Audi A6 Avant T Review
Most pistonheads view estates, MPVs and SUV's with contempt. Why would anyone love driving a barge? Yes, it takes skill to throw a two-ton-plus behemoth around a bend, but it'll never beat the thrill of driving something designed for the job. If you really must carry more than two people, why not buy a performance saloon, like a Subaru Impreza Turbo or a sporty Golf or, well, anything else? And yet…
Sports car lovers who reproduce inevitably find themselves needing something that can carry the kids and schlep all that 'lifestyle' stuff: groceries, wine boxes, bikes, etc. A saloon is too small and precious for all that clobber (think canine companion). SUVs are too unwieldy. MPVs are equally unstable, and deeply uncool. What's needed is a hardwearing, spacious car that can still carve up a twisting road. Something like… an Audi A6 Avant.
Self-respecting enthusiasts already know the truth: the Audi Avant is the only credible estate for a burgeoning bunch of genetically related petrolheads. Mercedes' E-Class estate looks like an upmarket hearse. Volvos seem specifically designed for antique dealers flogging grandfather clocks. BMW, Ford, Vauxhall, MG – their efforts all look a bit weird, in a 'throw-the-car-on-the-rack Igor' kind of way. The Audi A6 Avant is the sole load lugger with sufficient 'carness' to allow ageing enthusiasts to maintain the illusion that they haven't surrendered to the twin forces of domesticity and middle age. You'd hardly call the shape 'exciting', but it is, um, er, 'purposeful'.
Sit inside an Avant and you instantly realise why Audi leads the world in cabin design, fit and finish. The interior is a perfect blend of high-grade plastics, polished wood and brushed aluminium, crafted with meticulous attention to detail. Creaks and rattles are conspicuous only by their absence. All the switches work with perfectly damped precision. Like BMWs of old, it's also a masterpiece of ergonomics. The Audi's controls are intuitive, easy to reach, and respond with appropriate tactile or visual feedback. The instrumentation tells you everything you need to know, and nothing you don't. There's a fundamental respect for the driver's needs.
Ah, but what of the need for speed? Audi offers a range of A6 Avants, ranging from the mild (the 130bhp 2.0), to the wild (the 340bhp S6), to the criminally insane (the 450bhp RS6). I tested the model in the middle of the mix: the 2.7 T automatic. This variant comes with a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine and (standard) lowered sports suspension.
The 2.7 T is frisky enough, powering from zero to 60mph in 7.6 seconds. Although the 'intelligent' Tiptronic makes for more relaxed family outings, it's a full second slower to 60 than its manual cousin. In battle mode, the Tiptronic also has a tendency to get befuddled – which is problematic for an engine that only really shows its determination above 4000rpms. Press-on driving requires a drop into Sport, or a hands-on acquaintance with the wheel-mounted buttons. Fortunately, four-wheel-drive provides unconditional access to as many of the machine's 250 horses as you can summon. It's strictly point and shoot.
When it comes to cornering, the Avant benefits from Audi's attempts to rectify the brand's traditional steering and handling deficiencies. Although the helm still feels lighter than non-alcoholic beer, it's far more satisfying than either the nominal drink or previous Audis. Thanks to a new, speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack and pinion set-up, you can place the car on the road with confidence. Parking or loitering is a breeze, yet there's enough feedback through the corners to make things interesting – in a good way.
The aluminium suspension is also an evolution of previous systems. Like Avants of old, like any heavy car, the 2.7 T wallows when entering a bend. But it now swings gently-rather than lurches alarmingly- into its cornering stance. As the 2.7's turbos deliver their best in an almighty whoosh, a judicious right foot is needed to stop the power from asking questions the tyres and suspension can't answer. (Don't worry: Nanny will sort them out.) Get it right, and you can use the car's tenacious grip and predictable poise to negotiate local twisties at significant speeds. Flinging the Avant about isn't 'fun' in the Porsche sense of the word, but it does deliver a certain satisfaction.
The Avant is far more exciting to drive than any SUV or MPV, holds its value better and cossets its occupants in considerable luxury (especially for those who indulge in the extensive options list). Besides, the Avant is 'something for the weekend'. The daily driver? That's another story…
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