Audi was one of the few manufacturers to sell an apparently conventional estate car with an unusual amount of off-road capability in the 20th century (Volvo being another, with the V70 XC), though the car it developed in those days was based on the A6. The smaller A4 allroad has been around for less than a decade, and the version coming to market this summer is only the second car of that name the company has produced, not including facelifts.
It comes from good stock. It’s based on the A4 Avant, and like current A4s of any shape that is a particularly fine car. The usual precautions required for off-roading have of course been taken: among other things, the ride height is 34mm higher than that of the Avant, and there is extra body protection to help prevent damage from objects you would be almost infinitely unlucky to encounter on city streets or motorways.
Every A4 allroad has four-wheel drive, of course, along with Audi’s familiar Drive Select system (with a new off-road mode in addition to the usual comfort and dynamic ones), a powered tailgate and a formidable array of connectivity and infotainment features.
It would be rash to over-estimate the car’s off-road potential. For the UK press launch, Audi devised a non-tarmac route which was by no means the least challenging I’ve ever experienced, but not terribly far off it. A company representative gave me about thirty seconds’ worth of advice, then sent me off with a, “Mind how you go!” confident that even I couldn’t make a mess of this.
For the sake of form I never got above 20mph, but on several sections I could probably have exceeded 50 – more, I realise now, than I would have attempted in a regular Avant. The greatest difficulty involved tiptoeing over some sharp hummocks and across moderately deep trenches. This was probably more complex terrain than most A4 allroad owners would contemplate, and it would certainly have brought other Avants to their knees, but the allroad dealt with it very easily.
There’s an unavoidable compromise in the on-road behaviour, and it won’t be solved until everything that affects a car’s dynamics is digitally controlled. (Best to catch up on your sleep before this happens. It won’t be soon.) Apply a large amount of power when the A4 allroad is leaning over in a corner, as it does a lot, and you’ll need to have your waits about you when the car decides which way it wants to go next.
But that’s understandable, and in general the effect is quite modest. What’s really surprising here is that, like other allroads, Audi has managed to make this one a far more effective dual-purpose car than Volkswagen has ever managed with its Alltracks, which are made of similar stuff.
(One non-allroad-specific point here. A4s have electronic handbrakes, and they engage and release incredibly smoothly. Other manufacturers might want to take note of this.)
My remarks about the handling are based entirely on driving the more powerful of the two 3.0 TDI six-cylinder diesel models in the range. This is a glorious engine, producing 268bhp and providing fabulous performance. Its top speed has to be held back electronically to 155mph, and 0-62mph takes 5.5 seconds. As has become the norm with most reasonably quick Audis (though not so much the crazy 500bhp-plus ones) the car gains speed rapidly but also subtly – or, if you prefer the old cliche, effortlessly.
The power means that this is the fastest A4 allroad even though it’s also the heaviest, and the only one with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox rather than the more efficient seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic.
The 3.0 TDI also comes in 215bhp form, but it’s not the most sensible engine in the range because the four-cylinder 187bhp 2.0 TDI is. Priced from £36,010, cars with this unit are cheaper than the others (though not by much – the 268bhp 3.0 TDIs start only £3620 higher) and will certainly cost less to run. They don’t have a a huge tax advantage, since the £110 annual Vehicle Excise Duty inspired by the official 128g/km CO2 emissions is only £20 under what you’d pay for the three-litre cars, and the Benefit In Kind rating is just two percentage points lower, but you’ll almost certainly use a lot less fuel over the course of a year.
There’s one petrol model, and it’s quite interesting in its own way. The diesels run in four-wheel drive all the time, with variations in the power split between the front and rear axles. The 249bhp 2.0 TFSI has a transmission grandly named “quattro with ultra technology”, which simply means that power is taken to all four wheels when necessary but otherwise to the fronts only. That idea has been around for a long time. The clever bit is that Audi’s system is partly predictive, switching to 4×4 as it becomes necessary rather than shortly afterwards.
A lot of power-sapping and therefore fuel-wasting mechanical drag is avoided, but despite this the 2.0 TFSI is more expensive both to buy and to run than the 2.0 TDI (though in fairness it’s significantly quicker, with a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds rather than 7.8) and a good deal slower than the 268bhp 3.0 TDI.
Regardless of engine, every A4 allroad is available in both standard and Sport forms, the latter costing roughly £3000 more. Sports have 18″ rather than 17″ wheels, LED front and rear lighting, privacy glass, acoustic front glazing to help keep the noise out, more supportive seats, a ten-speaker audio system and a superior satellite navigation system. Opportunities to spend more money on optional extras are offered generously.