Sometimes, it’s all in the details.
A tremendous amount of very fancy stuff happens perpetually beneath the floor-pan, but what you feel from the driver’s seat is easy to explain: you virtually never feel anything at all.
Smash the brakes on a snowy road, and the action of the ABS system is virtually inaudible, as the clickity-click vibration typical at many a brake pedal occurs almost undetectably. Slip, slide or plow into an icy corner, and the stability control kicks in gently, quietly, and smoothly – no abrupt tugging of the car, no startling sounds as brake calipers fire away, and no lurching of the vehicle beneath you. Hammer it off the line through a slush-striped intersection, and the AWD system keeps you steaming ahead, hard and fast, with no squirming, shifting or slamming as clutches twitch away, and power is constantly re-divvied beneath.
In virtually any winter driving maneuver that a vehicle system needs to respond to, the Audi A4 Allroad makes its adjustments on the sly. A tremendous amount of very fancy stuff happens perpetually beneath the floor-pan, but what you feel from the driver’s seat is easy to explain: you virtually never feel anything at all.
The 2017 Audi A4 Allroad is your A4 wagon: a backwoodsy unit built from the new Audi A4. If the A4 is a casual dress shoe, the Allroad is a hiking boot – and if you like what’s going on with the A4, but need more room, more ride height and more ruggedness to the looks, wrapped in a package that almost seems naked without a set of roof-mounted skiing provisions, the A4 Allroad would like to meet you very much.
A new AWD system debuts here. Dubbed Quattro Ultra, it disconnects the rear differential and driveshaft when front-wheel drive is sufficient. Less friction. Less rotation. Less parasitic power loss as gears slosh around in a bath of differential fluid. When AWD is needed, the rear axle, and associated componentry, are re-activated in 250 milliseconds. Literally, that’s faster than a human blink.
Here’s the neat-o stuff for All-Wheel Drive geeks: system disconnection happens at the rear axle, because the centre power transfer unit is a Torsen differential, which has no clutches, and can’t be disconnected. And, where many disconnectable AWD systems default to two-wheel drive, and activate four-wheel drive when it’s needed, Quattro Ultra defaults to all-wheel drive, until it’s certain that the rear wheels won’t be needed, before decoupling them. It’s all-wheel drive most of the time, front-wheel drive when appropriate, and not vice versa. The priority here is traction.
In simpler terms? You get grip for days, and save fuel, which is fancy.
A return on your investment in the latest traction-enhancing tech is, perhaps, most apparent during careful severe weather driving, though the Allroad also plays ball when drivers find occasion to entertain themselves on an empty backroad. Pushed, stability controls allow the Allroad to dance predictably over snowy roads, with limited slipping, but minimal overstepping of the systems via traction control intervention. It’s more lively than limiting, and the assist systems relax a measure when they detect a little monkey business via your inputs, more so in sport mode. Note that the tester wore a quality set of winter tires.
A4 Allroad runs the same 2L turbo four-cylinder engine as the new A4 Sedan, with 252 hp and even more torque. Output is creamy smooth, the dual-clutch transmission shifts with flawless and instant rev-matching in both directions at all times, and driven gently, a giant wad of low-end grunt meets even light throttle inputs with plenty of forward motion, and even without breaking 2,000 rpm. Explore the upper end of the tachometer, and only an orderly, subdued growl ever seeps into the car. It’s a flexible engine: as happy to lug through traffic at low revs as it is to spin fast while feasting on intercooled air. Turbocharger lag is nearly imperceptible, and reserves for passing and merging are more than adequate – though some drivers will wish for a higher-output engine option, which wasn’t available at writing.
Notably, regardless of the drive mode currently engaged via the central computer interface, a quick tip on the gearshift lever engages the transmission’s “Sport” mode, which increases upshift revs and throttle response, with just a few millimeters of fingertip movement.
How’s she ride? The Allroad is sportier and tauter than many will find it to look – though expert tuning of the suspension, largely via defined layers of softness and firmness to the dampers, shine through. She cruises smooth highways with a touch of softness and handles rougher in-town roads with a firm but forgiving feel that rarely crashes into bumps.
The added ride height here does little to negatively impact handling, or the vehicle’s feel of stable and predictable cornering. It rides like a softer sports sedan – balanced nicely between squishy and stiff, but not too much of either.
Steering is much the same setup as the A4 – due to clever real-time adjustments. It’s light and lazy and effortless at parking-lot speeds, a measure stiffer at around-town speeds but still light enough to give drivers a light on its feet feel, and heavier and more locked-on on the highway at increased velocities.
In any of its calibrations, two traits shine through the steering: first, even when the steering heavies up a little, it’s still light enough to feel eager first, heavy second. And second, in all modes, the ratio is quick enough for drivers to issue adjustments and corrections via only slight inputs at the wheel, furthering the overall enthusiasm.
Maneuverability is also notable – the turning circle is about average, but the steering at low speeds is feather-light, and the high-resolution camera system, with 360 degrees of coverage, makes hazard detection a cinch.
A motorized tailgate opens on a cargo area with its floor set at knee-height, and a relatively long and wide shape. Loading and stacking of gear and supplies is easy, and the cargo hold should prove more than adequate for a four-person road trip’s worth of baggage. Rear seats are adequate for average-size adults – nothing more. They’re comfy snug: not tight, but not spacious.
Elsewhere in the cabin? The same techy and upscale and futuristic touches as the A4 are all in attendance, most notable being the gorgeous all-digital Virtual Dash instrument cluster, and nearly playful use of screens and consoles and interfaces deployed for an ultra-modern look.
Some notes on winter driving. Running the same LED lights as the A4, your writer enjoyed confidence-inspiring after-dark lighting, with the reach and colour of the light system output being most notable. Even the thin-blade wipers and wide-angle windshield fluid spray pattern seem carefully calibrated, and the windscreen clears quickly and with little fuss, even at higher cruising speeds.
Finally, even at 32 below, the Allroad fires up eagerly in the morning with no plugging-in required. Ignition takes a second longer than if it’s warm, but the engine comes online without any added sound effects or vibration, even in extreme cold.
Shoppers considering the Allroad’s lower-cost cousin, the VW Golf Alltrack, should note at least one stand-out attribute that separates the two models: noise levels. The Allroad is quieter at all times, and maintains that low noise level more consistently on broken or rough surfaces.
Mileage on my watch, in spite of vigorous enjoyment of the turbocharger and frequent use of the AWD system in a variety of tests in deep snow, landed at just 10.1 L/100 km of premium unleaded.
Though the starting price of $55,300 (A4 Allroad Technik) opens the door on any number of roomier luxury crossovers, the right shopper will find the A4 Allroad to work nicely as a winter-busting wagon that’s big on seamless enhancement of control and confidence from systems that are highly effective but almost invisible. Add in the great cabin and nicely sorted ride and handling, and you’ve got a high-utility driving machine that’s ready for action, all year round.
|2017 Audi A4 Allroad Quattro Technik|
|Engine Displacement: 2.0L|
|Engine Cylinders: 4|
|Peak Horsepower: 252 hp @ 5,000–6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy: 10.2/8.3/9.3 L/100km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space: 680 L|
|2017 Audi A4 Allroad Quattro Technik|
|Base Price $55,300|
|A/C Tax $100|
|Destination Fee $2,095|
|Price as Tested $65,205|
|Optional Equipment $6,910 – Premium Paint $890; Sport Package $1,400; Advanced Driver Assist Package $2,000; Rear Window Sunshades $300; Audi Connect System $520; Head Up Display $1,000; Comfort Seating $800|