We're not talking about the myriad of premium sport utilities. There is, indeed, a vast assortment of mouth-watering hardware in the luxury SUV segment, but high-riding heavyweights are not as enthusiastically embraced as they once were.
If you need family passenger room and cargo space, but eschew the thought of driving another not-quite-politically correct SUV or even a more moderate crossover, you have several options that should meet your needs, especially if your family's demand for hauling people is no more than five.
Saab has a nice rendition of a hatchback called the SportCombi. That's at the lower end of the segment. Moving up, the Mercedes E-Class wagon makes an even bigger statement. And BMW has a delightful 5-Series Sport Wagon that will surely turn heads.
Today we will discuss another very stylish German wagon starting at $49,775, the Audi A6 Avant that features eye-catching exterior styling, perhaps the most attractive and highest quality interior in the segment and standard all-wheel drive.
The current iteration of the A6 entered the marketplace as a 2006 model and lives in 2008 as one of the most stylish premium wagons on the planet.
There's simply no need to abandon the driving dynamics of a sedan to get extra storage space, bad-weather highway proficiency and a semblance of good gas mileage. Luxury and utility can neatly come together in a sleek package that can make your visit to the gas pumps an event and not a habit.
What you won't get - and you won't get it in most SUVs or crossovers for that matter - is blazing speed or cutting-edge sports-sedan cornering capabilities.
We spent a week in a 2008 Audi A6 Avant 3.2 quattro and we discovered that those people who measure their machines in seconds, like 0-to-60 and quarter miles, may be disappointed.
Their disappointment will likely abate, however, after they spend some time behind the wheel of the A6.
It has a solid, competent feel, the driver cocooned in a cockpit that delivers everything the owner of a luxury vehicle has come to expect including impeccably executed surroundings.
The A6 Avant is powered by a 3.1-liter V-6 rated at 255 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic - their version of an automatic with real shifting capabilities.
When you figure the wagon weighs in at about 4,200 pounds, the mid-sized Audi doesn't have the best power-to-weight ratio in the luxury hatchback universe. Never-the-less the Audi displays wonderful automotive manners as it surges from a stoplight or easily merges into traffic making its borderline power numbers mostly forgotten in a vault-solid and tasteful interior.
Steering is supremely accurate, and we can't think of a better vehicle for a cruise on the interstate in comfort and solitude.
For the record, the A6 Avant has been measured from 0-to-60 in 7.3 seconds and features a pedal-to-the-metal quarter mile time of 15.6 seconds at 90 miles per hour according to the manufacturer. Ask the engine to work and it responds with a low, but pleasing, throaty growl.
When you figure the Audi may have been chosen as a replacement for the mid-sized sport utility, the performance numbers grow in impressiveness.
Another number you may like is gas mileage - 17 city and 25 highway using the more stringent 2008 numbers. And Audi says regular 87 octane gas is acceptable, but recommends premium for peak performance.
If you've abandoned your gas-guzzling SUV you will not have sacrificed much cargo space. The Audi has 34 cubic feet of luggage capacity behind the seats and nearly 60 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats folded. The cargo space comes with floor rails with adjustable tie-down points.
Like its German counterparts, the A6 is outfitted with a vehicle management system, in this case called Multi Media Interface, which controls entertainment, communication and navigation through a hand-held controller mounted on the console between the seats.
We have come to the regrettable conclusion that these tedious devices are here to stay. Fortunately, the Audi's version is more intuitive than the BMW iDrive and the Mercedes COMMAND system. We managed to accomplish audio functions and elicit information from the navigation system without resorting to the owner's manual.
Even so, the owner would be advised to spend a couple of evenings reading about the finer points of Multi Media. There are things that only book learning will reveal.
Safety is always an important consideration in any car purchase, and as you might expect from a vehicle starting at 50 grand, the A6 Avant is loaded with standard features.
Included are four-wheel antilock brakes, stability control, tire-pressure monitoring system and front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags. Equally important is the Quattro or all-wheel drive system. Important to know is that the Audi has earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's top ratings for both frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
As you might expect, standard equipment abounds including wood and leather adorned interior, 12-way heated driver's seat, Sirius satellite radio, power glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, audio system with six-disc changer, electronic cruise control and tilt and telescoping steering wheel.
So what more can you want?
Aha. That's where Audi will grab you, turn you upside down and shake you until money starts falling out of your pockets. The options list is long and rather tasty. There is, indeed, more to be had.
Our test car, for instance, came with several pricey options including premium package, technology package, navigation and adaptive cruise control bringing the bottom line to $60,915.
The premium package for $2,550 brings a brilliant sounding Bose surround sound audio system, power tailgate, memory seats and bi-xenon headlights. Technology for $2,500 adds a voice control system for audio and navigation, advanced parking system with rearview camera and cornering lights.
Our test car also came with upgraded Milano leather and 19-inch alloy wheels with performance tires.
To Audi's credit, most items can be purchased separately and do not have to be bundled.
But however you outfit your Audi - the base car works just fine in our estimation - you will have a stylish and fuel-efficient alternative to the sport utility vehicle.
DATA BOX 2008 Audi A6 Avant
Base price, $49,775; as driven, $60,915
Engine: 3.1-liter V-6
Horsepower: 255 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 243 foot-pounds @ 3,250 rpm
Wheelbase: 111.9 inches
Length: 194.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,167 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Cargo capacity: 60 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons (regular)
0-60: 7.3 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: BMW 5-Series wagon, Mercedes E-Class wagon
All-wheel drive is standard equipment
Quality interior craftsmanship
Better gas mileage than mid-sized SUV
Could use bigger V-6 engine
Options can send reasonable 50 grand base price into the stratosphere