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Audi A4 allroad 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic

Click to view picture galleryAudis latest niche estate the
  appropriately-named A4 allroad

  blends fashionable on/off-road
  four-wheel drive ability and time-
  honoured estate practicality with
  premium looks and the marque
  trademark refinement...”

SEEN AT REST, Audi's A4 allroad looks much like any premium estate… and then you register the details: pronounced black wheel arch extensions, higher-riding stance and, from the front especially if it's coming up fast in your rear view mirror wide-tracked with a deep-grille and pronounced stainless-steel under-body guard clearly visible beneath the bumper; round at the tail, there's more clearly visible stainless-steel underbody protection and a large-bore tailpipe at each corner.

This is not your everyday A4 Avant but something significantly meatier; and much more rugged. It's Audi's compact all-wheel-drive, all-terrain version of the Avant estate — and it's been given the 'allroad' treatment by raising the ride height and adding some tough 'all-terrain' body protection. And some clever hi-tech systems that make it able to handle off-road excursions in addition to providing polished executive transport on any road.

The toughened-up A4 allroad quattro is larger than the A4 Avant, measuring 15.5 feet in length and a smidgen over six foot in width. It's also taller than the Avant — at close to five feet — and has more ground clearance: 180 millimetres (just over seven inches).

Audi's legendary quattro permanent all-wheel drive system is standard and has been engineered with a front:rear torque split biased towards the rear for handling with a 'sporty' flavour. In normal driving conditions 60% goes to the rear wheels but to maximise traction and stability in tricky conditions, 65% can be sent to the front axle or 85% to the rear. More importantly, the A4 allroad quattro has a fresh-out-of-the-box piece of new hi-tech to help out over rough terrain: called 'Offroad Detection', it identifies the type of driving surface then adjusts the control parameters of the on-board Electronic Stability Programme to suit.

While not a SUV like its cousin the Q5, the allroad's elevated ride height helps it make a pretty good fist of off-roading. There's enough grip and traction to tackle quite challenging descents and climbs and it's all made easier by the practical approach and departure angles. Yes, a full-blown SUV would do better but then it couldn't come close to performing on road anywhere near as well as the allroad. That noted, the allroad is more than likely all the off-road machine most owners will ever need. Still, it's nice to know that if you do go down to the woods to play then the allroad will take all it in its all-wheel drive stride.

Beautifully crafted
switchgear that Audi
has made into
an art form
Rugged the allroad may be, but that doesn't prevent it offering the prestige German brand's characteristic refinement during day-to-day motoring, whether that includes commuting or off the beaten track sports and leisure activities. The cabin is smart looking and high in quality with first-rate ergonomics and is a real joy to travel in.

While it's essentially an A4 Avant interior, you notice the difference the moment you get behind the multi-function steering wheel: for a start, the view down the road is commanding. And, as you'd expect to find in an Audi, there's the foolproof and ultra-user-friendly MMI multimedia control system with a first class SatNav system and, admittedly optional — but for a very reasonable £515 — an excellent Bang & Olufsen sound system.

The dials are superb, with ultra-thin satin chrome bezels and analogue and digital readouts — including those on the driver information screen between the rev-counter and the 180mph speedometer — are all crystal clear. Particularly useful, and equally as good as the latest head-up displays, is the large digital 'current speed' figure than can be called up from the driver information menu. Also deserving of a mention is the beautifully crafted switchgear that Audi has made into an art form.

The electronic handbrake is simple to use (those on some other makes can be confusing); you can drive away and it will automatically release so long as you're wearing your seatbelt and you can also set it to apply itself automatically every time you stop the car. Centre front armrests are something of a bugbear in cars; some are too high and too far forward, they can catch your elbow when steering, make belting up awkward and have to be moved every time the handbrake is used. The allroad's does none of this and is perfectly sited for both the driver and the front passenger.

Other hi-tech kit on our test car included tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive Xenon headlights and Audi's Side Assist (it uses sensors to warn of vehicles approaching in mirror blind spots, making it safer to change lanes, and the four orange LEDs on the mirror housing warn you without making you jump — one non-Audi car with this fitted we tested sounds a shrill 'beep' that could startle rather than alert the driver). The Adaptive Cruise Control is radar-assisted, detecting vehicles ahead and maintaining the proper following distance by accelerating and braking automatically.

Feels genuinely quick
in any gear
and power delivery is
satisfyingly flexible
The A4 allroad quattro comes in just one specification level and so standard equipment is high and includes taken-for-granted items such as power windows and door mirrors, automatic headlight and wiper operation and auto-dim rear view mirror as well as three-zone electronic climate control, 10-speaker Audi Concert CD system, full-colour Driver Information System, striking 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels with allroad-specific tyres, special Tundra cloth upholstery and a storage pack including additional nets and compartments.

Passengers travelling in the back do so in real comfort. The two outer seats are shaped just like the front seats and legroom is generous with very good foot- and knee-room even for near six-footers. A large centre armrest houses a pair of pop-out cup-holders and there are practical rear door pockets plus dedicated air vents with temperature control. If you prefer some privacy or just want to block out the sun streaming through your window, both rear doors have built-in mesh blinds. There's also a privacy rear roller-blind.

The A4 allroad is also more than accommodating when asked to play its 'estate' role: the boot has a generous 490-litre capacity but drop the split/folding rear seatbacks and you have a 1,430-litre load bay. Nice touches abound: for instance, the load-area roller cover can retract horizontally or, unusually, upwards (in a track inside the tailgate pillars) for easy loading. You'll also find a large load-through hatch.

And the reversible mat covering the boot/load bay floor is also, like the allroad itself, dual purpose: flip it over and the rubberised underside is dirt- and water-resistant and perfect for mud-caked hiking boots and the like. There's also a flip over bumper protector. Other standard boot gear includes a load area rail system and fixing kit for securing bulky loads using a telescopic bar and securing belt.

