With new estates from Mercedes and Volvo, can the Audi keep up?
Mercedesâ€™ E-Class is one of those constants of the motoring landscape, but actually itâ€™s just been revamped yet again. However itâ€™s the new Volvo estate, the V90, which gets more of the attention as people seem genuinely excited about it. So where does that leave Audi, with its A6 Avant?
In one way this Volvo is like all the other new Volvos. It has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, they all do. In this instance it produces 187bhp, fed to the front wheels via an eight-speed auto transmission in this D4 iteration. In this midrange Inscription trim it would cost Â£37,555 but with extras our test vehicle came in at Â£40,730.
The Audi A6 Avant also has a 2.0-litre diesel engine and it also makes 187bhp, although in this case it feeds through a seven-speed auto box to the front wheels. The Black Edition we had, with its fancy trim, costs Â£40,915 although our test vehicle had the optional air suspension, which costs another Â£2000.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate has, guess what, a 2.0-litre diesel engine making a slightly superior 191bhp in this E220d guise. The nine-speed gearbox feeds the rear wheels. It starts at Â£40,430, so itâ€™s almost exactly on a par with the Volvo, except in this case itâ€™s not. Weâ€™ll bear all those extras in mind as we test the three, since the Merc now comes in at a considerable Â£50,895.
The Volvo feels seriously well put together, perhaps an improvement now that the Chinese firm Geely is in charge. The 9.0in portrait touchscreen is eye-catching, stylish and easy to use. The overall impression though is one of space. Obviously all three of these are spacious wagons, but thereâ€™s something about the Volvo that sets it apart.
In the end it probably comes down to the choice of materials and colours, but thereâ€™s no doubt it feels light and airy and somehow warmer and more welcoming. And it is definitely well put together, very firmly in Mercedes territory.
However, the new E-Class takes that reputation for cabin brilliance and moves it up yet another notch. Itâ€™s a fabulous place to be, almost as fine as in an S-Class and there simply isnâ€™t higher praise we could heap on it. Itâ€™s just so classy, yet so contemporary, and we love the digital dials and the huge central screen and, well, everything really.
Against this the Audiâ€™s cabin seems a bit austere, and dark and not exactly the sort of place people crack jokes. Itâ€™s beautifully put together with top-quality materials and design, but itâ€™s not welcoming like the Volvo cabin.
At the rear there is tons of room in any of the three, but itâ€™s clear the flowing lines of the Volvo have had an impact on space. It can carry less than the other two, with the Mercedes the clear winner. In the Volvo you could probably take your child and all their stuff to start a term at university. In the Merc you could fit the university.
The Audi is somewhere in the middle of those two, but it falls behind on ride quality, with a clear concession that handling prowess is going to have a detrimental effect, albeit a small one, on ride comfort. The others are ahead but the surprise is how well the loping Volvo handled everything, and that was without the Audiâ€™s extra air suspension.
The Audi does fight back when it comes to the engine though, with a smooth, linear and quiet delivery that is a step up from the Volvo â€“ not in fact that there is much wrong at all with the Volvoâ€™s powerplant. Weâ€™re not talking big margins here at all.
But then there is the Mercedes-Benz. Itâ€™s quiet and responsive and it allows you to really drive the car. For a big estate this is a lovely car to drive, with light, precise steering, and a sort of agile side to it you wouldnâ€™t expect and which is slightly missing from both of the others.
It pulls clear of the other two at the end of this test, but the Volvo isnâ€™t that far behind. And, while the Audi comes in third, itâ€™s still a mighty fine estate, but with a replacement a couple of years away itâ€™s showing its age in what is a rapidly developing sector of the market. Right now the E-Class Estate has it nailed, but if you like your big estates a bit different, then the Volvo V90 may surprise you.