Function meets luxury

BY Brian Harper. Apr 15 04:00 am

Kudos to Germany’s road system. Forget the high-speed autobahns, which disciplined drivers (for the most part) use to get hither and yon as quickly and conveniently as is (mostly) prudent.

Even the country roads are well maintained, blessedly free of the potholes and frost heaves that, comparatively speaking, make the typical Canadian road look like the aftermath of an airstrike. Even the most dilapidated crap-can of a car would feel like a limo on these silken strands of tarmac.

The downside is the lack of any challenge for the likes of Audi’s brand-new A4 Allroad Quattro. Undefined by the automaker, but realistically a cross between a station wagon and a crossover, it’s a variant of the A4 Avant wagon, which is not sold in Canada. Yes, this second-generation version is more about looking the part than acting it, but there is a portion of utility to back up the added machismo hinted at by the flared wheel arches, underbody guard, rear diffuser and raised roof rails.

Ride height has been increased by 23 millimetres and, when combined with the larger-diameter wheels, it provides an additional 34 mm of ground clearance over the Avant. This is just the thing for avoiding structural damage from navigating cratered and rutted streets, maybe even a cottage road.

OK, most consumers shopping for crossovers at an Audi dealership will end up with either a Q5 — the automaker’s most popular vehicle in Canada — or the new, compact Q3. But the discerning few who go for the Allroad, which traditionally accounts for about 10 per cent (about 550 units) of the A4’s annual sales, will find themselves with a smooth, quiet, quick and comfortable family vehicle.

The A4 Allroads arriving in Canada this fall as 2017 models will have a single powertrain: the estimable turbocharged 2.0-litre TFSI gasoline-powered four cylinder. Mated to a seven-speed S-tronic automatic transmission, the engine turns out a solid 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Considering a base Allroad has a curb weight of just 1,580 kilograms — some 200 to 300 kg less many equivalent-sized crossovers — it has plenty of scoot.

Finding a lightly travelled section of unrestricted autobahn, I gave the European-spec Audi a healthy prod, and the car pulled steadily to 200 km/h without complaint, and wind noise was quite subdued, even at that speed. More pragmatically, Audi posts a 6.1-second, zero-to-100-km/h time for the Allroad. It also claims a combined fuel economy rating of 6.6 L/100 km, though that’s using Europe’s testing procedures, not Canada’s.

The mid-size Allroad receives the first application of Audi’s newest quattro all-wheel-drive system. As Audi explains it, the system reduces friction normally caused by driving both the front and rear axles. Using two clutches that fully disengage the front axle from the rear, the system will open both clutches if it finds there is a need for only the front wheels to be driving, which then stops the rotation of the rear driveshaft and differential. The system decreases parasitic loss, which improves fuel economy. Any interaction between the two drives is virtually undetectable to the driver.

Thanks to the excellent condition of the German roads, the Allroad’s suspension wasn’t given much of a workout. There are, however, changes underneath. The front axle features a redesigned five-link suspension, while a five-link setup replaces the trapezoidal-link rear suspension used previously. And thanks to the judicious use of lighter-weight materials, the weight of the axle components has been reduced by 12 kg.

At prudent speeds, the Audi felt completely at ease negotiating the twisting, hilly country roads south of Munich, near the start of the Alps.

The Allroad’s cabin is a tasteful blend of function and luxury, the main focus being the dash area and the high-tech nature of the über-cool virtual cockpit, a fully digital instrument cluster replete with a 12.3-inch display that depicts information in high resolution. Classic mode gives priority to the speedometer and tachometer, while infotainment mode displays additional functions, such as the navigation system, telephone, Audi connect and media, more prominently. Displays for the outside temperature, time, fuel economy as well as warning and information symbols have a fixed position along the bottom edge of the cockpit in both modes.

Although the Allroad is a niche model within the A4 lineup, its importance as an alternative to premium-priced soft-roader SUVs should not be discounted. While it doesn’t have the ride height deemed important by a segment of the crossover-buying public, or any real off-road bona fides, it counters with agility, poise, better performance and greater fuel economy. It’s also got a swagger to it, sorely lacking in the BMW 3 Series Touring, its nearest and more traditional rival.

If Audi offered the A4 Avant in Canada, there would be those looking at the Allroad and asking the question, “Why?” But the Avant isn’t available here, so the question becomes, “Why not?” The Allroad might be trying a little too hard to be something it’s not; still, it has the heart and soul of the new A4, which is no bad thing.

Pricing for the 2017 Allroad won’t be announced until closer to its launch date, but the current model starts at just over $47,000, and a major price increase is not expected.


— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

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