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.
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 34mm 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. Unlike the previous generation the new A4 Allroad is available in two trims a standard one and a sport level.
Entry level models get 17in alloys, adaptive suspension configured for comfort, xenon headlights, aluminium exterior trim, cruise control and parking sensors as standard, while inside there is tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, city brake assist, and Audi's 7.0in display MMI infotainment system with Bluetooth, smartphone integration and DAB radio all included.
Upgrade for a mere £2985 and the Sport trim will equip your A4 Allroad with 18in alloys, LED headlights, Audi's rear dynamic indicators, acoustic glazing, sports seats, a leather upholstery and sat nav all thrown in as a neat bundle.
There is a choice of four engines: one petrol and three diesels. They include Audi’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder TFSI engine with 248bhp, while the diesel range is headed by a 178bhp 2.0-litre TDI unit, and heading the range is a 3.0-litre V6 oilburner available with 215bhp and 268bhp. Each model is mated to a seven-speed automatic, except the range-topping 3.0-litre V6 which is fitted with an eight-speed 'box.
It is the excellent and well-proven 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI that promises to attract the majority of UK sales. The 3.0TDI, as you would expect, delivers performance in a very similar manner to the 2.0-litre version, only more so. The 268bhp version is the fastest of the four Allroads, with a 0-62mph time of 5.5sec and a top speed of 155mph. It suffers only marginally compared to the smaller diesel in fuel consumption, with a combined figure of 53.3mpg compared to the 2.0TDI's 57.6mpg.
The 2.0TFSI petrol option combines good performance (0-62mph in 6.1sec) and decent efficiency (44.1mpg and 147g/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.
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.