Road test Audi A6 Avant quattro, by Roger Bell
The perfect car? There's no such thing. One set of wheels cannot embrace all the incompatible attributes of, say, a classic Ferrari, a Transit van, a Rolls-Royce Seraph, a Caterham Seven, a Mini Cooper and a Land Rover - a fleet to satisfy most whims.

The perfect compromise, then? Now that's easier. A diluted melange of the petrolhead's dream team is not so far-fetched. If you seek a car that's all things to all (well-heeled) people - a car more than passably endowed with comfort, refinement, exclusivity, fun, space, practicality, agility and freedom - look no further than Audi's mid-sized, V6-powered, four- wheel drive A6 estate, officially known as the 2.8 Avant quattro.

Subtle changes in form and line have turned the latest A6 estate from a good-looking car into a stunning one. Few coupes are more glamorous. While high style was a design priority, it's not been achieved by sacrificing much space. There are roomier luxury estates, but anything that can compete as a cargo carrier with Volvo's V70, even a C-class Merc, is not going to frustrate the heavy packer.

The Avant has a simple seat-fold arrangement that doesn't tax your strength or dexterity, and there's plenty of thoughtful detailing, including a ski hatch, tie-down eyes, an under-floor recess, a roll-up dog guard, even optional rear-facing seats. Only on rear kneeroom is the A6 found lacking.

So much for practicalities. But how does it drive? If not the quickest of the performance estates, the A6 quattro is hardly short on pep (speed freaks dissatisfied with an autobahn-eating 144mph should wait for the faster 230bhp bi-turbo). Power comes from a 2.8-litre V6 engine that drives all four wheels.

Quattro transmission, manual or automatic, doesn't make the Audi a mud- plugging off-roader, but it does enable it to negotiate fields and slippery ascents that might beat ordinary cars. More to the point, 4x4 endows the speedy A6 with ultra-safe traction and handling. Every car has its cornering and braking limits, but nothing short of provocative recklessness is going to breach those of the A6 quattro. For grip, composure and security, this Audi has few peers.

There's more than a soupcon of comfort and plush, too. I found the cabin decor attractive, the front seats excellent, the suspension tolerably supple and the quietness impressive. The smooth engine emits no more than a muted hum, and wind whoosh - suppressed by well-sealed doors and windows - is low. In line with Audi's declared aim of taking on the grandees in the luxury sector, build quality is first class.

You will gather that I took a shine to the A6 Avant quattro. It has so much going for it, and so little against, I cannot name a better all-rounder, a more appealing dream-team compromise. Snags? Price for a start, though at pounds 32,000 it undercuts Volvo's faster, roomier V70R AWD. Other than dashboard confusion - between them, the adjacent climate and audio panels account for more than 40 orange focal points - that's about it. A great car.

Audi 2.8 A6 Avant quattro, From pounds 31,780.

Engine: 2,711cc, 30-valve V6, 193bhp. Transmission: 5-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 144mph; 0-60mph in 8.1 seconds; 26.2mpg (EC average).


BMW 528 SE Touring, from pounds 32,930. The car Audi's 2.8 Avant must beat. High-profile prestige holdall with wide choice of engines, from 2.0 to 4.0 V8 - plus in-between diesel. Not the roomiest big estate, but one of the best looking. Great to drive.

Mercedes-Benz E320 T Elegance, from pounds 40,890. Big, roomy, beautifully made. Size and weight belied by punchy new V6 engine and nifty handling. High price offset by low depreciation.

Volvo V70R AWD, from pounds 36,780. Big, roomy, all-wheel-drive Volvo is very fast with 250bhp turbocharged engine. Only five cylinders but smooth and aurally uplifting. Fine driver's car marred by drab interior, boxy styling and thirst for fuel. Safe, entertaining handling.