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Audi A4 Avant vs. BMW 3-Series Wagon vs. Mercedes C-Class Wagon

waid10waid10 Posts: 21
edited April 13 in Audi
Hi, I am thinking of replacing my Toyota 4-Runner with a luxury type of wagon. My wife and I have a toddler as well as a golden retriever. I just don't need the towing capability of an SUV and would like better on-road driving (less of the truck-like handling that my 4Runner has). I also want better fuel efficiency.

I am in the beginning stages of my research. I haven't driven any wagons yet, but am a bit nervous about making the transition from an SUV. I will probably go with a used vehicle, in the range of a 2003-2006. I am going to look at the BMW 3 series wagon, BMW 5 series wagon, Audi A4 Avant, Audi A6 Avant, Mercedes C-Class wagons, Volvo V70, and Volvo XC70 (although I am leaning toward a German car).

Can anyone give me some insight on their experiences in making the same choice I am going through? Any thoughts on these cars? Advice?

Thanks in advance.


  • I cannot comment on the wagons you listed, but wanted to mentioned our experience in case that would be useful to consider.

    We were in the market to trade in my wife's 2001 330Xi sedan for a new 330Xi. She loved the way it drove, but her car was starting to experience mechanical problems and there was no warranty, so we wanted a new car.

    The BMW salesman encourged us to look at the X3. My wife liked the way it "felt" in the showroom. After a test drive, we were sold and bought one. My wife loves the way the X3 drives like a sedan, but has a higher seating position, more seating room, and much more utility than a sedan.

    The 4 Runner is truck based. You may want to consider a car based performance vehicle like the X3 as an option.

  • I had a 2002 A4 Avant that I absolutley loved - still miss that car. You do have some real pros and cons downsizing from a 4Runner to a small wagon.

    1) Rear seat legroom in the A4 and the 3 series (and I think the C class) is limited, especially if relatively tall people are sitting in front. I ultimately got rid of my A4 due to my increasingly long-legged older daughter complaining of feeling cramped. This should not be an issue with a toddler, but if you are the sort that keeps your cars a long time it will become so. This will be less of an issue in the larger A6/5 series/V70 if you go that route.

    2) Speaking as to the Audi, you will be floored at how much better it handles and drives than a truck based SUV. I'm sure the others are the same. Audis are wonderful in foul weather.

    3) Usable carrying capacity is pretty darn good in all of these. The BMW 5 series wagon has more cargo room than their X5 SUV by a good margin.

    4) Never own a European car out of warranty. While I think the reliability gap has narrowed a lot in recent years, the cars you mention above are all breathtakingly expensive to repair out of warranty.

    Hope this helps!
  • waid10waid10 Posts: 21

    Thanks for your thoughts. I am a bit concerned about the cargo room available in the A4 Avant/C-class wagon/325 wagon. I need to compare these with their larger siblings.

    Also, I am 6'3" and 215 pounds, so I need to make sure I am comfortable in the driver and passenger seats. I am comfortable in the driver seat of my 4runner for the most part, but feel cramped in the passenger seat. The wagon we pick will be our primary car for road trips so this is an important factor. Also, many of our road trips are to see family in the snow belt of northwest PA, so I need to be sure that these wagons are capable in snow. I am aware of Audi's reputation in the elements. I am not familiar with the capabilities of BMW's x-drive and Mercedes 4matic in bad weather.
  • I've been recently shopping for the same type of car, and had it narrowed down to those 8 as well. After test drive a few i chose the 5 series wagon, because it gets better mileage then the rest, handles better, and has the most complete options list. it just feels better to drive as well. I also like Idrive despite what most editors think. Once you learn it, you dont miss a conventional setup at all, and its capable of more. And as for winter performace, i have a quattro(audi awd system) equipped vehicle and its been great, but the new xdrive(bmw awd) is more advanced and from what i can tell is better. Edmunds reviewed the 530xi in the snow and thought it was.
    test drive it and try iDrive to see if you like it. if you do, i would definelty recomemnd it.
  • I'm also in the market to trade in my 2001 330xi for either a 2007 328xit or a 2007 X3. i have a 4yr old and a 7 month old. I also put in some fairly long drives visiting clients for work. Does anyone have any thoughts?

