottom line to BMW and Benz rivals, whereas omitting the package makes the Audi a relative bargain in its competitive set for owners who could live without the ‘extras’ (regardless of worthiness).
All in all, the mid-life facelift is a gentle massage to what was an already appealing and solid package that fulfils most of the wagon-lover wants in a practical enough package to make it compelling SUV alternative.
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