► New Audi A4 Allroad Quattro put through its paces
► Cosmetic tweaks and improved ground clearance
► Is it worth the premium over the standard estate?
The new Audi A4 Allroad Quattro is the second generation of Ingolstadt’s family estate dressed in outdoorsy gear. It features suspension that’s raised by 34mm, protective body cladding and standard-fit all-wheel drive. It’s on sale from late April, with first deliveries commencing in June, and prices start from £35,560.
The 2.0-litre TFSI is the only petrol model, while a 2.0 TDI (148bhp and 178bhp tunes) and a 3.0-litre TDI (215bhp or 268bhp) account for the diesel line-up.
With the boom in SUV sales, plugging the gap between a family estate and an SUV is an obvious niche to tap, yet Audi’s German rivals have so far kept out of this territory. Instead, you’ll need to look at in-house siblings the Skoda Octavia Scout (from £25,405) and VW Passat Alltrack (£31,185) to get something similar in this segment.
The Peugeot 508 RXH (£31,145), Subaru Outback (£27,995) or Volvo XC70 (£36,620) offer a similar concept on a larger scale. None, however, get the option of six-cylinder firepower.
What’s the big story?
Audi has been tinkering with its Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The newest iteration is called ‘Quattro with Ultra technology’ and arrives first in 2.0-litre TFSI variants, but will appear in TDI models later.
Quattro with Ultra is available with in cars fitted with longitudinally mounted engines; those are typically the larger, more expensive models. Like the GKN-developed Active Driveline system used in the Range Rover Evoque, the new Quattro system can be purely front-wheel drive in steady-state driving, which reduces drivetrain losses, saving fuel and cutting CO2 emissions. But the system constantly monitors conditions and driver inputs, allowing it to predict when all-wheel drive will be required (and how much should be sent rearwards), rather than reacting to slip alone.
Audi says the time taken to switch between front- and all-wheel drive is ‘a split second’, and that the new systems saves 4kg. It uses a multi-plate clutch at the front, and a decoupler integrated into the rear differential, to engage and disengage all-wheel drive; the latter stops the crown wheel at the rear axle dragging through oil, which is said to account for 70% of all-wheel drive efficiency losses.
Powertrain specialist Magna developed the hardware, but Audi wrote the software in-house. Every ten milliseconds, the system analyses data including steering angle, engine torque, how hard the car is accelerating, and if it’s slipping sideways. Audi describes the system as proactive, predictive and reactive. The proactive element allows it to activate all-wheel drive roughly 0.5 seconds in advance of wheel slip occurring, based on data taken from sensors.
The predictive element adapts to driving style and the Drive Select controller. So if you’re driving like a loon in Dynamic, the system will engage Quattro sooner and for longer, and send more torque to the rear wheels. Finally, reactive activation (i.e how these systems always used to work) adapts to circumstances the sensors can’t detect, like someone driving sedately in a straight line, but suddenly hitting a patch of ice and losing traction.
Will the diesel engines also feature Quattro with Ultra when they arrive?
No, that comes later. When the diesels first come on stream, they’ll use the familiar Quattro system with a mechanical centre differential. In normal driving power is split 40/60 front-to-rear, but a maximum of 70 percent can be channelled to the front, and 85 percent to the rear when conditions dictate. All will ultimately switch over to Quattro with Ultra, barring the pokiest TDI.
Is the Allroad more than an A4 Avant wearing a backpack and hiking boots?
Not really. You get a unique front bumper, the textured black cladding, underbody guards front and rear, and raised roof rails. The plastic body cladding can be painted body colour as an option, but it looks a little unbalanced to these eyes, like the extra ground clearance needs removing.
The interior is the same as other A4s; that’s to say it’s extremely high quality, neatly laid out, and spacious enough to sometimes make you think you’re in an A6. Four six-footers will be perfectly comfortable in here.
