Halloween is a funny time in Australia. It’s gaining popularity as an excuse for a bit of dress-up fun and a chance to recount some spooky tales, but having October 31st smack-dab in the middle of our springtime, doesn’t usually lend itself to a very ‘halloweeny’ atmosphere.
I bring this up only because I knew this review of the 2017 Audi A4 allroad quattro was due to publish on All Hallow’s Eve, and I wanted to see if I could find something spooky to do with the car to tie in with the date.
And, for those not in the know, Melbourne isn’t a particularly spooky place.
Head out west, however, and the picturesque country town of Ararat holds a slightly darker hand of Tarot cards, as it is home to one of the most haunted buildings in the country. A 155-year old jail and mental asylum that, up until just 25 years ago, used to house patients described as being ‘criminally insane.’
There are stories even today that visitors to the Asylum have heard strange voices, and experienced physical paranormal sensations within its halls.
The best bit? This facility is known simply as J-Ward. Yep. You can’t make this stuff up.
Based on the new B9-generation A4 Avant, the allroad (which should, Audi's branding team has declared, be spelled with a lowercase a) looks every bit the textbook premium crossover wagon.
From the smart but sensible Monsoon Grey metallic duco ($1420 option, one of 13 colours available), to the stylish 18-inch alloy wheels and solid 45-profile tyres under the requisite grey, plastic over fenders, the allroad is a sharp looking car.
I’m personally a big fan of these in white, as the grey ‘adventure’ trim and chrome highlights really create a balanced looking car. Plus you get ‘chaser’ sequence LED indicators which are always really cool.
The A4 allroad is distinguishable from a normal A4 Avant by the large chrome grille and vertical slats (the normal car has horizontal bars – the more you know). In typical Audi fashion, the standard LED headlamps (a matrix beam upgrade is available as a $1700 option) have a twin-eyebrow running-light pattern and adaptive high beams.
On the lower valance, where you would normally find a foglamp housing, are a pair of sensor domes for the driver assistance packages, the full suite of which (lane departure, steering assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic queuing, and the adaptive high-beam lamps) are included in the Tour Assistance Pack ($1900 option).
This is a very worthwhile upgrade on the allroad, especially if you do lots of long-distance driving, as the technology has a few neat little features. More on that in a minute.
Up front, you can see why the dashboard and interior layout of the latest A4 has been so well received. Every touch point has been considered to provide a sensation of ‘premiumness’, from the material selection to the weight and physical feedback of the switchgear.
Even the pull-out ‘cigarette lighter’ cap for the 12-volt socket has a silver, knurled cap on it that looks like a metallic element. And I really liked the optional natural grey oak inlays on the dash ($400), which added a very warm and earthy feeling to the cabin.
At night, everything is lit by a soft, white ring, and there’s a lovelt glow along the center of the transmission tunnel. It genuinely feels special and very high-end, especially in a sub-$80k car.
My only real gripe is that of some ergonomic issues around the buttons for the driving menus when selecting a function. On the air-conditioning controls, for example, you can’t just hit 'sync' to match the driver and passenger temperatures, you have to tap a button up or down that has multiple options (including the rear temperature setting) to find it. Same with the dynamic mode selection, moving from Comfort to Dynamic needs multiple taps as the information is shown on the screen.
Small issues, sure, but still worthy of mention.
As are the metallic air-con buttons that reflect the sun in a big way! Nice, but oh so shiny.
The 8.3-inch LCD display and Audi MMI software has come a long way over the years, and is now much easier to use, although not quite as intuitive as iDrive in a BMW. The rotary dial is paired with a left and right selection button and four key menu options. There’s plenty of personalisation to be had, but I found myself leaving the stunning Google Maps satellite overlay on the screen, which is fantastic, especially on the long touring run.
Even the navigation entry is sensible, allowing you to free-form enter a business or place name and choose from a dynamically filtered list of results. Strangely though, a recently opened stretch of the Western Highway was not shown on the map - which I thought was the point of having the data served from Google map data, in that the roads would be constantly up-to-date.
