Prestige car buyers who want the ability to tackle gravel and snow but don't want to drive a traditional SUV have a new option: the Audi A4 Allroad Quattro, which has just been introduced to Australia.
The concept is the same, in that the A4 Allroad is basically a wagon version of the Audi A4 that has been jacked up, fitted with some extra equipment and body reinforcements and finished off with a diesel engine and all-wheel drive.
It certainly isn’t cheap. There is one model costing $69,990, which represents a $7000 premium over the comparable Audi Q5 SUV.
Comparing the value of the A4 Allroad with the regular A4 Avant wagon is difficult, as that car is not offered with a combination of all-wheel drive and diesel, although the front drive equivalent costs $60,900.
While it comes across as a bit pricey, there is no denying the competence of the Allroad, at least on the roads we drove during the national launch inland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
The route contained a relatively smooth but slippery section of gravel that would represent a challenging World Rally Championship stage.
The benign Audi remained extremely composed at speed, even when thrown into corners rally-style.
There was no sign of the kind of lift-off oversteer that can catch out inexperienced drivers on dirt, with the all-wheel drive and electronic stability control system combining to keep the vehicle nice and straight.
It also drove well on paved roads. As you might expect, it didn’t sit as flat as a wagon, but moved around less than an equivalent high-riding SUV.
The relative agility and comfortable but not wallowing ride are at least two reasons why the Audi A4 Allroad makes more sense than an SUV.
The Allroad is not a rally car and it certainly isn’t a rock-hopping SUV. While the press release says it can “handle any road or trail”, this seems optimistic and must not include fire trails that would provide much more of a challenge than the roads that featured on the launch.
With ground clearance of 180mm, which is 20mm less than the Q5 but 37mm more than the A4 Avant, the A4 Allroad provides enough space above the ground for mild off-road work such as the odd country trip or journey to the snow.
The Allroad has a slightly different footprint to the regular A4, with a 23mm-wider front track and 19mm-wider rear track, which no doubt contributes to its positive handling characteristics.
This wider track, plus the desire for it to appear robust, is why the car has those plastic wheel arch flares.
Audi added some extra body reinforcements in order for the A4 Allroad to put up with some off-road duty and there is a front stainless steel bash plate, but there are no other changes.
The only engine available for the A4 Allroad is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, which produces 130kW and 380Nm. It is linked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission and there is no manual option.
Audi Australia decided against introducing the A4 Allroad Quattro locally when it was launched globally launch three years ago because at that stage the diesel was only available with a manual.
The wait was worth it because the combination of this engine and auto transmission suits the car.
In general, the diesel works well and provides adequate pull, working away relatively quietly.
Sometimes, it gets caught out and takes a while to respond. It’s likely this is a combination of slight turbo lag as well as the dual-clutch transmission, which can sometimes slow the reaction as it works out which gear to go with.
There is no issue when the diesel is on song in most conditions and it is possible to get along briskly by riding its torque wave.
However, it does sometimes feel a little underdone up steep climbs, which is not surprising given this is not an overly light vehicle at 1670kg.
The Audi A4 Allroad’s transmission has a tendency to go for the highest gear possible, jumping to seventh at 80km/h, at which point the engine does around 1100rpm. Some ears will pick up an annoying resonance in these cases, while others may not be bothered. For the record, more and more cars are tuned to grab higher gears in order to achieve the best possible fuel economy these days.
It is quite an efficient vehicle, despite riding higher than normal and the official fuel economy figure is 6.0 litres per 100km, benefitting from a stop-start system that automatically kills the engine at idle.
The interior is almost identical as the A4 Avant, barring a couple of badges. Like other Audis, it looks smart and well designed, with alloy-look trim sections and shiny black dashboard elements. Black seats with leather faces (vinyl is used for the sides and back) are standard as is a black roof liner.
There is adequate legroom and headroom for rear seat passengers and two adults can sit comfortably in the rear.
Technically, the A4 Allroad has five seats, but the middle seat in the second row is so absurdly firm that it is unlikely to be used for anything but the shortest trips.
Boot space is reasonable (490 litres) and there are several tie down points and a luggage net.
The rear seats don’t fold very flat, which reduces practicality.
Audi Australia has fitted 17-inch alloys as standard and fought hard to have a spare fitted, however, it is an inflatable space-saver version.
Standard gear includes keyless entry and start, eight airbags (including rear side airbags), xenon headlights, roof rails, satellite navigation and an electric cooler bag that fits neatly in the boot (hooked up to a 12v socket).
The Audi A4 Allroad runs a permanent AWD system, no different to the other A4 Quattros, but the car has an intelligent electronic aid system that identifies slippery surfaces and adapts the braking and electronic stability control intervention accordingly.
This allows the wheels to slip a little more on gravel and for the anti-skid brakes to act differently to the way they would on tarmac. This allows a wedge of gravel to build up in front of the wheels to pull the car up more effectively.
Audi says the A4 Allroad is a limited edition and that only 150 will come to Australia.
However, these cars will arrive through the next eight months or so and more could be ordered after that, although with different specification levels.
Unlike most limited edition cars, the A4 Allroad can be fitted out with a range of options.
These include the $1500 17-inch alloy wheels fitted to our test car, $2760 19-inch rims, $1650 metallic paint, a $2850 panoramic sunroof, $1400 Bang & Olufsen sound system, $400 aluminium trim, $850 wood grain trim, a $1050 automatic closing tailgate and $700 heated front seats.
While the use of the term ‘limited edition’ is curious in this case – although it is an understandable marketing ploy – the Allroad is a convincing alternative for those people who want a premium model and occasionally venture off the bitumen but don’t want to be like everyone else riding high in an SUV. The price is probably a few thousand dollars higher than it should be, but that’s not unique in the prestige car world.