I was struck by a sense of déjà vu during the launch presentation of the new Audi A4 Avant.
It seems Audi, too, is hoping to get more buyers out of SUVs and other impractical vehicles and into its new A4 Avant. This is for a number of reasons, better fuel consumption and reduced emissions being the biggest two.
Mercedes-Benz recently said something very similar at the launch of its C-Class Estate, arguing this would be the all-rounder to get people out of two cars and into its one practical wagon.
And in both cases, the arguments are pretty sound. Despite their limited appeal to South African buyers, station wagons are very cool.
Audi's new A4 Avant is no exception. It's roomy - larger in fact than its key rivals with a longer wheelbase, overall length and luggage space - and it's sexy.
At an overall length of 4.7 m (longer by 12 cm than the previous model), the Avant is quite long, but clever styling with neat creases and deceptive curves make it appear a lot smaller. However, open the tail hatch to realise just how much space is available - the rear load area is simply cavernous.
Load space grows from 490 l with the rear seats up to 1 430 l. It also comes with the requisite hooks and a netted recess, while Audi's telescopic arm makes its first appearance in this segment that allows bars to be arranged on a system of rails to prevent objects sliding about.
The rear cargo floor is reversible, with a soft velour finish and a hard plastic bin useful for storing wet and messy items.
Compared with its predecessor, the Avant's posture is also greatly improved. The front overhang is shorter, and along with the lengthened wheelbase, makes for a wagon that is rather sporty.
Mechanically, this Avant is identical to the sedan launched two months ago, and shares its engine line-up - the 1.8 TFSI and 2.0 TDI units.
The turbocharged 1.8-litre unit with direct injection produces 118 kW and 250 Nm, while the 2.0 TDI develops 105 kW and a peak torque figure of 320 Nm from 1 750 to 2 500 r/min.
Prospective owners again have a choice of either six-speed manual or eight-speed Multitronic transmission.
Audi claims combined consumption figures of 7.2 l/100 km for the manual 1.8 TFSI and 7.6 l/100 km for the automatic.
The turbodiesel reportedly uses 5.7- and 6.0 l/100 km when fitted with the manual and Multitronic tansmissions, respectively.
On the road
We had the chance to drive the manual turbodiesel and automatic petrol models on the launch, and both proved to be infinitely drivable.
All launch cars were fitted with the optional Audi Drive Select with three modes - Comfort, Auto and Dynamic - to adjust suspension settings, throttle response and steering weighting to suit driving conditions.
The manual gearbox ensures clean shifts while the turbodiesel engine created enough oomph to sling the 1.5 ton wagon out of the tightest corners.
Mated with the Multitronic continuously variable transmission, the gutsy turbocharged 1.8-litre was just a gleeful racing down clear straights.
But in town driving, the Avants remained composed, comfortable and quiet the entire time.
And even though the A4 Avant has grown in many ways, and it has a much stiffer construction, it is up to 10% lighter than before.
This is, dare I say it, the best handling station wagon in the premium B-segment at the moment. Not that these cars are designed to be road fiends, but isn't it reassuring to know that it will respond with gusto when required?
For now, all units are front-wheel driven with the introduction of quattro permanent all-wheel drive subject to customer demand.
Unlike the sedan, only the mid- and high-end Ambition and Ambiente trim levels are offered, although with a comprehensive range of standard equipment.
The list of optionals includes many first-in-segments such as Lane Assist (lane departure warning), Side Assist (a blind spot indicator), adaptive cruise control, and a Bang and Olufsen audio system derived from the unit used in Audi's flagship A8.
Starting prices for Ambition models are:
1.8T FSI manual - R303 400
1.8T FSI multitronic - R318 400
2.0 TDI manual - R327 900
2.0 TDI multitronic - R342 900
The S-Line styling package, with subtle exterior and interior styling tweaks, is optional.
* Audi's new 155-kW 2.0 TFSI, which uses AVS valvelift technology, joins the line-up from October. A multitronic version will be added in January 2009.