Whether you're a backpacking businessperson, a PTA parent with an off-road wild side, or just braving the perpetual winter of the northern Great Plains states, the 2017 Audi A4 Allroad seeks to be your luxury transport of choice. Lifted slightly higher than its sedan counterpart and featuring stark wheel arches, roof rails, and a vertical-slat single-frame grille, the look has "ready to tackle the trail" written all over it. That's nothing new for an Allroad, though—its new "quattro with ultra technology" is.
No, the fancy name doesn't mean that Audi is attempting to repackage its hallmark all-wheel drive around some new buzzwords. This is an entirely new setup, which in the name of efficiency dumps the vaunted center differential in exchange for a predictive on-demand system. It won't scroll next week's winning lottery numbers across the heads-up display, but like other predictive systems, it'll take driver inputs and surface conditions into account—every 10 milliseconds in this case. Rather than simply reacting to slippage, it uses an algorithm to derive when slippage is likely, based on the info it collects. Hence the surely a marketing term, "predictive."
If you're instinctively pissed that Audi went to an on-demand system, know that this one is quite a ways more advanced than the Haldex setup in your TT. It can switch to all-wheel drive in just 2/10ths of a second, often before it's actually needed, and it starts in all-wheel drive every time, disengaging it as soon as it's not necessary to save up to five percent at the pump.
Part of that five percent fuel savings comes from the most trick part of the system, a second decoupler on the rear axle that prevents the rear wheels from spinning the driveshaft when in front-wheel drive, knocking out 80 percent of the parasitic losses of similar systems. Lastly, quattro with ultra-technology can provide 100 percent torque to either the front or rear axle when necessary. While the electronically actuated multiplate clutch distributes torque fore and aft, an electronic brake force distribution system will stifle spinning wheels on either side, interceding between road and driver.
The Allroad sits 1.3 inches higher than its A4 brother, with 0.91 inches of that coming from its unique suspension setup, and the remainder from a slightly larger wheel and tire package (245/45R18 on 18x7.5-inchers). Adaptive twin-tube dampers are standard in this application, which vary their effect via five drive-select modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual, and Off Road.
It should come as no surprise that the Allroad comes with the same 2.0L turbocharged engine and seven-speed DSG transmission as found in the A4 (here, there's no manual offering). With 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, the Allroad accelerates from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, which is nothing to shake a stick at for an efficient all-wheel-drive vehicle weighing in at 3,825 pounds.
The 2017 A4 Allroad is a pleasant car to drive, for the most part. The aforementioned damper settings are but one component of Audi's ever more comprehensive Drive Select program, which also alters transmission programming, steering feel, and throttle response. You can really feel the change with each click of the button, too—Comfort is decidedly plush compared to Sport, for example. In Sport mode, the transmission behaves with noticeably more aggression, making it possible to merge into traffic in an instant or start from a stop without fear of being hit. Wait, what? Yeah—when in "D" (versus "S"), the car is often slow to get up and go from a stop. You'll want to snick the little shifter into S when you're pulling out in a hurry, then back into D for the rest of the drive, where the programming is intuitive.
In practice, on wet, icy, and muddy terrain, it's really unlikely you'll notice that the 2017 Allroad is missing a center differential—especially if you're in Off Road mode, which leaves the car in all-wheel drive anyway. We tried the other modes, too, though, and never found ourselves at a loss for traction. We were also never able to detect when the system engaged or disengaged the clutch, selecting front- or all-wheel drive. Incidentally, what we could have used were some dedicated winter or mud rated tires—we did experience wheelspin in snow and ice, but it seemed to affect all four wheels. The fact that we might wish for more aggressive rubber is perhaps a testament to the Allroad's ability off the road. Or maybe not. You won't find us wondering about mud-spec rubber for a Toyota RAV-4, though.
As we touched on earlier, the Allroad looks good. It's a car that somehow just works, and has done since inception. The aluminum roof rails, vertically slatted grille, and reasonably good-looking 18-inch five-spoke wheels give a believable off-road character to an already good-looking Avant. It even makes some sense as a starting point for tuners, too—we all know wagons are cooler than sedans, and you can't get an A4 Avant in the U.S. anymore. But buy this one in monochrome (they'll paint the fender bulges and other "off-road" accents in body color as opposed to gray for a grand), get yourself some S4 suspension, and aggressive wheels, and you've got a viable starting point. The Allroad comes standard with Audi xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED taillights with dynamic turn signals. An optional full LED headlight array is available.
The Allroad comes standard with eight-way power front (four-way power lumbar for the driver) leather seats, panoramic sunroof, and three-zone automatic climate control across all models. An improved Audi connect package can now deliver up-to-date information on traffic, weather, and fuel prices within a local radius. Apple Siri Eyes Free integration (with compatible devices), Internet radio streaming, personalized headlines and Twitter alerts, and picture navigation are among some of the other Audi connect features.
The significant impact of the different models comes in the form of—what else—technology. The base Premium model will get the job done with its 5-inch driver information system in the instrument panel, 7-inch high-mount MMI infotainment center, MMI control panel, and Audi sound system. However, if something more is desired, the Premium Plus with technology package gets you the Audi virtual cockpit with accompanying 8.3-inch infotainment system. In case you somehow missed it, the virtual cockpit is a 12.3-inch display that replaces the driver instrument panel with stunning effect. A segment leader, it even has the ability to display Google map images in a nearly 3-D perspective in the display. The pinnacle Prestige configuration rounds out with heated front seats; a 19-speaker, 775-watt Bang & Olufsen 3-D Surround Sound System; MMI touch hand-writing recognition technology; and a full-color heads-up display that projects relevant driving information directly in the driver's field of vision.
The 2017 Allroad starts at $44,950 and can be spec'd to $52,350. You can still add options on top of that number, but you're getting a really loaded car at the latter edge of that price range. We think the sweet spot is the middle trim, "Premium Plus," which gives you Audi's utterly sweet Virtual Dashboard and a bunch more for $47,950. Whether or not it's the car you're going to buy, it's a good-looking alternative to an SUV, and for this reason we should all rejoice.