Remember when the BMW 3 Series seemed unassailable in the UK and the rest of the European region? The latest Audi A4, which is especially popular as a wagon, is now outselling the Mercedes-Benz C-Class as well as the 3er.

There is a fascinating battle going on for the number one spot in the premium priced segments of the British market. While Audi usually has the monthly numbers, BMW has in fact just pulled ahead, with Mercedes not far behind. What’s going on? Audi has strong products but it has really needed the only recently released new A4 Avant to take on the 3 Series Touring and C-Class Estate.

Totals for the UK market as at 31 July are BMW in the lead with 101,309 cars delivered, followed by Audi with 101,103 and Mercedes-Benz on 100,253. The three-pointed star outsold Audi in July (11,650 versus 11,582) but BMW didn’t have too good a month: 9,699. JLR is no doubt taking sales from all three, with Land Rover having sold 47,441 vehicles in the same seven-month period (+22%) and Jaguar‘s XE being the big reason for that brand’s 57% YoY surge to 19,236 registrations. Yet without an estate, the XE has effectively got one hand tied behind its back.

The other place to have a close look to see how the big three players are doing is their home market. There, Audi is clearly the meister. In July, it was ahead of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with the numbers being 26,386, 25,442 and 19,924. VW of course remains a firm number one (56,958 deliveries in July), followed by Audi, then Mercedes, and then Ford, which pushed BMW into fifth position ahead of Opel. 

Year to date, Audi has sold 185,887 vehicles in Germany (+11%), compared to 182,311 for Mercedes-Benz (+8%) and 154,754 for BMW (+8%). Given those numbers, no surprise then to learn that the A4 is now the top seller in the D segment (sales up by 19% YtD). It even outsold the VW Polo (6,267, -4% YoY) in July and was the German market’s number three behind the Golf (18,300 sales, -28%) and Passat (7,380, -35%). 

To give the A4’s numbers some other perspective, the C-Class sank by 22% in July but it’s still ahead of the A4 over the first seven months (39,248 Vs 38,441) but that pecking order will likely change by the end of August. As for the 3 Series, its sales total are 25,994. In July, the VW Transporter (4,069), Skoda Octavia (4,173) and even MINI (all models combined: 4,058) were more popular: 3er deliveries numbered 3,910. And to show just how far the 3 Series has fallen, July’s total was a strong performance, given what’s being happening in recent years: the car’s registrations were up by 36% compared to July 2015.

As we know, wagons can account for as much as 90% of many models’ sales, with the Passat perhaps the best example of that. Given that fact, the major gain for the Audi A4 can be explained. The new Avant should also give the car an especially big boost in the UK, especially with the 1 September registration plate change only weeks away.

As well as the obvious buyer loyalty factor, the new generation model will inevitably attract those for whom a big boot is a must. The Avant has 505 litres of space in its luggage compartment. This is not only a gain of 15 cubic litres on the old model but ten and fifteen more than the 3 Series Touring and C-Class Estate respectively. This rises to 1,510 litres when the rear seats are folded.

Average weight is said to be 120kg less than the previous A4 and much of that comes from the use of aluminium (roof) and hot-formed steel for the body structure. The Volkswagen Group’s MLB architecture, as also used by the larger A6, is the basis for the AU491 series A4 range, which not only includes the sedan and Avant but the allroad, the S4 models and China’s long wheelbase L sedan. An RS 4 should be added in 2017. The S4 sedan and Avant are powered by a 260kW (354PS) turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine. Torque is 500Nm.

Engine choice for the A4 range* is as follows:

  •  90kW (122hp) 1,968cc 2.0 TDI – four-cylinder diesel
  • 110kW (150hp) & 250Nm 1,395cc 1.4 TFSI – four-cylinder petrol
  • 110kW (150hp) & 320Nm 1,968cc 2.0 TDI – four-cylinder diesel
  • 140kW (190hp) & 320Nm 1,984cc 2.0 TFSI ultra – four-cylinder petrol
  • 140kW (190hp) & 400Nm 1,968cc 2.0 TDI – four-cylinder diesel
  • 160kW (218hp) & 400Nm 2,967cc 3.0 TDI – V6 diesel
  • 185kW (248hp) & 370Nm 1,984cc 2.0 TFSI – four-cylinder petrol
  • 200kW (272hp) & 600Nm 2,967cc 3.0 TDI – V6 diesel

For the four- and six-cylinder diesels, the AdBlue reservoir has a capacity of 12 litres but you can have double that volume as an option. Curiously, when I checked the diesel tank’s volume I discovered the spec said it’s just 40 litres but the Avant I reviewed had a no-cost optional 54-litre tank. 

Cars with four-cylinder engines have a standard six-speed manual gearbox, with a dual clutch optional (S tronic). The former CVT (Multitronic) has been discontinued and replaced by the S tronic. The 3.0 TDI with 600Nm has a standard eight-speed tiptonic (torque converter automatic).

A small but interesting note concerning North America’s model range: the US importer announced the initial line-up in July 2015 for its 2017 model year A4 sedan range (the Avant is not offered in that region). This was to consist of the 2.0 TFSI and the 2.0 TDI but plans to offer the diesel have since been dropped.

The car I tried was powered by the 190PS 2.0-litre diesel in combination with the S tronic gearbox. Putting 400Nm through just the front tyres overstretched them on occasion, so given the choice, I’d opt instead for quattro drive. Other than that, it was tough to find much about the Avant which warranted criticism, and there are so many satisfying things about it, from the solid thunk of the doors, to the clever electrically powered parcel shelf which glides out of the way as the tailgate lifts.

Priced from GBP34,745, the 190PS A4 Avant 2.0 TDI returns an official 57.6mpg on the Urban cycle, has a top speed of 143mph and a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds. Its CO2 average is 116g/km.

*German market