Rumours of the midsize wagon's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, Audi discontinued the A4 Avant back in 2012, but the automaker didn't miss a beat filling that gap with the A4 Allroad just one model year later. The Allroad is pretty much identical to the wagon, but comes with a slightly taller suspension and ruggedized appearance designed to boost its appeal in a market that increasingly prefers small SUVs to station wagons.
The Audi A4 Allroad quattro is back for the 2017 model year with an all-new design based on that of the new-generation A4 sedan which also recently debuted. I hit the road in a shiny new example with the gorgeous open spaces and mountain ranges of Wyoming as my backdrop. Of course, not all of those roads were paved and the tall wagon wasn't so shiny by the time I returned.
The Audi A4 (T)Allroad
The most obvious difference between the sedan and Allroad variants of the Audi A4 is the latter's wagon profile and the additional capacity and utility that come with its hatchback design. The Allroad offers 24.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity before folding the rear seats flat, a significant advantage over the sedan's 13.0 cubic foot boot.
I'm liking the deep Gotland Green metallic paint coating the model I tested, but would probably check the box for Argus Brown when configuring my own. The lower edges and wheel arches aren't just trimmed with raw plastic, but ruggedized bits and flares finished in matte paint. For $1,000, the A4 Allroad's trim can also be ordered with a gloss finish, color-matched to the rest of the body for those who aren't fans of the bicolor theme.
Okay, enough about paint. Aside from offering more trunk for junk than Nicki Minaj, the Allroad is also a bit longer than the sedan, but only by 0.9 inches. The Allroad model is about 2.8 inches taller overall. Tallness, as it turns out, is a trait that Audi wants to draw attention to, going so far as to set the Allroad apart as the only Audi model to lead with vertical slats on its hexagonal grille, a feature that emphasizes height.
Some of the additional elevation comes from the standard raised roof rails (again, the Allroad is the only Audi to make that feature standard), but most of the gains come from the ruggedized suspension.
The tall wagon sees about 1.3 inches (34 mm) of extra ground clearance over the A4 sedan. 11 mm of that comes from a taller tire profile (a 245/45 all-season tire wraps the Allroad's 18-inch wheels) and the rest comes from a taller suspension. At all four corners, the Allroad's five-link suspension has been beefed up to better deal with dirty, rough and unpaved conditions. It now features standard twin-tube adaptive dampers -- as opposed to the sedan's monotube setup with optional adaptive dampers.
Though it's not apparent from curbside, additional underbody protection shields the Allroad's belly from brush, rocks, and other roughage.
Quattro all-wheel drive with ultra technology
The engine room looks largely the same as that of the A4 sedan, down to the same 2.0-liter turbocharged (TFSI) engine making 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The Allroad goes from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds. It's just 0.2 seconds off the sedan's pace thanks to the wagon's additional weight.
Torque flows to the same seven-speed "S Tronic" dual-clutch automatic transmission that you'll remember from the sedan. But then things get interesting for the Allroad. For starters, there's no front-wheel drive option available -- quattro all-wheel drive is standard. More, this is the new "quattro with ultra technology" that debuts on and is exclusive to the A4 Allroad until the Q5 SUV reaches us later this year.
"Ultra technology" means there's an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch where the driveshaft meets the transmission. It can disconnect the shaft and a decoupling dogleg clutch on the rear axle differential. Basically, this version of quattro can free the rear end of its drivetrain on both ends for maximum drag and friction reduction.
The quattro with ultra defaults to all-wheel operation on startup and launch. But when the grip is good and demands are low, it can activate its two decouplers in just 200 milliseconds for improved fuel economy. I'm told that the quattro's sensors and processors are fast enough to estimate grip up to 500 milliseconds into the future based on those conditions and the driver's input and driving style. That should give the decouplers plenty of buffer for seamless on-demand operation.
There's more finesse to it than just simple on and off for the rear end. Quattro with ultra also features fully variable torque distribution that allows the A4 Allroad to send up to 100% of available torque to either axle as needed and shift torque laterally. The system is also 8.8 pounds lighter than the old Allroad's center differential setup, which helps a bit with efficiency.
On the software side, the Allroad features a customized version of Audi's drive select system. This includes the familiar Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Individual settings that tweak the steering feel, throttle response, gearbox operation and more. The Allroad adds a unique Offroad mode that adjusts the adaptive suspension for better offroad performance, locks the quattro ultra system into its all-wheel drive mode and disables the Audi Presense forward collision system, letting drivers take full advantage of approach and departure angles and get closer to obstructions (such as trees along a tight path) without being bothered by constant alerts or automatic braking.