I found my phone would fall out of the cup holder and onto the preset buttons, which only require the slightest of touches to bring up information on the screen. Plus, I had lots of trouble with the iPhone-tethered audio connection, in that it would show the track on the Audi’s screen, but then play the audio through the phone.
I’m sure that’s just as simple as finding a setting, but I looked and couldn’t see anything immediately – so just went with Bluetooth.
My other issue is again around ergonomics, where the controls on the steering wheel to the right and left feel natural in having the left control the infotainment (as it is to your left while driving) and the right manage the multifunction display in front of the driver. It’s actually the opposite, which works for left-hand drive markets, but not ours.
Speaking of the steering controls, there is a lot going on, but there is some pretty cool stuff.
On the end of the indicator stalk is a button to activate lane-keep, which has a minor steering correction ability. When you use this in queued traffic in concert with the adaptive cruise control (at speeds lower than 60km/h), the allroad will actually follow the car in front – power and steering.
It’s a great system. Come to a stop and the car will halt and switch the engine off without you touching the brakes. When it notes the car in front moving off, the engine will automatically fire and you need only tap 'resume' on the cruise control stalk, or lightly push the accelerator to get the car moving again.
Back seat room isn’t cavernous for tall adults but it will suit children well. To be comfortable you need to raise the head-rest a bit so that it doesn’t dig into your shoulders, and there was still head and toe room for me at 6’3”. The seat base is comfortable enough too, but is scalloped in such a way you tend to slide toward the center, and if you have the arm-rest down, you feel pushed into that.
On that arm rest, it’s really wide and has two individual cup holders and a strange flat cubby that is deep enough to store an iPad, but that’s about it.
Comfort wise, there’s a push-button temperature up/down function, vents, 12-volt outlet, neat netted map pockets, lights and coat hooks. You also score bins and integrated sun blinds in the doors.
The boot too is well featured with remote release handles for the 40:20:40 folding seats, luggage hooks, two netted cubbies and 505-litres of space (expands to 1510-litres with the seats folded). Under the floor is a space-saver spare and a tool kit.
Opening the boot hatch with the soft-touch handle can be a bit slow, and you occasionally lift it naturally as part of the movement, which stops the power operation. But that is no doubt something more in the user, than the function. The cargo blind lifts up with the door too, which is another nice touch.
Around town, the 185kW/370Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine chugs along nicely. We saw fuel consumption around 9.0L/100km for urban only driving, which is pretty standard for a petrol motor of this size.
I kept it in the Auto driving mode, and found it was sprightly enough to deal with commuting and general running about. It is neither sluggish nor sporty in this context.
The seven-speed DSG does exhibit some of the usual ‘elastic’ engagement traits when moving off the line, but to be honest, I didn’t have any particular issue with it at all. Even during my usual reverse park up a hill trick, which tends to be kryptonite to any DSG equipped vehicle, the allroad didn’t seem too fussed. Perhaps its hill-hold braking function works a bit better than most?
I was driving in a reasonably relaxed manner, and kept the automatic start/stop system activated which may have mitigated some of the jerkiness that Paul noted at the A4 allroad launch. That said, we’d love to see what this car would be like in a manual or eight-speed ZF-auto… but are not really expecting either of those to happen.
Hitting the open road for the spooky adventure though, and the allroad really started to shine.
The crossover A4 sits 34mm higher than a standard Avant (there is 173mm total ground clearance in the allroad), and the ride errs to the more plush and comfortable side.
Heading out of town, the car set to Comfort, the ride and general dynamics of the car are well suited to longer distances. The front seats though, despite being reasonably comfortable and multi-point adjustable, weren’t great for my lower back after about 90 minutes behind the wheel. There is a powered lumbar adjustment, but I couldn’t seem to get it into the right position for the seats to be supportive over long-distance runs.
