A4S TO BE RECKONED WITHAudi's recently facelifted and revised A4 allroad aims to go where no A4 has gone before. Steve Walker reports.
I must admit to a sneaky soft spot for Audi's original allroad. Not being a particular fan of SUVs and the compromises they make to retain a level of off-road ability, I wasn't expecting to be overly keen on a jacked-up version of the A6 Avant executive estate. What Audi managed with that car, however, was to deliver more off-road ability than the average customer would ever need without sacrificing too much road-going comfort and handling. In short, the allroad was a supremely well balanced product that could do pretty much anything asked of it and do it well. The latest version of the allroad is known as the A6 allroad and that distinction was made to facilitate the car we feature here, the A4 allroad.
Ten Second ReviewFancy an A4 Avant with extra road presence and ability in slippery conditions? If the answer is yes, you'll be wanting an A4 allroad. This is Audi's alternative to a full-blown SUV and for the majority of buyers who never undertake challenging off-road trips, it could be preferable.
BackgroundAudi has been churning out four-wheel-drive estate cars for quite a while but there's a distinction between the basic quattro Avants, as Audi nomenclature refers to them, and the allroad line. An allroad goes further in making Audi's impressive quattro 4x4 system appropriate for off-road use. We're not talking about rock-strewn mountainsides or extreme wilderness river crossings here but the kind of unmade roads and muddy tracks that owners might encounter. A standard A4 quattro could tackle such terrain but there would be a greater chance of it sustaining damage. The A4 allroad has a raised ride height and body-protection measures to help it come through this kind of use unscathed.
Driving ExperienceThe engine range is loaded with familiar Audi units. The entry-point in the petrol range is the 2.0-litre TFSI with its 208bhp output. For diesel customers, it all kicks off with the 2.0-litre TDI common-rail diesel engine generating 168bhp. Both of these units achieve an identical 350Nm of torque but the diesel's grunt is situated lower in the rev-range where it can be accessed more easily. The range-topping powerplant is the 3.0-litre TDI with its 237bhp and hefty 500Nm torque rating. This engine will get the A4 allroad through the 60mph barrier in a brisk 6.2s, faster than the 6.8s time of the 2.0-litre petrol, and looks the pick of the range if you can afford it.
Audi is making increased use of its S Tronic twin-clutch gearbox across its model range and well it might. The ground-breaking system is highly responsive, achieving its shifts within 0.2 seconds of the steering-wheel mounted paddles being flicked. This system is standard on the 2.0-litre petrol and 3.0-litre diesel models with the 2.0-litre diesel getting a six-speed manual.
Design and BuildIn line with the recent revisions to the A4 range, the allroad sports the common lights 'n' bumpers makeover but also gets a more imposing grille. As before, though, it adapts the A4 Avant estate package with a number of off-road orientated improvements. The track is 20mm wider front and rear and the ride height is increased by 37mm to 180mm. Should that ground clearance prove to be insufficient, there's underbody protection to help the allroad slide off obstacles without them taking gouges out of its underside. There's also a redesigned grille and under-bumper section, side sills and wheelarch extensions. The car has a much more imposing air about it than a standard A4 Avant and incorporates Audi's Offroad Detection technology to give it an extra edge in slippery conditions.
The ORD Offroad Detection system is part of the standard ESP stability control. It monitors the level of grip available at each wheel and will allow an extra degree of wheel slippage in off-road or low traction situations to help the A4 allroad maintain forward momentum. Audi also offers its drive select technology with the allroad which enables drivers to choose between three models with their own unique suspension, steering, gearbox and throttle settings. Through this, you can tailor the A4's responses to the driving conditions or your own personal taste.
Despite the protective measures on an A4 allroad, it's still only designed for light off-road driving. Audi's Q5 compact SUV has greater ground clearance and will prove more capable but seasoned off-road hands would still only contemplate heading out into the wilderness with a proper all-terrain vehicle, the sort of thing that's abject misery to drive for any length of time on the road. The A4 allroad should be a comparative delight in everyday use. It shares the A4 Avant cabin design which means decent amounts of space, classy design and levels of build quality that rival marques are still doing their utmost to match. Being an estate, there'll be plenty of boot space too.
Market and ModelOnly one trim level is available with the A4 allroad and it's a rather lavish one. Three-zone climate control, a 10-speaker stereo, automatic headlamps and wipers and Audi's DIS Driver Information System all feature. The car also gets 18" 10-spoke alloys and a storage pack that adds extra versatility to the interior with various nets and compartments. The boot benefits from Audi's rail system which secures items using a telescopic bar and a reversible floor mat that can be turned over to reveal a rubberised side when transporting wet or muddy items.
There are a number of 4x4 estate models out there on the market, some with the same sort of enhanced off-road ability we find on the A4 allroad. Volvo's XC70 and Saab's 9-3X spring immediately to mind as direct rivals and the allroad must also fight off competition from the glut of compact SUVs currently on sale. Audi's own Q5 overlaps the A4 allroad on price so the manufacturer will be looking for the car to operate in a very precise niche between this and the quattro A4 Avants. Direct comparisons aren't easy because of spec differences but buyers can expect to have to find a premium of around £2,500 over an equivalent quattro A4 Avant, but they'll be paying about the same as they would for a comparably-plush Q5.