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Audi A4 Allroad: On the comeback trail

By Deon Schoeman 7 March 2013

Mentioning the Allroad nameplate is one way to get any Audi fan smiling. The original A6 Allroad may only have been sold in South Africa in limited numbers, but its unique combination of luxury, versatility and performance has since become the stuff of legends. The all-new A4 Allroad not only reintroduces the nameplate, but also hopes to rekindle some of that crossover magic. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

It’s becoming more and more difficult to catalogue the current crop of cars. But it wasn’t always like that. In the 1980s, sedans, station wagons and hatchbacks accounted for the bulk of new vehicle sales. But over time, the lines of distinction have become increasingly blurred.

Today, you can take your pick from an ever-growing list of increasingly specialised model genres, many saddled with confusing acronyms: MPVs, SUVs, SAVs – the list goes on and on.

Take the new Audi A4 Allroad, for example: it combines the elegance and practicality of an estate car with the all-terrain capability and the robust looks of a soft-roader. Does that turn it into clever jack-of-all-trades, or does it end up being a master of none?

In a normal A4 Avant, which is the car the Allroad is based on, I’d tend to shy away from anything but tar roads. But as the Allroad nameplate implies, this latest crossover isn’t scared to roll up its sleeves, and to tackle rougher, tougher surfaces.

So, just how much all-terrain capability does the Allroad really offer? Well, for starters it is 180 mm taller than its road-going Avant cousin, but still has a more streamlined silhouette than a mainstream SUV.

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It also gets a suspension specifically tweaked for off-road work, while Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system provides both the traction, and some gravel-specific enhancements. The standard stability control system is fitted with off-road detection to ensure that it doesn’t become too intrusive.

The result is a vehicle that feels composed and sure-footed on gravel. It has plenty of grip, even on very loose surfaces, and through sand and mud. However, in the absence of a diff lock or low range, more challenging conditions such as rocky terrain and deep sand are no-nos.

The most limiting factors are the Allroad’s limited ground clearance (by SUV standards), and the wheel and tyre combination. Our test car was fitted with road tyres on generous 18-inch rims, but those likely to head off the beaten track will have to consider more aggressive rubber, while also sticking to the standard 17-inch wheels.

Admittedly, the larger 18-inch versions fill the wheel arches more effectively, and the fatter, lower-profile rubber benefits grip and on-road composure. But the Allroad deserves to traverse more challenging terrain than the occasional urban kerb or stretch of smallholding gravel. It carries its dusty coat like a badge of honour, and the stronger lines of the uniquely adapted single-frame grille add further visual appeal.

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I’ve always liked the clean, sleek shape of the standard A4 Avant. But the Allroad gets more visual muscle, thanks to its taller stance, its front and rear metallic scuff plates, and those contrasting bumpers and wheel arch mouldings. Less apparent is the stainless steel underbody protection.

But swap sand and grit for sweeping tarmac roads, and you’ll soon forget that this Audi carries the Allroad tag. Despite its slightly taller stance, the smart crossover attacks sweeps and turns with all the sporty verve and confidence of a performance estate.

Quattro all-wheel drive is the common denominator, providing balance and composure even when driving with real intent, while the pliant suspension smoothes out creases and kinks, yet delivers clear and unambiguous feedback.

From an interior design perspective, there aren’t really any clues to the all-terrain talents of the Allroad. Instead, the emphasis remains on luxury and premium quality.

The standard specification list includes leather upholstery, Bluetooth audio and telephony, as well as Audi’s proprietary MMI control system with colour screen. And since this is an estate car, you also get lots of luggage space: 490 litres with the rear seat in place, and a full 1,430 litres with the bench seat folded flat.

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Just as well, then, that the Allroad’s underpinnings make provision for both sufficient power to create performance appeal, and the kind of walloping torque necessary to ensure ample lugging potential, even when loaded to the brim.

Talking about power, the Allroad is offered with a choice of two engines. The petrol option is the well-known 2.0 TFSI four-cylinder with turbocharger and direct injection. It’s rated at 155 kW and 350 Nm, resulting in a sprightly performance.

Even so, the more popular version is likely to be the 2.0 TDI turbodiesel, credited with 130 kW and 380 Nm. The low-down shove is quite astonishing, ensuring swift responses and boosting tractability when needed. It’s a consummate and effortless cruise, too. Audi’s seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox is standard, as is quattro all-wheel drive.

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No wonder the Allroad is no slouch in dynamic terms. The specs allow for a 0-100 km/h dash in the low eight-sec bracket, combined with a 210 km/h top speed.

Choosing between two such appealing drivetrains will never be easy. Those with high annual mileage tallies, a calendar filled with frequent long-distance overland trips, or with heavy loads and towing in mind, will favour the turbodiesel. But the TFSI petrol model is the racier and the slicker of the two. At least both share the same, talented chassis.

There’s no doubt that the petrol model will be thirstier, although it may be more frugal than expected on the open road. However, regardless of engine, it’s the A4 Allroad’s versatility that is likely to be its strongest suit.

Is there a market for a car like the Allroad in a country where the SUV is king? It certainly represents a compelling alternative to the larger, but far less wieldy off-roaders flying the SUV flag.

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In fact, the Allroad offers the best of both worlds: the wieldy, car-like road manners so typical of an estate, linked to the rugged stance and all-terrain talent of a soft-roader. The TDI adds admirable efficiency to that equation.

The question is whether that’s enough to convince buyers to opt for the Allroad instead of a conventional SUV. Put it this way: the Audi is the kind of vehicle that needs to be experienced.

Yes, the A4 Allroad quattro offers a compelling alternative to premium softroaders, and with limited volumes available, we don’t think Audi will struggle to attract a steady stream of buyers.

It may even convert a few SUV owners into Audi Avant fans in the process…DM

Vital statistics: Audi A4 allroad 2.0 TDI quattro

  • Engine In-line four-cylinder, 1,968 cc, turbodiesel
  • Gearbox Seven-speed S-tronic
  • Power 130 kW @ 4,000rpm
  • Torque 380 Nm @ 1,500 rpm
  • 0-100 km/h 8.1 sec
  • Top speed 210 km/h
  • Fuel consumption 18,5 litres/100 km (tested)
  • CO2 emissions N/A
  • Retail price R438 000
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