- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

ATLANTA | It is quite possible that we will soon see a return to popularity of the station wagon.

No, not those long, wood-paneled Brady Bunch-mobiles of the 1970s. But rather cool, sporty, functional machines that we have thought in recent years could only come in the form of crossover SUVs.

One of the leaders of this revolution could be Audi.

The German luxury brand is bringing the wagon version of its A4 sedan to this country in September with the hope of turning the perception of station wagons on its ear.

The most obvious difference between this new breed of station wagon and those of the past is design.

The 2009 A4 Avant has a sculpted, sleek look that very much maintains the modern design language that Audi uses throughout its product lineup.

Audi has lengthened the Avant by nearly 5 inches but has made it 10 percent lighter.

The front fascia is attractive, with the headlights featuring Audi’s string of jewels LED lights.

The rear design is not all that fancy, but is functional and fits nicely with the car’s overall styling.

On the interior, you won’t be surprised by the great dashboard design that Audi is known for.

You might be mildly surprised by the terrific head- and legroom that exists in the front and rear seats.

For the driver, visibility is excellent, with unobstructed sightlines.

And that beautiful dashboard presents all of its gauges neatly, without confusion.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this vehicle, though, is its cargo area.


Because if you’re an automaker that wants to try to sell people on a station wagon, you’ve got to present a compelling case for functionality that persuades those folks to not choose one of the umpteen crossovers on the market.

The A4 Avant does it with a spacious cargo area that is amazingly well-designed.

The space totals 17 cubic feet - enough for two golf bags.

Its great design includes high-quality velour carpeting, two adjustable hooks in the upper sides on which bags can be hung and a low loading edge, which comes in handy if you’re trying to throw something heavy in there.

There is also a 12-volt outlet and a horizontally adjustable net for added convenience.

The tailgate rises high enough when open that someone a little more than 6 feet tall can stand under it. If you fold the rear seats down, the cargo space grows to a cavernous 50.5 cubic feet.

The second-most important aspect about the A4 Avant is its driving performance.

This is a key because once again, it will be competing against crossovers, many of which have pretty strong performance driving characteristics. Notably, the Acura RDX and BMW X3 offer a sports car-like ride in a small SUV package.

How does the A4 Avant compare? It’s even better.

“Fun to drive” and “station wagon” aren’t normally phrases that you would group together, but you must if you’re describing the Avant.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine offers more-than-adequate 211 horsepower and is very quiet, even at high speed.

The fast-shifting Tiptronic six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and promptly provides the right amount of power in every gear.

Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system will be standard.

We can only hope that Audi also decides to bring its diesel engine version of the Avant stateside; right now, it can only be had overseas.

For Audi, which is on an ambitious drive to raise its profile in the luxury vehicle segment, the A4 line - consisting of the Avant and a sedan - is very important. “The A4 and Avant represent 50 percent of our volume in North America,” Johann Van Nysschen, CEO of Audi USA, said recently.

The A4, in its sedan version, competes against models such as the Mercedes-Benz C class and BMW 3-Series.

Audi, which hasn’t announced pricing for the Avant yet, plans an aggressive marketing push before it is launched in the fall.

The company will have plenty to work with. The Avant offers refined power, superb driveability and elegance.

And yes, all of that comes in a station wagon.

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