An interesting feature of the adaptive cruise control, is that it won't let you pass on the left when touring on a two-lane road. And it's only due to the Halloween theme that I’ll use the term ‘undertaker’, but if you are in the left lane, and old-mate in a Camry is sitting in the right doing 90km/h (don’t get us started on this), the Audi will match speed and sit just off his rear quarter. Given that passing on the left is illegal in the UK and probably every other civilised right-hand drive market, it’s a handy piece of tech that is just smarter than Australian drivers.
The system overall is excellent though, although the information graphic that shows a car in front doesn’t change to note that the car is ‘in range’ and you need to pass, you can sense the car slowing and make your move then.
The run to Ararat was highly pleasant. Western Victoria is truly beautiful, but predictably dull and very un-scary. Thinking (as I do) of the horror-movie genre, an Audi station wagon is unlikely to be a chosen vehicle of a celluloid anti-hero, but may be the car that transports the innocent family into their thrill-a-minute escapades as they venture, care free and oblivious, too far off the beaten track…
Fuel consumption for the highway section was a constant 7.8L/100km, notably higher than Audi’s combined claim of 6.7L/100km. The gearbox here is very smooth and you barely notice it shifting at all.
The J-Ward ‘Gaol for the Criminally Insane’ was not as eerie as I expected. That was due perhaps to the lovely spring weather - or perhaps the stories are just a bit of superstitious mumbo-jumbo, its high, foreboding brick walls and rings of razor wire a threat of times past. It was a bit cold there, but that was perhaps just the cool of the stone shading the sun. There are some strange lens flares on a couple of the photos too, but I’m sure that’s just the camera needing a clean, right?
Heading back to town, I took the chance to venture, care-free and oblivious, off the beaten track, and took a winding B-Road to the north of the highway. Less traffic and more chance to enjoy the car to a greater point than the security of cruise control. Nothing spooky happens out here, all alone, in the empty countryside, with no one around...
I came across an abandoned goods train which made for some slightly scary photos, and in fact was more creepy than the old Asylum itself. I had a sensation of being watched and, strangely, returned to the car to find its boot open, but I must have just bumped the fob in my pocket – it’s a handy feature.
Turning back onto the highway, an old Landcruiser appeared seemingly out of nowhere and proceeded to sit off the back bumper of the Audi, flashing its lights. It was so close that the ultrasonic parking sensors activated.
I put the car into Dynamic mode, allowing sharper throttle response and slightly heavier weighted steering, and powered away. Peak torque is available between 1600 and 4500rpm so the allroad responded well, and picked up speed quickly. The exhaust note isn’t specifically sporty, but it wasn’t unpleasant.
The ‘Cruiser tried to match pace, still flashing and tooting, but a couple of tighter bends tipped the balance in favour of the Audi and it wasn’t long before he was out of view. Driving like this, the A4 allroad is really quite fun. The ride is still comfortable, the optional adaptive suspension ($1700) stiffens the dampers and the car feels much more sporty than in the standard modes.
I took a chance to exit the highway and made for an unsealed road, and the old LandCruiser thankfully didn’t follow. Here I switched the Audi into its Off-Road driving mode.
This simply manages the traction control, throttle input settings and vehicle stability program so that stopping and turning on gravel is achieved more safely and intuitively.
Even on gravel the allroad just chewed up the kilometres in sustained comfort. Over a couple of washed-out ruts, there was a mild thump from the suspension, but the car kept its composure and kept on going without any stress.
The 2017 Audi A4 allroad quattro is a very accomplished car. The little issues I had with the intuitiveness of the controls and front seat support are minor in the overall scope of the allroad. It’s smart, practical, classy and luxurious and most importantly, easy to live with around town and on tour.
You get good economy and response from the petrol engine, and it really does deal with ‘all roads’ remarkably well.
Now, still on the unmarked, unsealed road, I took the time to try and relax after the ordeal with the other car, opting to play some music already on the car’s hard-disk jukebox, and then it dawned on me.
The other car wasn’t trying to hit me or scare me. He was trying to warn me.
Warn me about why the boot was open. Warn me about why I felt I was being watched.
Warn me about the escaped axe-wielding lunatic now hiding in the back seat!
I spun around and….
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.