The A4 Allroad is a likeable, look-at-me addition to the carmaker's lineup

I was allocated only four days with Audi's new A4 Allroad. But that was enough time for two separate people to mistake it for a Volvo XC of some kind, including somebody who livesat my house and should knowbetter.

It probably had a lot to do with my test car's rather outrageous brown metallic paintjob - a hue that's been very popular on Volvos over the years. But it's still got to hurt a little, because Audi was an early adopter of this style of crossover vehicle.

You know the drill: take an ordinary wagon, raise it up a bit, attach plenty of plastic body addenda to give it a rugged off-roader look.

Subaru got there first and Volvo did much to popularise the genre with the Cross Country in 1998 (later called the XC70), but Audi was right in there with the first A6 Allroad in 1999.


By the way: then as now, Audi insists that the name be written entirely in lower case ("allroad") but I insist that's just attention-seeking and incorrect. So no.

Audi extended the Allroad brand to the smaller A4 for the current generation (launched in 2008), although the model has only just made it to New Zealand this year in facelifted form (save a handful sold last year to test customer response). So I guess you could forgive some people for being a bit unfamiliar.

The Allroad is four-wheel drive, but then so are lots of other A4s. So it's mainly a cosmetic affair. This model rides a generous 38mm higher than the standard A4 Avant but the suspension is conventional: not air-filled adaptive hardware/software like the larger A6 Allroad.

No matter: the A4 has never been the sharpest tool in the segment on-road, and the extra chassis compliance makes the Allroad a pleasant machine to drive. Certainly more so than the rock-hard ride of a sports suspension-equipped A4.

More to the point, the A4 Allroad is very, very shiny. It picks up the trademark Allroad glitzy grille, lots of smooth plastic trim and prominent pseudo-underbody protection. So those people who don't mistake it for a Volvo might just think your $88,900 A4 Allroad is a $134,100 A6 Allroad (which is also now available in brown, by the way). That's excellent value for such enhanced status.

Excuse the sarcasm. I do rather like the A4 Allroad for the same reason that I like the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack: the pretend off-road package adds the perfect amount of visual interest to a car that might otherwise steer towards the worthy-but-dull category.

There's another reason to like the A4 Allroad: it brings a powertrain combination together that has not previously been available in the A4: 2.0-litre diesel plus S tronic gearbox plus quattro. Previously, the four-pot diesel A4s have come only with the Multitronic continuously variable transmission and front-drive.

So this is a grand entrance for the Allroad, although it's my duty to point out that the new powertrain is also now available in standard A4 models.

The A4 Allroad's diesel boasts 130kW/380Nm: an impressive state of tune previously offered only in the Q3. It certainly packs a punch, while the S tronic offers rapid gearchanges and 6.0 litres per 100km fuel economy potential. However, the dual-clutch gearbox can become confused in urban driving, during low-speed hill work and parking. Nothing unusual in that, but you notice it more with slower throttle response of a diesel.

But overall this is a hugely likeable, look-at-me addition to the lineup. Think of the Allroad as a surprising piece of pickled herring in the middle of a large plate of A4 kartoffelpuffer.

Audi A4 Avant too middle-of-the-road for you? Allroad adds lots of attitude and a punchy new diesel powertrain