Pit the new Audi A4 Avant against the well-loved Volvo V70 and guess who's tops
Wagon warfare The Audi A4 Avant (silver) entices with a lovely engine and sharp handling while the Volvo V70 boasts superior cabin and cargo space -- PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Think luxury station wagon and Volvo comes to mind for many. However, the Swedish marque's long-standing dominance in the segment is being challenged. 

It is probably no coincidence that Audi's new A4 Avant 2.0 costs exactly the same as the V70 2.5T. 

Both are wagons but their styling could not be more different. The V70 bears the traditional Volvo hallmarks of pointed snout, strong shoulder line and prominent tail lights. 

The A4 is lower, sleeker and a tad more elegant. 

The V70's cabin is typically Scandinavian, with its trademark floating console and minimalistic design. Large control knobs for the audio and air-conditioning mean easy accessibility when driving, an important safety consideration. 

Seats are well padded and supportive without being overly firm. 

The A4's interior offers a more luxurious ambience, with its liberal use of chrome and high-quality soft-touch plastics. It wins on appearance and opulence, though not on ergonomics. The fiddly air-conditioning buttons are small and set too low. 

Front seats are firmish and offer superior side bolster support. Adjustable cushion length is another plus point. 

Also quite different are their driving positions. You sit higher and have a commanding view in the V70. A large left foot rest and perfect shoulders-and-hips alignment mean perfect comfort. 

The A4's low-slung silhouette leads to a lower and sportier driving position. You instantly feel like driving it harder than you would the Volvo. And driving it hard is something most people would do. It is powered by the latest 2.0 TFSI engine, the same one fitted to the latest VW Golf GTI. With 211bhp, this engine gives the A4 lively acceleration, with the century sprint over in just 7.4 seconds. 

It is a pity that Audi has mated it with a multitronic continuously variable transmission instead of a double-clutch transmission. 

The V70 is a considerably bigger car, weighing about 200kg more. With 200bhp from a 2.5-litre turbocharged inline-5 engine, this wagon feels relatively sedate next to the sprightly Avant. Its zero to 100kmh takes 1.1 seconds longer. 

Though its ride and handling cannot be faulted, it definitely feels less nimble than the A4. The Audi also has the advantage of a choice of three driving modes to suit different moods. 

However, size has its benefits. The load area of the Volvo is truly cavernous. Besides being bigger, it has the right configuration. It is wide rather than just deep. This is crucial for golfers since golf bags can be carried transversely, with no need to risk a bad back by overstretching. 

The Avant's load area is narrower, with the usual German practice of having panels on both sides. The result is golf bags have to be placed diagonally. As if to make up for this deficiency, its luggage area is more luxuriously appointed. 

Buyers who just want a luxury workhorse would probably find the Volvo V70 a better proposition. Though somewhat slower and considerably thirstier, it offers superior passenger and cargo space. 

A driving enthusiast, however, would find the Audi A4 Avant more attractive. It has a lovely engine, sharper handling and an interior which will make buyers of some luxury cars green with envy.