    My pro's and cons for each are as follows.

    Pro - better Navigation system with Traffic Updates
    - Easier to Park
    - Sportier, less body roll

    Con - Lousy cup holders
    - Cramped back seat(I'm 6 Foot and tend to keep the seat all the way back.

    pro - More storage space
    - More leg room in back
    - More Horse power

    Con - Worse MPG
    - Older design
    - May seem more ostentatious to some.

    I'm torn between the two. I'd appreciate an opinion on either car.

  • shiposhipo Posts: 9,152
    Regarding your "Pros" for the X3, you listed "More Horse Power", however, offsetting that extra power is also extra weight, 242 pounds to be exact. In order of horsepower the X3 is indeed the most powerful (260 HP) with the 328iT and 328xiT offering only 230. The other side of the coin is the power to weight ratio which ranks the cars as 328iT (15.34:1), X3 (15.43:1) and 328xiT (16.39:1). Then there is the gearing that allows these vehicles to accelerate. The order is still the same as the power to weight (6.5, 6.9, 7.1), however, the acceleration difference is fairly insignificant between the 328xiT and the X3.

    Best Regards,
  • Shipo,

    Thanks for the info.

    Which one would you choose?


  • shiposhipo Posts: 9,152
    Easy answer. I live in southern New Hampshire and we get LOTS of snow, so what I would order (and BTW, due to a new family member in the form of a yellow Lab puppy am seriously considering it) would be a 328iT (yes, a RWD version) 6-Speed Manual, PP, SP, Premium Audio and Xenon. Then, as its first winter approaches, I'd buy a full set of winter wheels and tires and keep on trucking. For my needs, wants and desires, AWD need not apply. ;-)

    Best Regards,
  • I don't have experience with all the vehicles, but I just passed my 2004 MDX onto my wife and was comparing the A4 Avant with the 328xi. Being a prior satisfied Audi owner, I was trying to decide between the 2.0 and the 3.2. But then I saw a comparison test between the A4 and the 328xi and decided I needed to test drive that vehicle. Back when I bought my 96 A4 the 3 series was to small for my likes, but I was surprised to find that the 2007 was a much larger vehicle. I researched the cars so closely that my wife contacted my psychiatrist to see if I should change my meds. After test driving each of the cars 3 times and contacted a dozen Audi dealers and 11 BMW dealers I found:

    1) The Audi A4 2.0 is a wonderful car but pales in comparison to the 3.2 (both with a sport suspension of course). There is simply no comparison. Go with the 3.2 and you'll never be sorry. However, when it comes to overall performance (not just straight line thrust) the BMW was an easy pick. Even my wife understood the difference after driving the cars, and she's been known to back into mail boxes!

    2) If you like an interior with all the bells and whistles, go with the Audi. For me, it just is not that important. The question is: does it make it a better driving car? Alright it is hard to see how heated seats make the car drive better, but here in the Northwest, but it really does.

    3) Audi dealers are much more willing to negotiate a good price over invoice than the BMW dealers.

    4) Both the cars are being ordered by the dealers with all the extras on them: driving up the price (above my budget). You are best to negotiate a deal with a dealer based on a specific dollar amount for a car on the lot, and then hold them to the number and special order the car you want. I even argue that they should sell it for less because there is no risk to them if I special order it, but I haven't succeed there yet.

    Funny thing is that I found a stripped down BMW 328xi at a local dealer who matched the best offer I had so far. First time I had bought from a local dealer for 17 years.

