Audi has stuck to its winning formula: Take a smart premium estate, add its class-leading four-wheel-drive system, and then sell it to people who want a normal-shaped car that won’t get stuck in wet grass. To date, the result has always been superb.
This time, the four-wheel-drive transmission has been radically altered to make the car lighter, more fuel efficient, and friendlier to the environment. Using what Audi calls ‘Ultra’ technology (its badge for anything vaguely ‘green’) the rally-born Quattro system has been brought into the 21st century.
LOOKS AND IMAGE
The differences between the vanilla A4 and A4 Allroad are more subtle than they ever have been. That’s partly because the A4 is, overall, a more aggressive-looking car than it once was, with that distinctive gaping front grille full of angry vertical bars.
The flared wheel arches have grown into themselves, and look far more upmarket when colour-matched than as matte plastic panels. The inside remains the same as the standard car — comfortable, well-constructed, and generally pleasing.
Audi is the most upmarket mainstream Volkswagen brand and has always produced very desirable cars.
While the other VW brands produce similar soft-roader estates — the Seat Leon XPerience, the VW Passat Alltrack, and the Skoda Octavia Scout — the A4 Allroad is top of the pile. It’s also the most technologically accomplished, thanks to its clever Quattro transmission.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Estate cars are functional vehicles, designed to carry more passengers and luggage than hatchbacks and saloons. The A4 Allroad has a 505-litre boot, which is capacious enough to carry dogs or large suitcases, expanding to 1,510 with the rear seats folded down.
Those rear seats can feel cramped for taller adults, though, as the chunky back supports of the front seats encroach on rear legroom.
Buyers looking to regularly carry four big blokes in comfort could look elsewhere in Audi’s range. An optional load securing kit, electric boot lid with foot-gesture opening and an innovative trailer reversing system (which allows easier control of the pivot between you and your horsebox) are all practical additions, but will come at a price — Audi’s options list is never cheap.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Audi has been keen to downplay the off-road capabilities of the new A4 Allroad. It’s true the extra 34mm of ground clearance you get is unlikely to be enough for any serious mud-plugging, and this model’s affluent customer base can afford to buy a Range Rover or more serious Audi off-roader if desired.
But most know a sophisticated four-wheel-drive estate is enough to get them through an Irish winter, without the need for something as gauche as an SUV.
And this four-wheel-drive system is certainly sophisticated. Unlike the primitive permanent all-wheel-drive systems that made the Quattro name in the 1980s, and distinct from the systems found in other jacked-up estates, the Ultra system uses a powerful computer to evaluate road conditions and engage the rear axle at least half a second before it’s needed.
What’s more, a special system will disconnect any unused components of the drivetrain when they’re not in use, saving you fuel.
The A4 Allroad feels as at-home on the German autobahn as it does around town. Only occasionally will the automatic gearbox feel sluggish or needlessly fidgety, and the drive modes — ranging from ‘comfort’ to ‘dynamic’ help you configure the car to your whims. ‘Comfort’ mode turns the A4 Allroad into a wafty wagon, while ‘dynamic’ will firm up the suspension force the auto box to cling on to gears.
VALUE FOR MONEY
No official figures have been released as to how much fuel the ‘Quattro with Ultra’ system saves, but it’s clear driving the new A4 Allroad — and many other Quattro models to follow — will be more efficient and environmentally-friendly than ever before.
Combined with the aerodynamic shape of the car (especially when compared to taller SUVs) and Audi’s efficient range of engines, this could be the most efficient premium 4x4 on sale.
Audi residuals should be high, thanks to the perennial popularity of its 4x4 estate range. Servicing could cost more than similar cars, and it’ll certainly cost more to buy.
WHO WOULD BUY ONE?
Affluent rural families who need all the practicality of a 4x4, but aren’t fussed by the image of a big SUV should take one of these for a test. The mannerisms of this premium estate car are hard to fault, and the clever all-wheel-drive system is at the top of its game. But all of this comes at a price — the A4 Allroad is not a cheap option.
This car summed up in a single word: Different
If this car was a film character it would be... Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth; discreet and unwaveringly loyal butler to Bruce Wayne. “Haven’t given up on me yet?” asks Bruce. “Never,” replies Alfred.
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