Audi AG is playing its cards conservatively by tempering expectations for its newest model, the '06 A6 Avant.

While most auto makers would crow about volume growth, Audi says it expects the A6 Avant merely to maintain the modest 2,500-unit U.S. sales pace set by the S6 wagon and the old A6 Avant combined, both derived from the previous-generation A6.

After decades of decline, station wagons once again are gaining steam in the U.S. Sales totaled 291,048 units in '00, with 16 different models available, according to Ward's data. In '04, wagon sales surged to 380,279 units, with 24 different flavors in showrooms.

The A6 Avant offers SUV shoppers a more stylish alternative. The new body exudes emotion, with rounded features and the new signature “horse collar” Audi-family grille. The liftgate and D-pillars are steeply raked, giving the car an athletic demeanor, much like the new Dodge Magnum.

Inside, the car copies its A6 sedan brethren, with its driver-oriented cockpit. The A6 interior, although still a benchmark, demonstrates even luxury brands can be susceptible to cost pressures.

The A6 Avant comes with only one available engine at launch, the 3.2L V-6 (a 2005 Ward's 10 Best Engines winner) with FSI gasoline direct-injection technology. The engine is rated at 255 hp at 6,500 rpm and 243 lb.-ft. (329 Nm) of torque at 3,250 rpm. The engine is mated to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode “tiptronic” shifting.

During a test drive through the twisting roads of the Dolomite Alps, the 3.2L easily conquers the power variations demanded.

Engineers added a new optional adaptive air-suspension system (similar to that found on the Allroad) to the A6 Avant that uses Audi's typical 4-link front suspension layout with a trapezoidal-link independent rear setup adopted from the A8 and A6 sedans.

The A6 Avant takes Audi's wagon lineup to a new level, so it should at least meet the sales volumes of its predecessors.

Still, with a weak U.S. dollar and strong euro stalling Audi's attempts to grow A6 Avant share, it may be smart to downplay expectations — especially because the car will carry a base price of about $46,000 when it arrives this summer.

That's 13% higher than the '04's base price of $40,600.