On the face of it, a conventional estate car modified for light off-road use with the addition of all-wheel drive, raised ground clearance and increased suspension travel would seem to make more sense for many buyers than a contemporary high-rise SUV. And the Audi A4 Allroad is just such a car, an A4 Avant that has been modified to provide it with the ability to head off-road, albeit not too far. 

The A4 Allroad slots into Audi’s line-up between the A4 Avant quattro and the Q5 SUV, and serves to provide customers with yet another choice in a crowded four-wheel drive market.

Road tester
The ruggedised A4 Allroad adds off-road talent. Don't expect Camel Trophy-like ability though

As with the more expensive A6 Allroad, Audi has persisted with black plastic cladding to provide the exterior of the A4 Allroad with a toughened-up appearance. It’s certainly not going to appeal to everyone, but the various styling measures help to instantly set the car apart from its road-biased siblings.

An added 37mm of ride height improves approach and departure angles, while extra cladding along the underbody also provides improved protection to the components underneath.

The Audi A4 Allroad’s cabin is standard A4, so it’s good looking, superbly laid out and generally high in quality. There are also some unique touches, including shiny sill plates, cloth seat upholstery and dashboard applications that give it a slightly more rugged ambience.

There is a choice of three engines: one petrol and two diesels. They include Audi’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder TFSI engine with 208bhp and 258lb ft of torque, and a 242bhp, 369lb ft 3.0-litre V6 TDI.

But it is the excellent and well-proven 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI that promises to attract the majority of UK sales. This engine develops 175bhp at 4200rpm and 280lb ft of torque at 1750rpm. That’s sufficient to propel the standard six-speed manual model (a seven-speed double-clutch gearbox is also available) from 0-62mph in 8.2sec and on to a top speed of 134mph. Combined fuel consumption is 46.3mpg with a CO2 output of 159g/km.

The 3.0TDI, as you would expect, delivers performance in a very similar manner to the 2.0-litre version, only more so. It's the fastest of the three Allroads, with a 0-62mph time of 6.2sec and a top speed of 149mph. It suffers only marginally compared to the smaller diesel in fuel consumption, with a combined figure of 45.6mpg.

The 2.0TFSI petrol option combines good performance (0-62mph in 6.8sec) and decent efficiency (39.2mpg and 169g/km when equipped with the manual). Being turbocharged, it also delivers its power in a similar fashion to the diesels, with a linear delivery of its 258lb ft.  However, given the off-road bent of the Allroad, the extra torque of the diesels would be preferable.

And given its twin roles, the A4 Allroad is surprisingly competent. You get a commanding view of the road (although not as commanding as from within a dedicated SUVs), yet in overall on-road ability it is virtually indistinguishable from the standard A4 Avant. To offset a slightly higher centre of gravity, Audi has provided the A4 Allroad with 20mm wider tracks, achieved by fitting redesigned wheel carriers rather than altering the fundamental mechanical package.

Firm damping ensures body roll is well contained, and while it leans more than the A4 Avant, it never quite builds to the levels evident in the Q5. There is a drawback to the increased ride height, though, and it can be felt at high speeds, where wind buffeting within the wheel arches upsets the A4’s straight-line stability.

The revelation, however, is the ride. With an added 26mm of spring travel up front and 13mm at the rear, the A4 Allroad rides with greater aplomb than other A4s.

There are no air springs on the A4 Allroad, as there are on the A6 Allroad. As a result, you cannot raise the ride height of the A4 Allroad when you head away from the bitumen like in some rival off-roaders. But at 180mm, its nominal ground clearance is just 20mm shy of the more rugged Q5.

The 2.0-litre TDI engine is exceptionally well suited to the A4 Allroad, with a satisfyingly flexible delivery from idle well into middling revs providing an excellent combination of performance and economy. It is also impressively smooth and hushed.

Although not featured on early models, Audi now equips the A4 Allroad with a standard efficiency package that includes stop-start, brake energy recuperation and an optimal shift display within the instrument binnacle.

If you spend most of your time on road but seek a car capable of tackling the odd excursion off road, the Audi A4 Allroad 2.0 TDI makes a pretty convincing case for itself.