Mountain Wheels: Superb, well-grounded motoring in Audi’s A4 Allroad (column)
After a winter’s worth of mid-sized SUVs, medium- and full-sized sedans and every other possible variation of all-season-worthy automobiles, I am quite sure the new Audi A4 Allroad is one of the best of the bunch.
Yes, I know that it seems that it’s only automobile journalists and actual people in Europe who really dig station wagons, but remember that the now bus-sized Outbacks in your neighbors’ yards are also station wagons, though they have become a bit cumbersome as the brand tried so hard to be everything to everyone.
Trust me on this: The 2018 Allroad finds a sweet spot that is going to make you enjoy driving again, with the possible exception of any time spent on I-70 between Friday afternoons and Monday mornings, in which case you are totally out of luck, no matter what you drive. Stay home. Look for property in Idaho. I can no longer help on that issue, and I sure don’t enjoy driving then, either.
Allroad has become quite wide but its low overall and entirely regular car height, its ridiculously smooth driving character and its indefatigable Quattro all-wheel-drive system all provide a motoring experience that’s absolutely fantastic.
You do not get the girth and head-bobbing wobble of an SUV — and those with 130 pairs of skis to haul are going to need a roof rack box — but for nearly everyone else, the scale and the available storage are going to be just right. With the rear seats dropped, you get 54.5 cubic feet of space, and a 20/40/20 split rear seat means added adaptability with one more passenger aboard.
Allroad is most loveable in that it is still very much a new Audi A4, which means it is sophisticated, fun to drive and powerful in a just-right sort of way. Unlike the older, taller Allroads of the first generation — which are essentially what Outback has physically turned into over the years, minus the roaring V8 engine and the sometimes troublesome air suspension system — this new A4-based machine features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 252 horsepower and 273-foot-pound of torque.
That is a figure that’s ideal for confident and speedy hauling over the passes (Monday afternoon through Friday morning, mind you), and also means you can keep up with the ever-increasing madman speeds on Front Range freeways, though its top speed is electronically limited to 130 MPH.
Get it going and the beauty of Allroad is the ride and the handling, with a subtle, sporty and entirely composed character that will make any SUV seem like the box on truck frame so many of them still are.
I also appreciate Allroad’s no-drama interior, with details that are all functional, attractive but not garish in their design, and the unbelievably supportive seating. It’s also nice to have seats that open at regular car height, not requiring any clambering or leaps to access, and the Allroad’s 6.5-inch road clearance (up about an inch from the standard A4) will be fine for most of the snow and minor gravel road obstacles you’ll likely want to encounter in a $45,000 European car. You want more clearance, and a bright orange paint job and a constant thirst for power? Think about the Subaru Crosstrek, which we will address in the coming weeks.
There was some complaining at the new Allroad’s launch a year and a half ago that the vehicle did not present the off-road chops today’s adventure-oriented drivers crave. To that end, the Audi’s sophisticated drive-select system and its adaptive dampers have a dedicated off-road setting that will help add some stability during your cruise to the campsite, but it’s better suited for bad winter roads, not rock crawling.
The price tag on my test vehicle largely jumped up from a $44,500 base to $56,000 with the addition of the Prestige package, which adds the 19-speaker Bang and Olufsen 3D sound system, the full MMI navigation system and the very stylish Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display. It also included the full range of safety systems — pre-collision, lane assist, traffic sign recognition and such.
You may be a little confused by two buttons on the new, short-throw shifter (one is for park, and one activates the changes, so you don’t get any of the rolling sometimes associated with older transmissions) and the positioning of the MMI navigation input just forward of the shifter is also a little awkward.
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