    As for switching back to a smaller car: my 328xi is a bigger car than my 96 A4 (and is more comfortable than a 2007 A4), and the MDX was always too big for me (5' 11" 195 lbs). The 328xi fits like a comfortable pair of shoes, not one that I hope can grow into someday, and the all wheel drive functions like it should: you don't know it's there, it just does its job. With the MDX I always knew when the AWD kicked in (after the wheels started to slip of course).
  • patpat Posts: 10,421
    Very helpful post, thanks. :)
  • I am glad I could help
  • Folks, I am looking at the 2003-2004 325xi or 2004-2005 1.8 A4. Both in wagon form (dogs). They both have
    1) AWD
    2) Manual tranny (essential)

    BMW is reputed to be more reliable than Audi. But it's a lot slower (they fixed it in 2006 but it's too expensive).
    I realize I would have to get an extended warranty no matter what choice I make, but I would like to minimize the risk of getting stuck on, say, I-70 in the middle of Winter. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
  • I'm glad to see there are others out there trying to make this decision. I am in need of a car with a split personality:

    1) daily commuter car (i.e., decent MPG)
    2) that will double as dog/kiddy transport on weekends (wagon/SUV storage), and
    3) that will also be our "night on the town/adult" car, the car we'll use to go to weddings or use when we go to dinner with another couple (which means I'd like it to be a "nice" car with a decent back seat).

    After finding "new" cars cost-prohibitive, I narrowed the field down to a pre-owned (2004-2006) Audi A4 or A6 Avant (wagon), a 3- or 5-Series wagon, or an x3.

    For starters, I don't think the larger A6 or 5-Series are going to fit into my budget; they are hard to find to begin with, and tend to be in the $30k+ range (I'd love to stay under $25k).

    I test drove a 2006 A4 Avant. I loved it. I came home from the drive humming about how that was the car for us, done deal. I even emailed 15 dealers online via Audi's website and eBay Motors, located a beauty in NJ, and drove 90 minutes to see it. Then I once again sat in the back seat, in the light of day, and realized that it was a non-starter for me - you can't ask an adult to sit back there for any length of time. I am 6' tall, and couldn't sit with my knees straight or get it without hitting my knees on the seat; my wife 5' 8" had similar troubles. Killed me because I loved the car, but it's just tiny in the back.

    By comparison, I sat in the back of a 3-series (albeit the sedan model because there was no wagon in the lot) and it was actually comfortable - it's maybe 3 inches bigger, but it makes all the difference in the world.

    Two things are concerning me about just going for the 3-series wagon. First, I am a city driver with little need for ground clearance or offroading capability, but at the same time we do get 3-4 weeks of snow cover a year, and I HATE bottoming-out my car doing everyday tasks - driving up my driveway or into a parking lot. Second, I will be having kids (with luck) during the life of this car, and while I have no personal experience I am told that lifting an infant in/out of an SUV is a lot easier than lifting one out of a sedan or wagon (I should add that I have a cranky back, so this is pretty important).

    This brings me to the x3. I drove it and it was nice. There are plenty out there and for better prices than the 325xi (I've been looking at 05 and 06 models). I think the only things holding me back right now is that it's not great on gas (a factor that started me looking to downsize), and I kind of like the idea of being a bit "different" by having a wagon-that-can-drive-like-a-sports-sedan.

    I am at a standstill right now. Thoughts? Other options? Words of encouragement?
  • laurasdadalaurasdada Posts: 2,591
    Just a thought, and many may find this a four letter word, but: Saab 9-5 Wagon or 9-3 Sport Combi (wagon)? Sorry, family had a couple of quirky Saab 99's in the '70s and we had a '95 900 so I've got a soft spot in my heart for Saabs. Fun and functional. And for my family at least, reliable... And I'm sure you could get a deal.

