Few cars look as good going down the road as an Audi A4 wagon. We lived with a 2009 A4 Avant for a year and never got tired of its compelling combination of style and utility.
Yet Audi still can't get enough of you to buy its wagons. So when the automaker dispatches the refreshed A4 and S4 family to the U.S. in June 2012, it's leaving the regular A4 Avant at home. In its place, we'll get the 2013 Audi A4 Allroad.
It really isn't much different from our long-term A4. But contrasting body trim and raised ground clearance make the A4 Allroad look tougher — perhaps just tough enough to get a few more Americans out of their SUVs and into a proper wagon.
Allroad, Take Two
This isn't the first time Audi has tried to sell us an Allroad. The original Allroad was an emergency stopgap back when luxury-themed SUVs started showing up in every driveway from Beverly Hills to Nassau County. It was based on the larger A6 wagon and came with powerful but thirsty V6 and V8 engines. Audi sold a few, but it was too expensive to keep around once the Q7 came along.
Of course, the wagon-loving Europeans dug the Allroad, and a couple years ago, Audi made another one based on the A4. The automaker offered it with a couple diesel engines, plus the familiar turbocharged and direct-injected, 2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder gasoline engine. For 2013, the A4 Allroad gets the same exterior freshening and interior updates as other A4s, along with a few key functional changes.
The 2.0 TFSI engine benefits from various friction reduction measures, which should be good for higher mileage ratings from the EPA. Further, the steering now uses electric power assist (a change Audi is also applying to the S4) and features a slightly quicker 15.9:1 ratio versus 16.1:1 previously on the European-spec Allroad (16.3 on other A4s).
Compared to a normal A4 wagon, the Allroad is 0.7 inch longer, 0.5 inch wider and 2.5 inches taller, with an inch wider track and an extra 1.4 inches of ride height. If you're a gravel racer in the mold of IL Senior Editor Josh Jacquot, you'll find that its 7.1 inches of ground clearance are more than enough to get you in trouble.
A clutch-type all-wheel-drive system is standard, of course, and the stability control system has off-road logic that allows more wheel slip. But if you're like Jacquot, you will have disabled this feature.
So How Does It Drive?
Our drive in the 2013 Audi A4 Allroad reminds us how much we like the 2.0 TFSI engine.
Rated at 211 horsepower, it's one of the smoothest inline four-cylinders out there and never feels like it's doing work meant for a bigger lump — even in the Allroad, which weighs 90 pounds more than a regular A4 Avant. The engine's 258 pound-feet of torque arrives at just 1,500 and sticks with you until 4,200 rpm, so passing maneuvers are effortless.
Our test car has Audi's six-speed manual gearbox driving all four wheels, and the automatic option for Europeans is the company's S tronic seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission. We won't see either of these gearboxes in the U.S., where, as with the 2012 A4 Avant, Audi will sell the Allroad exclusively with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Thusly equipped, the U.S.-spec car should take about 6.6 seconds to hit 60 mph — a tenth of a second slower than Audi's claim for a regular A4 wagon.
Better Ride Than A4 Avant
The A4 Allroad's longer-travel suspension works wonders for its ride quality, something we often complained about during our year with the A4 Avant (though in fairness, that car had the optional sport-tuned suspension).
On our test route through Portugal, the high-riding A4 wagon proves impressively compliant on highways and back roads alike. We look forward to trying an A4 Allroad on our considerably rougher U.S. interstates.
Sharp handling is a hallmark of the current-generation A4, as you may recall our long-term Avant was capable of more than 69 mph through the slalom. Although the Allroad's softer setup allows more body roll, the crossover wagon still feels balanced when cornering hard and isn't upset by midcorner bumps.
We're also happy with the new electric power steering, which delivers appropriate effort and talks to us with increasing clarity as we approach the limits of our test car's 245/45R18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT tires. Notably, we can adjust the level of power assist via the car's Drive Select system, which also allows us to tailor throttle response and transmission shift points (if your car has the automatic, that is) to our tastes.
Some of you might point out that the 2013 Audi A4 Allroad is a bit half-hearted. After all, it's not really intended for all roads, as the only underbody protection it comes with is plastic unless you pony up for a steel skid plate.
But we like the A4 Allroad anyway, mainly because it has the refined ride quality you expect in an entry-level luxury car — and that has never quite come together in other A4s. It looks every bit as stunning as a conventional A4 wagon, and offers the same performance and fuel economy we liked so much in our long-term Avant.
The original A6 Allroad never really made sense to us because it was so heavy and expensive, but with a likely price tag under $40,000, the 2013 Audi A4 Allroad looks to be a much stronger package. Now there's just the matter of persuading our fellow Americans to go out and buy this wagon.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.