2009 Audi A4 Avant: Conestoga Wagon?
May 07, 2009
There's just something endlessly appealing about the wagon. It's that magical expression of utility, only in something that doesn't look like a box.
Though we make fun of a wagon's domesticity, it never really goes out of style, does it? Think of the enduring good taste expressed by the Volvo wagon through the decades. Even the 1955 Studebaker Conestoga Wagon that I saw on the streets of Santa Monica the other night still looks pretty interesting. (Yes, Studebaker was the original manufacturer of the Conestoga wagon back when horsepower was literal and not figurative.)
But let's not get too heated up by the practicality of a wagon. Plenty of people will tell you that a wagon can take the place of a crossover, yet I'm not too sure. And the dimensions of the 2009 Audi A4 Avant make the point.
When you go looking for utility in a wagon, you look at the rear seat and the cargo area. After all, you're going to carry things, which is why you're thinking about the wagon configuration in the first place.
Audi makes it a little hard to sort through these parameters because it doesn't publish a number for rear seat legroom, a number that seems to perfectly express spaciousness to us. Apparently the car industry can't agree on a formula for determining a standard measurement, so Audi simply declines to participate in the charade. And the same goes for EPA interior volume, which is an equally tangled subject.
So let's use wheelbase as fundamental baseline of spaciousness, and we'll put the A4 Avant in context by comparing it to the Audi A3 5-door and the Audi Q5 crossover. The wheelbase of the A3 measures 101.5 inches, the A4 Avant's wheelbase measures 110.6 inches and the Audi Q5's wheelbase is rated at 110.5 inches.
When it comes to cargo capacity, the A3 affords 13.1 cubic feet with the second-row seat upright and 36.0 cubic feet when the second-row seat folded flat. The A4 Avant has 17.3 cubic feet with the second row upright and 50.5 cubic feet with the second seat flat. And the Q5 has 29.1 cubic feet with the second-row in place and 57.3 cubic feet when the second row folded flat.
The way I see it, the A4 Avant has a lot more rear-seat legroom than the A3, but not much more cargo room when the second seat is upright. The A4 Avant has much the same rear-seat room as a Q5, but significantly less cargo capacity when the second-row seat is upright. Once you fold the A4 Avant's seat, then its cargo capacity is surprisingly close to the Audi Q5.
So where does that leave us?
The Audi A4 is a spacious package for people, but it's not a miracle of Conestoga-style, cargo-toting wagon goodness when it comes to carrying things around every day. Truth to tell, an A4 sedan is a better deal, because the Avant's 17.3 cubic feet is calculated using a measurement that goes to the ceiling, and unless you buy the optional screen to keep stuff from falling into the rear seat, much of the space is no better than an illusion. In fact, the A4 sedan's carefully contained 16.9 cubic-feet in the trunk looks more useful in comparison. But when you've got some more serious cargo in mind, then the A4 Avant will carry a lot of it, some 50.4 cubic feet. This compares very well with the Q5's 57.3 cubic feet.
What we're talking about with the A4 Avant is more like usefulness rather than abstract utility. The wagon is a good compromise, but only a compromise. A crossover is a far better choice for families because it maximizes capacity on a daily basis, though at the price of a 4,178-pound package that negatively affects fuel economy. The A4 Avant is a little more useful than a sedan on a daily basis, but only because its cargo area offers a flat load floor and a large opening. And the 3,814-pound A4 Avant also drives more like the 3,461-pound A3 5-door than a crossover.
So let's agree that a wagon is usually more fun to drive than a crossover, but let's also recognize that it can't measure up to the crossover when it comes to, you know, Euclidean geometry. A wagon is a sedan with an extra dimension of usefulness; it's not a Conestoga wagon, no matter what the marketing message might be.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 13,440 miles.