The boot offers 505 litres of storage space, and the rear seats fold 40/20/40. Fold them flat and you’ll unleash 1510 litres of fresh air (3-series Touring 495/1500 litres; C-class estate 490/1510 litres, Skoda Octavia 610/1740 litres). A powered tailgate is also standard fit, while the load cover raises and lowers automatically to ease loading. Waving-your-foot-under-the-tailgate activation is optional.
What’s the Allroad like to drive?
We drove both the 2.0-litre petrol with the new Quattro system, and the 2.0-litre TDI with the old Quattro system. The petrol is smooth and quiet, and perfectly flexible enough for typical driving, but doesn’t quite have the enthusiasm you might expect when you floor it. Mash the throttle and the engine becomes much more vocal, and speed builds more slowly than the Golf GTI-shaming power output suggests; extra weight, of course, is the cause.
The raised ride height also makes the Allroad feel quite cumbersome through bends; the BMW 3-series and Jaguar XE are far sharper handlers, though neither gets the Allroad’s wellies treatment. The trade-off is a superbly supple ride that makes the Audi a fantastic long-haul companion.
Our test route near Munich was disappointingly Roman-like, and it was impossible to tell when Quattro was kicking in and out; there’s no graphic in the infotainment system to show you what’s going on, in the manner you might see with a hybrid system.
Only when an engineer climbed aboard with his iPad could we see that I’d averaged 80% of the journey in front-wheel drive, and it was surprising how early Quattro activated; it would engage even at very low speed on a roundabout when you might think it clearly wasn’t required.
The 187bhp diesel model is impressively refined and although the stats say it’s slower, it feels more eager and flexible during typical driving than the petrol; it rarely feels like it’s straining to give you the performance required, and that whoosh of torque better suits the Allroad’s cruisey character.
I couldn’t detect any difference between the traditional Quattro system and Quattro With Ultra. Two things, however, were notable: in the one corner we did find that the diesel seemed to understeer a little more, but it also rode more firmly, a corollary of stiffer springs for a slightly heavier engine, perhaps.
Comfort was still high – especially in the Comfort setting on our car’s optional adaptive dampers – but it seemed to corner with a little more control and transmitted more road-surface pock marks through to the cabin. Interesting, though, that the A4 Avant we tried recently (albeit with the 3.0 TDI engine) rode serenely, so the ride comfort benefits may not be so significant.
In both models, road- and wind-noise is incredibly subdued, even when we topped 120mph on a derestricted autobahn.
Is the Allroad actually any better off-road than a regular Avant?
There was no off-road driving on the press launch but the 34mm extra ground clearance will improve approach, breakover and departure angles, and it’s interesting that the 11mm of extra clearance comes from fatter tyre sidewalls.
They’ll not only help ride comfort but reduce the likelihood of punctures when you hit potholes or bound down farm tracks. Still, an Audi spokesman was honest enough in describing this as ‘not a hard as nails SUV’, but something better suited to occasional light off-roading.
There’s also a new off-roading mode in the Drive Select controller; it adjusts the powertrain and ESP settings to take account of loose surfaces.
The Audi A4 Allroad Quattro is a very likeable car. It offers excellent refinement, the versatility of a large luggage area and a standard power tailgate, and a premium look and feel both inside and out. With the optional Virtual Cockpit, it’s also leagues ahead of the opposition for techie appeal.
From what we can tell on a less-than-ideal test route, the more efficient Quattro with Ultra all-wheel-drive system also seems to work seamlessly. It’s a tricky message for consumers to understand (‘You know we’ve always told you Quattro is good? Well, sometimes it’s bad!’) – but perhaps that’s why the system is standard, not a cost-option.
It’s easy to become cynical about a car like this but the fact is the Allroad does have a rugged appeal all of its own, and the raised ground clearance might be highly useful if you live on a farm, have to routinely tackle unmade roads and park on pavements (but only for two minutes). For most of us, though, the A4 Avant will do the job perfectly well, and handle more sharply into the bargain. Either way, you’ll have a very satisfying bit of kit