Allroads, paved or not
I test drove the Allroad over the broad flats and dramatic mountains surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming on a combination of paved highways, packed dirt roads and a surprisingly varied range of weather conditions.
The Audi's quattro ultra system was mostly unfazed by the combination surfaces. It wasn't even affected when the dirt roads were made muddy and slick by rain, then snow and then a combination of rain and snow as we made our way up and over the Teton mountain range.
In the Offroad, Auto and Dynamic settings, the Allroad was able to navigate corners and climb hills in slick conditions. I didn't notice a shift between front and all-wheel drive operation in Auto or Dynamic mode. The suspension and tire package handled dirt roads with grace at reasonably high speeds, soaking up bumps rather than skipping over all but the most severe potholes. If I really wanted to, I could coax a bit of slide out of the chassis with big inputs in the Dynamic mode, but the Allroad really likes to stay stable and planted under most conditions. That's definitely what you want when descending a muddy mountain road in the snow in the middle of nowhere.
The 2.0T offered pretty good get up and go for highway passes and climbing those mountains, and I never found myself wanting for more power. The A4 Allroad averaged 29.3 mpg on paved passages in the on-demand quattro settings. That number dipped to 26.7 mpg after a few hours on the dirt roads and unpaved mountain passes which made up the bulk of my testing. The lower-grip conditions taxed the quattro system more which, of course, hurt fuel economy. But that's still not a terrible average for the conditions. If anything, it shows just how much fuel the ability decoupling rear axle can save in daily driving conditions. By the way, the EPA estimates the A4 Allroad quattro at 23 miles per gallon in cities, 28 mpg on highways and 25 combined mpg.
Along the way, I came to appreciate small touches like the sprayer that bathes the rear camera in washer fluid whenever the rear wiper is activated. (We got the Allroad properly muddy and it seemed to enjoy every moment of it.) I was also annoyed by a few nitpicky things such as the Allroad's aggressive side sills, which made it difficult to avoid getting mud on the back of my pant legs whenever I exited the vehicle at the day's various stops.
It's ruggedized on the outside but boasts the same smart tech and level of luxury that we saw on the new-generation sedan inside.
The jewel of the tech suite is the Virtual Cockpit, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that is controlled by thumb buttons on the steering wheel and can handle most navigation, audio, telephony and vehicle monitoring functions without taking a hand off of the wheel or an eye too far from the road.
It's joined by the 8.3-inch TFT display in the traditional center-dash position that's operated with the MMI touch control wheel on the center console. There's also a small and optional head-up display projected onto the windshield that brings the cockpit display count to three if so specced.
Audi Connect 4G LTE connectivity brings online search and Google Earth 3D maps into the cockpit. The whole thing is powered by an Nvidia quad-core processor for smooth animation and crisply rendered text and graphics throughout all operations. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Audi is offering the best designed, most fully featured and most usable cabin technology on the road today.
And, if you still don't like what the automaker has to offer, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay allow drivers to bring their own tech into the cabin. Phone-based navigation, audio streaming and communication software can all be projected onto the center display and operated with the MMI touch wheel controller.
The automaker's suite of advanced driver aid systems (ADAS) features many familiar features enhanced in clever ways. The optional Turn Assist is basically an enhancement to the Forward Pre-Collision Alert that detects oncoming traffic when turning and can automatically alert and brake for the driver. Adaptive cruise control features a traffic jam assist function that allows the A4 to stop-and-go, creeping forward in heavy traffic. Blind spot monitoring with Vehicle Exit Assist uses the side-firing ultrasonic sensors when parked parallel to detect and notify passengers if they're about to open a door into oncoming traffic or cyclists. As a sometimes cyclist in a dense urban area, that last one hits close to home.
Standard features across all Allroad trims include a rear camera, Presense city forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and a host of creature comforts like the three-zone climate controls and heated seats made life pleasant even as the weather in Wyoming went unexpectedly sour.
Priced at a premium
I find it interesting that this is the second tall wagon from the VW Group that I've recently driven with the Subaru Outback squarely in its crosshairs. The Audi A4 Allroad is closer in terms of scale and target audience to the Subie with a buyer that will skew slightly older and more affluent than the Golf Alltrack.
The Audi certainly is way upmarket of both in terms of luxury, technology and price with a starting price of $44,000 for the Premium trim level, $47,000 for Premium Plus and $51,400 for the Prestige model before options and the $950 destination charge. The Audi's starting price is already six grand more than a fully loaded Outback, which is okay because it offers much more luxury and technology for the dough.
Potential buyers should also consider the Volvo V60 CrossCountry, which is really the only other tall wagon that comes close to Audi's capability and premium amenities but lags just slightly on tech.
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