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All roads to all people

Ryan Borroff
The Audi A4 Allroad has been launched into another new segment that Audi seems to have created. You can probably count the number of four-wheel drive estates you know of on one hand. The others are Audi’s own A6 Allroad, the Subaru Forester and the Skoda Octavia Scout which at its heart is an Audi with a Polish winged arrow on the bonnet.

The A6 Allroad was essentially one of the world’s first “crossover” vehicles when it was launched in 2000, being a combination of off-road SUV and practical estate car. Now Audi has introduced its smaller A4 Allroad sibling. It’s one of the few estate cars that is cooler and better-looking than the saloon car that spawned it, and in a market of estate cars – hardly a trendy segment – this distinguishes the Allroad from its rivals.

We were testing the 3.0 TDI quattro version. The most striking first impression is that it is just incredibly well built and so cleverly conceived. It seems to do everything either very well or well enough, without uncomfortable compromises. On the road the car is a surprisingly good drive. This is in part due to a wider track of 20mm more than a regular Audi A4 Avant and an elevated ride height (up 37mm). These are elements that make the car very useful on back-country roads yet don’t seem to result in too much rolling in the corners on the tarmac.

In terms of speed the 240bhp 3.0 litre V6 engine delivers an acceleration time of 6.4 seconds which, when combined with its safe-as-houses feel (this is thanks to the quattro four-wheel-drive system), gives you a surprising kick in the pants when joining the M11. It’ll go on to a top speed of 148mph if you are crazy enough to taunt the Essex constabulary.

The Allroad is either a comfortable and quiet ride with very little road noise for cruising, or an impressive and spirited driver for when you’re in a hurry. It feels surefooted and you feel both confident and safe. What’s more, it does all of this while still delivering surprisingly good fuel economy, so filling the car is less painful than expected.

On our test model, Audi had toned down the contrasting wide arches and instead the colour of the wheel arches matched the body. This meant there was very little to suggest that it was actually an Allroad other than its understated badge at the rear. Seing as it’s actually a bit of a rocket, this seemed deliciously covert.

UTOMOTIVE ALCHEMY
Inside, the car is clean and calm and possibly a little dull. But what the interior lacks in character – thanks to its minimal, functional design – is more than made up for in quality. The interior is well made and the real wood trim is a treat: it does just enough to break up what is quite a big swathe of black plastic across the dash. The car is comfortable, particularly the leather seats, and there are enough cubbies to stow a few bits and pieces. But it is the switches (some of which are in cool chrome), the controls and the multimedia system (Audi’s MMI system) that are a triumph. It’s all so intuitive and functions so well that you can use it straight away without having to consult the manual. Phone docking and dialling was a breeze and the design and function of the interface a genuine pleasure to use. For some reason this model had virtually all of my top 20 albums from the 80s and 90s preloaded into it, which was a pleasant surprise. Accessing them was easy and similar to scrolling through the music on an original scroll wheel iPod.

The only minor grumble was that, when switched off, the MMI screen defaults to a silver off screen which was comprised of the MMI logo and Audi’s familiar four rings. An all-black screen would have been so much more stylish and would have left the dash entirely uninterrupted.

Perhaps the only downside of the car was the boot, which was less generous than I expected – I would question how practical the car would be on a long road trip with a couple of kids. A clever load-carrying restraint system was no doubt useful but just appeared to reduce the boot size further (although I could have removed it). A reversible rubberised load mat which can be rolled out as a rubber carpet to welcome a dirty baby buggy, compost pile or the like, while protecting the rear of the car, seemed an unnecessary addition.

Overall, the A4 Allroad Quattro may be one of the few truly desirable estate cars. It’s not a particularly emotional driving experience as it lacks some soul. But ultimately, the car is a triumph of automotive alchemy and is a superb all-rounder.

THE FACTS:
AUDI A4 ALLROAD

PRICE: £36,145
0-62MPH: 6.4 secs
TOP SPEED: 148 mph
CO2 G/KM: 189
MPG COMBINED: 39.8 mpg