    '13 Jaguar XF, '11 BMW 535xi, '02 Lexus RX300

  • Bryan, I hear you brother. It sounds like you and I are searching for the same automobile. In my case it's my wife's car. Her lease is up on her Freestyle in one month. She likes the vehicle (size, cargo) but I'm indifferent. I'd prefer better gas mileage and a vehicle (with cargo) a bit smaller so as she can't keep half a garage worth of junk in it. I also think she can get by on FWD vs AWD to improve MPG. I'm driving an '07 X3. I LOVE the thing. MPG has been decent to very good. Around town I get 19-21 and avg anywhere from 24-27 hwy depending on how loaded down I am and if A/C is running. I call those very decent numbers for a very fun vehicle to drive. My bluetooth behaves wacky but otherwise it's a perfect vehicle for me. Note that prior to the X3 I had a 325xi. Great car to drive but the tires (RFTs) sucked; had 3 sets within the first 20k miles. I also found the car a tad small for me (I'm 6'2") with too small a trunk. For the wife I've been searching CPO cars for a 2004 A6 Avant or a 2004 or 2005 9-5 wagon. I really like the looks of both and think I could live with them (i.e. not tire of 'em) for several years. They both get reasonable mpg (Saab>Audi but that's FWD v AWD for you), have ample cargo, and have the feature and fun-to-drive factor. I have one child so it all works for me. The wife likes the heighth of an SUV (i.e. Saturn Vue, Taurus X) but the mpg, and lack of fun-to-drive don't entice me.
  • It's been a brutal week in car-search land. We've been visiting relatives in Florida all week (I live in NY) and thought this would be a perfect week to find a car and, if we bought one, drive it home. Didn't go so good. The 2005 BMW 3-Series Wagon that I thought was the answer to my problems turned out to be a non-starter - I couldn't possibly put my 95+ lb. dog in the back of the car without the seats going down, which sort of defeats the purpose (at least for us). While the back looks long enough, it slants so severely, so quickly after the "end" of the back seats, that a tall dog can't really fit back there.

    We then took a test drive in a 2005 Mercedes E-Series wagon - a car we never would have considered except that we were working with a dealership that my in-laws use (and love - for what it's worth, Mitch and Jason at Melbourne FL Mercedes/Audi/Porsche are solid guys that I recommend to anyone). We loved the car so much - so smooth, so darn nice inside - that both the wife and I were fully willing to overlook the grandma-ish styling and sat down to talk price. He handed me the Carfax and . . . for the first time I realized I was looking at a RWD wagon, not 4Matic (Mercedes' AWD). In the Northeast no one would consider such a thing; in FL, that's all they drive. So, we were back to square one. My wife, inexplicably, doesn't want a wagon - any wagon. She doesn't like the looks of the Audi A4 Avant or allroad. She thinks the Volvo V50 is lame. She thinks Suburu's are "Vermont Mommy Cars." She would "think" about a Volvo XC70, but try to get her to look at one and . . . not real motivated. For some reason, she's just not into the BMW X3, yet likes the X5. I am at a loss.

    As an aside, we were at the dealership and our friend Mitch put us in a FWD Audi A4. Again, not a car I would have considered initially - we were looking for a sedan/SUV compromise in a wagon (or at least I was) - but it was just a great car to drive. The back seats are usually too tight for me (6'1") but we were finally able to figure out the front seat adjustments and it was fine (this was a 2006; I've been in a 2004 before, and I think you lose a few inches). Anyway, we loved the car and almost pulled the trigger before calmer heads prevailed and steered us back to task - buying a wagon/SUV.

    At this point, I've exhausted the options in the low-end luxury field, and am back to the usual suspects - Honda and Toyota, names I hesitate to even raise on a board like this. I think we're going to opt to replace our CRV with yet another CRV, though we'll spring for the leather and heated seats. It's tremendously depressing, but I think it's the right thing to do right now.

    Next car search starts in 5 months . . . Good luck all.
  • badnewsbadnews Posts: 14
    Wow I thought this thread died a year ago. Just an update and general response to some of the issues raised - not in any particular order.

    Wives don't drive Sport Wagons. They see them as station wagons, as my sister says, "like Mom always had to drive". Many woman always make remarks about men and their cars, but I think we are in fact more practical. Even if practical is which car can I drive faster in the mountains. Women buy SUV sometimes because they say they need the room when in fact a van always holds more, is easier to load and unload and is easier to drive. So don't be surprised if she doesn't get it when it comes to wagons. Remind her that it is the more sophisticated choice - "it is what all the europeans drive".

    As far as big dogs go, if you need room behind the second row for a dog over 45 lbs forget it.

