What is it?
When Audi launched the A4 Allroad back in 2009, its positioning between the Avant quattro and Q5 seemed based on a wafer-thin strip of reasoning. In fact, the wafer was precisely 37mm thin: the difference in ride height between the Allroad and the standard A4 on which it was very obviously based. Unlike the A6 variant, which boasted the added adjustability of air springs, its smaller sibling’s steel suspension meant the off-road-enabling wafer was unchanging and enhanced only by the toughened-up appearance that came with some black plastic cladding on the bumpers and arches.
Too thin, you might think. But, as it is wont to do, Audi promptly turned minimal investment into maximum return and shifted around 100,000 examples of the original A4 Allroad. Its replacement, despite being almost entirely new, makes understandably few obvious changes to that winning formula. That its differentiated ride height has now slimmed to 23mm (compared to the current A6 Avant) suggests that buyers have not been overly concerned by limited approach and departure angles – although an increase in tyre sidewall size means there’s now 34mm of additional ground clearance, and Audi has added an Off-road mode to the drive select settings.
The new chassis is again based on the A4, which means it gets the manufacturer’s latest five-link suspension front and back. There’s still no air springs, but this time round there is at least the (likely popular) option of adaptive dampers. As with the cooking model, the Allroad is significantly lighter than its predecessor, despite being very slightly larger. As much as a 90kg drop in kerb weight helps a refreshed engine line-up deliver improved efficiency across the board.
The quattro set-up – still resolutely mechanical – is mated as standard to the 188bhp 2.0 TDI and both versions (215bhp and 268bhp) of the 3.0 TDI. However, with its new 248bhp 2.0 TFSI petrol engine, Audi has chosen to launch the next generation of its all-wheel drive system, a set-up conceived specifically to address the comparative inefficiency of the permanently active tech.
Dubbed Quattro with ultra technology, the new driveline ditches the centre differential and uses an electronically controlled clutch at the back of the dual-clutch automatic gearbox to disengage the propshaft, allowing the Allroad to run in fuel-sipping front-drive mode when a host of control units and software parameters think it appropriate to do so. The clever(er) bit is located at the back, where, in order to reduce the torque drag of turning a heavy-duty piece of metal idly through its oil bath, an electromagnetic decoupler simultaneously isolates the crown gear and lets the rear axle function just like an open differential. The result is a 2.0 TFSI that delivers 44.1mpg combined economy (on 17in wheels) and a 6.1sec 0-62mph sprint.
What’s it like?
The Allroad honestly makes more sense in the flesh than it does on paper. Where the A4 – even in its prettier Avant format – tends towards total anonymity, the accrued bulk of all that skimpy plastic cladding does earn the car a greater visual presence. The black is essential, though: body color those arches and the lack of a proper pumped-up gap lessens the robust theme.
Inside, of course, the Allroad is about as rugged as an Edwardian roll-top desk. The splendid cabin is a direct carryover of the A4’s, which means it feels like a mildly contracted A6 – which in turn makes it about as pleasant as mainstream surroundings get without straying into outright opulence. The intricately wrought, superbly tactile affair could hardly be more hostile to muddy boots and sticky fingers – and buyers won’t find that their view of the road is raised up any more than that of, say, a Ford S-Max owner, but the Allroad could hardly be more pleasant to sit in.
The TFSI lump, by and large, nurtures the high-end gratification. At low speed and revs, its presence is confirmed only by sleek, effortless propulsion and a bobbing tachometer needle. The target of 273lb ft from 1600rpm is obviously six-cylinder-style amenability; an objective the engine might actually satisfy if it didn’t get so conspicuously reedy when driven with kickdown relish. Sound aside though, its appreciably brisk, entirely linear traverse of all seven dual-clutch automatic ratios is just what the Allroad’s pliable chassis ordered.
Kitted with the cost-option dampers and driven on 18in wheels, the petrol-powered model takes advantage of its taller springs to coax – at least in Comfort mode – a freely undulating, softly sprung feel from the A4’s suspension, one that is entirely at odds with the restiveness that can still be found elsewhere in the range. It doesn’t do much for a keen driver’s sense of connectedness, nor the Allroad’s body control, but its beautifully refined, long-wave modulation of the road surface’s faults ought to act as a salve to anyone bruised by recent experience of Audi’s S line spec sports suspension.
The car is perfectly usable (on German roads) in its Dynamic setting, too, although the gentle shoring up of its lean doesn’t tempt one to drive it all that much quicker – mostly as a result of the familiarly gooey off-centre, lost-at-sea steering feel. Certainly it is not for want of lateral grip, which remains high and – on a dry test route unsuited to higher speeds – all but indistinguishable from the level of security offered by the standard Quattro set-up. Chiefly that’s because Audi has embedded its two-wheel drive spells very cautiously; an engineer-aided demonstration revealed not only the system’s split-second preparedness for engaging the rear axle, but also the extreme fluidity of the torque distribution thereafter.
Should I buy one?
Its charms notwithstanding, the 2.0 TFSI will be a bit-part player in the UK market, where the vast majority of buyers will opt for one of the oil-burners (most prevalently the 2.0 TDI, which arrives in parsimonious 148bhp format later in the year). However, it’s worth mentioning that none of the marginally heavier diesel engine options seemed to ride with quite the same pillowy comfort levels of the more global-focused petrol model.
A much longer shadow, however, is still cast by the A6 Allroad, which, with its adjustable ride height, better-rounded dynamic and exceptional bi-turbo 3.0-litre V6 diesel, remains a standout pick of the entire Audi range. The A4 version, while dutifully enhanced and broadly better than before, remains more of a likeable sideshow, especially as the standard wagon (in the right trim) is arguably as good as it’s ever been. Although with the walk-up from an equivalent A4 Avant S line quattro to a top-spec Sport model standing at less than £2k, the Allroad wafer ought to prove as tempting as ever.
Audi A4 allroad quattro Sport 2.0 TFSI
Location Munich; On sale April; Price £40,260; Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 248bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 273lb ft at 1600-4500rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatci; Kerb weight 1655kg; 0-62mph 6.1sec; Top speed 152mph; Economy 42.8mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 152g/km, 27%
What is it?