From the late-1940s to the mid-1980s, the station wagon held an impressive grip on the American family transportation market. The introduction of the minivan led to the sales of wagons plummeting. A similar fate befell minivans when sport and crossover utility vehicles came on the scene.
All of which brings us to the Audi allroad. Wagons have remained popular in Europe and some European automakers have been willing to buck the utility-vehicle trend and offer wagons for sale in the United States. Last year, Audi sold the A4 Avant, the wagon version of the A4 sedan, on the American market. It was a wonderful vehicle, but sales volumes apparently did not measure up to expectations.
Audi has turned the A4 Avant into the crossover allroad for 2013. It accomplished this by raising the suspension 1.5 inches to provide 7.1 inches of ground clearance and adding matte-finished lower bumpers and wheel arches.
There are two ways to look at this new allroad. Traditional station wagon customers, though few in number, can take comfort in the fact that the A4 wagon lives on in the allroad. The raised ride height has little, if any impact on the vehicle’s handling, which remains exceptionally good. This is one utility vehicle that doesn’t hint at being a little tipsy in a tight turn.
Meanwhile, crossover buyers can now embrace the A4 wagon, or allroad, because it has more ground clearance and, thanks to the matte cladding, a more rugged appearance. The Audi allroad even has stainless-steel skid plates to protect underbody components from potential damage when the vehicle is taken off road, though it seems poorly equipped for real off-road treks. The absence of a two-speed transfer case is one drawback that will not escape the Jeep Wrangler crowd. Most crossovers never venture off pavement, so the allroad should please both traditional wagon customers and crossover buyers.
The allroad is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. This combination should be familiar to many Audi and Volkswagen customers. This drivetrain is good for 211 horsepower and is deceptively smooth and refined for a four-cylinder engine. The combination with standard quattro all-wheel drive produces an admirable performance.
Sixty miles per hour arrived in 7.9 seconds, which is slower than Audi’s claimed time of 6.5 seconds, but still more than sufficient for a family crossover. In the allroad’s defense, performance was perfectly adequate and the car felt faster than the timing equipment reported. Would another allroad be faster? It seems reasonable to think so. In the past, there has been more than a second variation in acceleration times between two supposedly identical vehicles. Gas mileage came to 24.1 miles per gallon.
What’s not in doubt in the exceptionally good ride and handling I experienced with this allroad and other allroads I’ve driven. Straight-ahead stability was particularly impressive, though the allroad is also well suited for tackling Connecticut’s twisty, secondary roads. The electromechanical power steering system reduces effort without smothering road feel, a rarity among these systems that are becoming popular for their reduced weight and fuel economy advantages.
The interior is nicely done as well. Audi has a reputation for delivering exceptionally well- designed and executed interiors and this new allroad will do nothing to diminish that reputation.
It can be argued that the wagon is an endangered species, as there are so few of them left. Or, it could be argued that the wagon is alive and well. They are just masquerading as crossover utility vehicles. Regardless of what segment it falls under, the Audi allroad is an exceptionally appealing vehicle.
The 2013 Audi allroad is a very likeable vehicle. It’s easy to control, stays where you want it to stay on the road and offers a level of steering precision that few cars match. As a result, the allroad is great fun and highly rewarding to drive. The car drives like a dream.
The passenger area is light and airy thanks to the standard panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade for when you want to keep the sun out. An eight-way power seat and adjustable steering wheel make it possible for just about anyone to find a comfortable driving position.
The back seat should hold two friends in reasonable comfort – three if they really like each other – while the 27-cubic foot cargo area should handle just about everything this group could reasonably purchase on an outing. Take just one friend, fold the rear seat, and you’ll have shop-till-you-drop cargo room in the form of 50 cubic feet.
The basic controls are easy to use, but I was often at a loss to find the volume control for the radio. The outside mirrors are big and give a great view of what is beside and slightly behind the car. This turned out to be important, since this is the first car we’ve had recently for review in this price range – its starts at $39,600 – that did not have a blind spot warning system. It’s available, but only as part of a $9,200 package that also contains numerous other features.
Audi gave the allroad a raised suspension and some wheel-opening cladding in hopes buyers will think of this car as a crossover utility vehicle rather than a wagon. I think they failed. The allroad looks and drives like a very nice wagon, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email firstname.lastname@example.org