    I've had my 07 328xi Sport Wagon for a year and here are some observations. When I bought my car I did not focus on the runflats. Having had them, I am not a big fan. If all you do is drive in urban areas or within 100 miles of a BMW dealer I don't think they are a problem. As far as wear is concerned, they should not wear any quicker than similar tread designed regular tires. There were some problems with certain Bridgestone OEM, but they are being replace for free if they show irregular wear in the first 10K miles under warranty.

    After a year of driving I love my car more today than I did when I bought it. I do miss some of the bells and whistles of the A4, but I could have bought some of them as options if I hadn't been so cheap.

    Occasionally I long for the additional hp of the A4 3.2.

    While I might not buy an A4 this year because the model is changing. I also would definitely not buy the new one in the first year of production. There will be many problems with the new car.

    As for the A6 or 5 series wagons, they are much bigger and much more expensive. I don't need the bigger car and couldn't afford one anyway. I like the way the smaller car drives. Again I have no experience with Mercedes or Saab. I did test drive the last version of the Volvo V70, but they have a new model this year so I can't be any help. They do not seem to be any cheaper than BMW or Audi.

    Before you buy check model specific websites. E90 Post is a great one for the 3 series and will give you all you need to know about the car and how to save money buying one. You can also get great deals on complete replacement wheels and tires with little or no mileage for cheap. Crazy BMW owners are always changing out their wheels as soon as they buy their cars.
  • fzzlfzzl Posts: 3
    I have an '08 328xi wagon. In the month or so that i've had it, i've gotten around 17mpg. I live in a pretty hilly area, so that probably explains the somewhat disappointing mpg, generally i get much better mileage on the highway (in the 25mpg range or so). I'm about 6ft, and with the seat adjustments i fit fine (if i don't lower the seat i can push my head into the roof). I test drove a handful of cars - infinity fx35, audi a4 wagon, subaru outback wagon and bmw wagon. The bmw wagon was by far the best driving experience. It was also the most comfortable. That being said, it was also the most expensive. It definitely drives more like a car than a wagon or suv, which i think is a good thing. The back is fairly tight, but i've sat in it to test it out and it seems fine for me (again, I'm 6ft, with fairly long legs). It's not an expedition, but it's not super-cramped either.
    Price-wise, you're probably better off going with a used audi based simply on this: I see a million A4 avants driving around but hardly any bmw wagons. If you go to a bmw dealer, you probably won't have many wagon options, though you'll have plenty of sedan options. With supply/demand laws being as they are, you'll be able to get a much better deal on a used audi avant than a used bmw wagon, as there are a lot more of them around. That being said, i think the extra $ for the bmw is worth it. With respect to the mercedes wagons, i have noticed that they are significantly larger, but they seem a lot more "boaty" to me. But mercs generally don't appeal to me that much anyway.
  • lglawlglaw Posts: 3
    just found this site after a full saturday of driving cars. have been driving saabs for 20 yrs.. have a 9-3 combi which I have been satisfied with but my 18 yr old daughter thinks there not cool and my wife wants a change. looked at the A4 avant, bmw328xi wagon and infiniti ex - the infiniti is too stylized for me, the A4 and bmw felt pretty similar but I did not sit in the back seat and have been reading all over the web that the space in the back seat is an issue - the bmw is pricey but they seemed to be willing to be aggressive with leasing deals(maybe because the economy is having an effect even at the luxury end sales) - my concern is whether the storage space in the bmw is comparable to my 9-3 which has always seemed pretty spacious for a non-suv - if the audi backseat is a real problem than I'm down to the bmw v. saab 9-3 or 9-5 - any thoughts if you guys are still out there
  • bwphotonbwphoton Posts: 2
    Thanks for your info. I am in the same boat as the others deciding between Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3 series Wagon. 1st of all, are they comparable? ( i.e. 3 series is the comparison and not the 5 series wagon?) Any further thoughts since January of 08? Should I consider X3 SUV also along w/ BMW wagon?

    (I am also considering Audi Q7 and BMW X5 if decide to go w/ 3rd seat option).

    Thanks so much.
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