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For a station wagon to sell in today's market, it has to emulate the almighty crossover. That's why high-riding wagons aren't so rare these days. The Subaru Outback, Volvo V60 Cross Country and Buick Regal TourX are great examples of wagons that offer crossover-like capability and style. But perhaps the most well-rounded player in this segment is the Audi A4 Allroad.
Audi's rugged A4 wagon is a fashionable family hauler and an efficient yet capable recreational vehicle. Plus, it's glitzy enough to satisfy luxury shoppers' needs. The Allroad is ostensibly three cars in one.
While the Allroad checks a lot of boxes, so does every luxury crossover on the market. How does the Allroad stand out, then?
For starters, it looks different -- its lower, sleeker silhouette and butch proportions provide refreshing contrast to the crop of modern CUVs. Yet, at the same time, the Allroad can do pretty much everything your neighbor's crossover can do. If you're a person who prides yourself on being different and standing apart from the crowd, the Allroad is your machine.
But for those thinking less philosophically and more practically, the Audi A4 Allroad makes a decent case for itself when it comes to efficiency. According to EPA estimates, the Allroad gets 30 miles per gallon on the highway. That's 3 mpg better than Audi's more traditional Q5. That said, both the A4 Allroad and the Q5 net 25 mpg combined, largely due to the Q5's 23 mpg city rating versus the Allroad's 22.
Over the course of one week and 1,020 miles of mostly highway driving, I averaged 27 mpg. A 6-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco was hardly tiresome -- the Allroad's supportive seats are more than capable of hauling your backside over long distances in comfort.
The wagon's acoustic windshield and the optional dual-pane, front-side window glass of my Prestige-package tester do a good job of keeping the interior quiet. Low-frequency road rumble still permeates the cabin at higher speeds though.
On twisty tarmac, the Allroad feels more like a crossover than a sport wagon. You might think its slightly lower ride height could make it a bit more capable in turns, but with its soft suspension, it handles about the same as many crossovers on the market.
A lack of feedback and directness through its large steering wheel means the Allroad doesn't really inspire sporty driving. Though it's a relative lightweight, at 3,825 pounds, even a crossover like the 300-pound-heavier BMW X3 feels more playful on winding roads.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that makes 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. That power gets to the ground via standard Quattro all-wheel drive and ventilated disc brakes at all four corners can just as easily scrub off any heap of velocity thrown at them.
Thanks to Audi's Ultra all-wheel-drive technology, the Allroad can decouple its driveshaft and rear axle for better fuel economy when you're cruising on the highway. As soon as the system senses that more grip is needed, whether in spirited canyon driving or in inclement weather, the Allroad can recouple its rear axle in 200 milliseconds. From behind the wheel, it might as well be a full-time all-wheel-drive system because the Ultra technology works imperceptibly. Plus, the car's 6.5 inches of ground clearance means the soft-roading wagon can make the most of that all-wheel-drive capability on gravel roads, or through packed snow.
For a luxury car that can crest $50,000, the A4 Allroad's interior could use some better quality materials. The dash and the tops of the door panels are a little too glossy and plasticky for my liking.
That said, my top-level Prestige spec features leatherette on the door armrests and center console, which in addition to the warm weather package's perforated leather seats, look and feel terrific. If that leatherette were to cover the dash and door panels as well, the quality of the interior would match the Allroad's price.
Where the Allroad really shines, though, is in the tech department. My tester includes Audi's Virtual Cockpit with embedded navigation, which replaces the conventional gauges of the lower trims with a crisp 12.3-inch, high-resolution display.
It's rare that I prefer an automaker-supplied navigation interface over the simplicity of Apple Maps inside Apple CarPlay -- which the Allroad also features, as well as Android Auto -- but because Virtual Cockpit gets gorgeous Google Maps graphics rendering through an Nvidia quadcore processor, the Audi wagon provides an eye-dazzling, cutting-edge tech experience.
Prestige models also come standard with a color head-up display that integrates traffic-sign recognition as well as navigation and driver assistance data. Also included is stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, turn assist (which can stop the vehicle if the driver tries moving into oncoming traffic when turning left at an intersection), automatic high beams and a 4G LTE-powered Wi-Fi hotspot that can support up to eight devices.
The Allroad's top two trims come standard with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and even vehicle exit assist, which helps prevent you from opening your door into cyclists or other vehicles when parallel parked. Collision-mitigation braking is standard on all Allroads, as is hill-descent control, three-zone climate control, LED ambient interior lighting, rain-sensing wipers, heated side mirrors and a power liftgate.
The A4 Allroad's best attribute is that it more easily stands out in an ever-growing sea of crossovers.
On paper, a Q5 might be better suited to the needs of most shoppers. Its higher ride height means better visibility, and it can tow up to 4,400 pounds (the Allroad is unrated for towing). Furthermore, the Q5 offers more headroom (when equipped without a sunroof), more rear legroom, more shoulder room and 1.9 cubic feet more cargo capacity than the Allroad's already generous 58.5 cubic feet. Similarly equipped, both vehicles come in around the same price.
The Allroad, then, is an emotional purchase, even when compared with other high-riding wagons on the market. It may offer 15 fewer cubic feet of cargo space than a Subaru Outback or Buick Regal TourX, but the Audi is more sophisticated, swankier and more technologically advanced than those cars. The Allroad is a wagon that will satisfy many of your requirements by being multiple vehicles in one, but best of all, you won't be lost in the herd of crossovers.