Pop the bonnet and you'll find a turbocharged, six-cylinder 3.0-litre diesel unit installed in the allroad's engine bay. And it's a real goer, kicking out 237bhp that gets it to 62mph in an enjoyably eager 6.4 seconds. Tractable too, thanks to the whopping 369lb ft of torque from just 1,500rpm. And it's down to this that the A4 allroad, which weighs in at 1,765kg, feels genuinely quick in any gear — power delivery is satisfyingly flexible even from idle and on well into the mid-range.

Prod the accelerator pedal and the V6 sings with a deep baritone growl; yet on lighter throttle openings it is close to hushed and commendably smooth. And while flat out it's good for 147mph, it can be an unexpectedly light drinker: the official 46.3mpg touring consumption (or, as they like to call it these days, extra-urban) is pretty good. Our overall test average came in at 37.2mpg; close enough to Audi's 39.8mpg combined figure to validate the achievable 46mpg touring consumption.

Grip is genuinely
palpable: you can
actually sense it through
the driver’s seat..
Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic transmission is a perfect partner for the torquey V6 TDI. Changes are especially smooth and gears swapped fluently and uber-quickly — in just one fifth of a second, if you really want to know. Gear shifts can be made manually using the gear lever or with your fingertips using the paddle-shifters on the steering wheel whenever it suits or the need arises. For instance, in day-to-day driving it's particularly useful on dual carriageways when slowing down for roundabouts or to spurt safely past a slower-moving vehicle.

On the other hand, you can leave the S tronic to do it all for you which takes all the stress right out of driving on today's congested roads. For the press-on enthusiast there's sharper shifting to be had in Dynamic mode with an added benefit — you get authentic throttle 'blips' coming down the ratios and satisfying exhaust barks going up them. Double-declutching was never so easy!

The real eye-opener, though, is not the allroad's ability off the beaten track but its ride quality. Even more of a surprise given that the alloys are 18-inchers. Surprisingly, the elevated ride height works to the allroad's advantage and our test car rode with far better comfort, composure and fluency than 'ordinary' A4s we've driven (not that any of the others have been bad; just that the allroad is so good). Unlike the next-size-up, air-sprung A6 allroad, the A4 makes excellent use of its conventional steel springs. But whereas the A6 uses its air springs to provide a variable ride height for differing conditions, the A4 allroad's ride height is fixed. Not that that's a problem.

On road the A4 allroad is an extremely capable car to drive. And its character is improved by the optional Drive Select system that enables drivers to fine-tune the allroad's dynamic characteristics — steering behaviour, suspension settings, throttle response and transmission shift points — to best suit prevailing road conditions or personal preferences via dashboard-mounted controls.

Drive Select is paired with Dynamic Steering, which varies the steering ratio in a continuously variable manner according to speed. Our test allroad had both these systems fitted (a total of £980), enabling us to switch between Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes for both the suspension and the steering. Keen drivers will enjoy mixing and matching them and setting up their own customised 'individual' mode.

All three modes have their own appeal but unless you're on a mission it's hard to beat the system: leave it in Auto or Comfort and enjoy the ride. Damping is determined enough to keep body movements well contained and the steering always feels precise; even set to Comfort it's never too light. In short, the allroad's a very agreeable and utterly reassuring car to pilot in the snow as much as in the sunshine — on all roads, in fact, and in all weather.

Fit and finish
throughout the cabin
is impossible
to fault
And on that note, it's worth mentioning the spot-on driving position and A1 visibility. Adding to the allroad's fluent driveability are top-notch brakes (powerful and progressive) and its assured rapidity over virtually all roads. And the grip is genuinely palpable: you can actually sense it through the driver's seat.

The steering wheel is ideally fit for purpose: it's a three-spoke multi-function item, leather wrapped, with good thumb cut-outs, 'just right' diameter rim and comfortable perforated leather sections on the 'work areas'. And it's lovely to use. Shift paddles are fitted to the back of the horizontal spokes: downshifts are made using the left-hand side and upshifts with the right paddle. Another sign of Audi's meticulous attention to detail is the selector lever knob — it fits easily in the palm of your left hand and the safety release button is perfectly placed for your left thumb. You can, should you wish, make manual changes using the selector lever although if you have paddle-shifts then your hands never have to leave the wheel.

Also ensuring your comfort, if you're riding up front, are the superb heated front seats. Not only do they adjust every which way electrically but they're supportive and extremely comfortable. Adjustable length under-thigh support is provided, as too is adjustable lumbar support. Plus, with five heating settings, they keep you snug in even the coldest weather. They're quick to warm up (almost as soon as you turn the switch) and reach all the right parts of your anatomy.

A nice feature is that adjusting the seat heater switch brings up a graphic on the main display screen so you can see what adjustments you're making without taking your eyes completely off the road. It's little touches like this that make driving the allroad (and Audis in general) so very relaxing.

The climate control panel is a doddle to use and intuitively understandable without reading the handbook. All four windows are, as you'd expect, auto one-shot up/down and drive-away auto central locking is standard, as are heated and auto-fold door mirrors. And you can easily customise the settings for locking and lighting. Fit and finish throughout the cabin is impossible to fault.

So if you're looking for a stylish estate car that's refined on road but capable of tackling the occasional foray off road (and that will then get you safely back to civilisation again), and that looks like a car rather than a 4x4, then the A4 allroad quattro is likely to be right up your street! —

Audi A4 allroad 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic
| £ 33,730
Maximum speed: 147mph | 0-62mph: 6.4 seconds | Overall test MPG: 37.2mpg
Power: 237bhp | Torque: 369lb ft | CO2 189g/km | Insurance group 16