In the history of all-wheel-drive cars, German-produced models have generated tons of interest and acclaim. Audi has certainly earned the most recognition with its Quattro-equipped models winning races the world over.
For 2017, Audi revives the Allroad model in its latest A4 wagon series. Unlike the Avant, the Allroad moniker embraces the taller tires and wheels that generate over an inch of greater ground clearance, as well as the one-off body cladding and exaggerated exterior styling and larger roof rails of the previous Allroad. The look is both Audi-like rich and handsomely rugged as the Allroad stretches the paradigm between conventional wagon body and Subaru-esque crossover.
There is a definite difference in how a sedan/wagon drives compared to a taller crossover — no matter who makes it. Similar in size to the brand’s Q5 crossover (the Q5 is actually 5 inches shorter), the A4 Allroad seems lithe, responsive and more accurate in all manipulations of the pedals and steering wheel. The new 2.0-liter turbo-four makes a strong 252 hp, with 273 pound/feet of torque available from very low in the engine revolutions. Teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the 3,850-pound Audi moves out quickly, smartly and more efficiently than its crossover sibling — earning EPA ratings of 23/28 mpg.
Let it also be noted that the Audi’s engine size is apparently becoming an industry-wide standard. Two-liter four-cylinder motors, more often than not mated to a multi-scroll turbocharger, are being used in Audi/VW products, GM, Mercedes and Infiniti vehicles, as well as a host of other automakers’ products. Lacking the annoying vibration and sound deficiencies of previous generation four-cylinder engines, these new powerhouses are smooth, refined performers that generate excellent power characteristics while seeking to meet revised fuel economy standards. Lighter than V-6 or V-8 engines, these smaller displacement engines allow engineers greater flexibility in packaging as well as aid efforts toward designing safer, more rigid bodies.
We also get to see the different approaches to transmission designs as every automaker seeks the technology that rewards driver wants for efficiency and simplicity, against the vagaries for costs and complexity. With 8-, 9- and 10-speed automatics becoming in vogue, Audi employs a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission here — a design that many German automakers are both familiar with and seemingly happy with its performance. Employed with the 2.0-liter turbo-engine, the Audi is a seamless performer with quick power and effortless cruising. Like all German-engineered products, the Audi cruises discreetly and packs a big punch when supersonic velocities are requested.
Audi also changes up its vaunted Quattro all-wheel drive hardware here in an effort to reduce driveline wear and increase day-to-day fuel economy. Called Quattro with Ultra Technology, the Allroad uses clutches at the each end of the rear axle that engage when the front wheels slip. There is no center differential as normally used on Quattro-equipped cars. This apparent front-drive emphasis does not rear its ugly head when heavy throttle use is applied, as front torque steer is well managed.
The car’s exterior styling is attractive, tasteful. LED lighting and limited doses of body enhancements maximize the Audi’s appeal. It is obvious the Allroad is a taller Audi wagon, yet the car lacks the outsized muscular stance of the first Allroad wagon from over a decade ago. This is good.
Inside, Audi’s usually high design standards are consistently apparent throughout the cabin. Heated power thrones, heated leather steering wheel and simple auto-climate controls make for simple cold-morning starts. The huge configurable Virtual Cockpit layout ahead of the driver provides clear digital mapping and tons of selectable information, complimented by the color heads-up display on the windshield. In Prestige trim, the top of three ($44,950 to $55,575), there was also a 19-speaker 755-watt Bang and Olufsen audio system that will rock your world; volume is controlled by a wheel on the side of the center console, or, the steering wheel button — nothing on the dash or the screen. A panoramic sunroof and a foot-activated rear power liftgate are also available.
In top trim, the standard rear view camera is replaced by a 360-degree TopView display that will make you wonder where the overhead drone goes when not in reverse. Keyless access and ignition, plus a plethora of electronic driving aids are also included or available.
Only two complaints inside; the console shifter requires you depress the Park button on the rear of the shifter when stopping — there is no detent or back-and-forth “gear” for park. It is an odd action and requires that you look and activate the button. And, the overhead sunshade doesn’t block all of the overhead sun — which is OK in winter, but maybe not so much in summer. Rear seating features a 40/20/40 spit-folding seatback to maximize cargo/people hauling, while the rear seat handily carries two adults comfortably, three perhaps a little less so.
Painted a rich Moonlight Blue Metallic, our Allroad possessed an understated elegance. It was comfortable to use, a pleasure to drive and a trip-worthy wagon with more driving verve and handling confidence than a comparable tall crossover. Many buyers won’t move back to wagons for a while — the market is too happy with crossovers — yet car buyers who want traditional wagon qualities, plus AWD, have a splendid option in this A4 Allroad.