You could reasonably argue that the Audi A4 allroad quattro is a car in search of a role.
As a fast estate, the 3-litre turbocharged diesel A4 is almost peerless, balancing economy and performance in a very convincing way.
Yet the A4 allroad’s handling is potentially compromised by a lift in ride height, ostensibly giving it a measure of off-road ability.
The reality is that few would dare take their £56,000 car on anything more challenging than a mildly damp grassy field, terrain that rarely demands much in the way of under-vehicle clearance.
Ticking a lot of boxes
Yet the Audi A6 allroad quattro I drove last year has been similarly fettled and the result is one of the most astonishingly competent cars I have ever driven.
So, setting my prejudices aside, I spent some time with Audi’s fast-but-frugal, all-surface load-lugger to see for myself if they’ve ruined a perfectly good car in the name of fashion.
The A4 3.0 TDI allroad meets a lot of my needs. It’s big enough to seat five in comfort but small enough to feel wieldy. It’s fast enough to make overtaking and high-speed cruising effortless yet economical enough to make it a realistic everyday proposition.
It’s also discreet enough to avoid unwanted attention but classy enough to take you anywhere. The cabin is the very epitome of clear-headed, minimal design and makes even the scruffiest and unkempt of motoring writers feel like a slick, urbane sophisticate.
The UK's most satisfying cars to own
The new A4 delivers few surprises. It looks very similar to the old one and while it is usefully lighter on paper, I struggled to tell the difference on the road; a saving of up to 90kg is a worthwhile reduction, but as the car still weighs 1,805kgs with a driver on board there is still work to be done.
If you’ve read any of my previous Audi reviews it will come as no surprise that I love the A4’s interior - and nor will the astonishing cost of some of the optional extras*.
However, if you can afford one, complete with a few nice non-standard bits and bobs to cheer you up, few cars flatter like an Audi. A Ford might be better to drive and a Volvo more satisfying to own but if having your ego stroked is important to you (and I’m not judging you if it is) the A4 will make you feel very good indeed.
This sort of thing matters more than most of us would like to admit and you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of buying a car that makes you feel good every single time you slip behind the wheel; thousands of small moments of pleasure spread over the lifetime of the car go a long way to offsetting a potentially lofty price.
Fun to be had
Nor is it that bad to drive. Some modern cars can feel a bit dull-but-worthy, a bit too competent for their own good but there is fun to be had in the A4, even in the allroad model.
It steers, stops and goes as well as any car needs to and the broad plateau of torque (273 lb ft is available from 1,600rpm all the way to a heady-for-a-diesel 4,500rpm) makes it as quick in everyday driving as anyone really needs.
The quattro four-wheel-drive system disengages the rear wheels in everyday driving, switching them in when they’re needed to give extra grip.
We played around with it in the dirt and while the course wasn’t especially challenging, it probably represented a more hostile environment than 99 per cent of owners would venture into and the four-wheel-drive system was undetectable in operation. Grip and traction was impressive and while the restricted ground clearance will be the limiting factor in any off-road situation, suspension that is set 34mm higher than the standard Audi A4’s is probably all anyone really needs.
The Audi A4 allroad is a typically well-judged car; nothing about it jars the senses and I can foresee the overall ownership experience being hugely satisfying. More excitement can be had elsewhere but for a nation addicted to the GBBO and Countryfile, the Audi A4 allroad is a car of its time.
Power – 268bhp
Torque – 442 lb ft
0-62mph – 5.5 seconds
Top speed – 155mph
Kerb weight – 1730kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 51.4mpg
CO2 emissions – 146g/km
VED class – Band F
Towing capacity (braked) – 2,100kgs
Towing capacity (unbraked) – 750kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £38,815
Price as tested - £56,763
The Volvo XC90 is really in the class above the Audi A4 but with care you could drive a very nice Volvo for the same money as the A4 allroad.
The best of the rest
The A4 allroad is an A1 allrounder. If you must have something mid-sized and estate-shaped to cope with anything the winter might bring there are few nicer way to stay mobile.
Of course, if staying mobile in the rain and ice and snow is your priority then you really need winter tyres rather than four-wheel-drive…
*A favourite car launch game - aside from turning your co-driver’s seat heater on and timing how long it takes him/her to notice – is to read the spec sheet out loud and ask your driver to guess the cost of some of the extras that have been fitted. Some of them are outrageously expensive, even to a jaded and cynical journo; Bentley is ahead (for the time being) with an £80,000 fly fishing kit…