Audi’s new SUV might not have the image of other big 4x4s but with a clever drive sys­tem it can cer­tainly hold its own

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - ED WISE­MAN

What’s new?

Audi has stuck to its win­ning for­mula: take a smart pre­mium es­tate, add its class-lead­ing four-wheel-drive sys­tem, and then sell it to peo­ple who want a nor­mal-shaped car that won’t get stuck in wet grass. To date, the re­sult has al­ways been su­perb.

This time, the four-wheel-drive trans­mis­sion has been rad­i­cally al­tered to make the car lighter, more fuel ef­fi­cient, and friend­lier to the en­vi­ron­ment. Us­ing what Audi calls ‘Ul­tra’ tech­nol­ogy (their badge for any­thing vaguely ‘green’) the rally-born Quat­tro sys­tem has been brought into the 21st Cen­tury.

Looks and image

The dif­fer­ences be­tween the vanilla A4 and the A4 Allroad are more sub­tle than they ever have been. That’s partly be­cause the A4 is, over­all, a more ag­gres­sive-look­ing car than it once was, with that dis­tinc­tive gap­ing front grille full of an­gry ver­ti­cal bars.

The flared wheel arches have grown into them­selves, and look far more up­mar­ket when colour-matched than as matte plas­tic pan­els. The in­side re­mains the same as the stan­dard car — com­fort­able, well-con­structed and gen­er­ally pleas­ing.

Audi is the most up­mar­ket main­stream Volk­swa­gen Group brand and has al­ways pro­duced very de­sir­able cars. While the other VW brands pro­duce sim­i­lar soft-roader es­tates — the Seat Leon Xpe­ri­ence, the VW Pas­sat All­track, and the Skoda Oc­tavia Scout — the A4 Allroad is the top of the pile. It’s also the most tech­no­log­i­cally ac­com­plished, thanks to its clever Quat­tro trans­mis­sion.

Space and prac­ti­cal­ity

Es­tate cars are func­tional ve­hi­cles, de­signed to carry more pas­sen­gers and lug­gage than hatch­backs and saloons. The A4 Allroad has a 505-litre boot, which is ca­pa­cious enough to carry dogs or large suit­cases, ex­pand­ing to 1,510 with the rear seats folded down.

Those rear seats can feel cramped for taller adults, though, as the chunky back sup­ports of the front seats en­croach on rear legroom. Buy­ers look­ing to reg­u­larly carry four blokes in com­fort could look else­where in Audi’s range.

An op­tional load se­cur­ing kit, elec­tric boot lid with foot-ges­ture open­ing and an in­no­va­tive trailer rev­ers­ing sys­tem (which al­lows eas­ier con­trol of the pivot be­tween you and your horse­box) are all prac­ti­cal ad­di­tions, but will come at a price — Audi’s op­tions list is never cheap.

Be­hind the wheel

In­ter­est­ingly, Audi has been keen to down­play the off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the new A4 Allroad. It’s true that the ex­tra 34mm of ground clear­ance you get is un­likely to be enough for any se­ri­ous mud-plug­ging, and this model’s af­flu­ent cus­tomer base can af­ford to buy a Range Rover or more se­ri­ous Audi off-roader if it wanted to.

But most of them know that a so­phis­ti­cated four-wheel-drive es­tate is enough to get them through a Bri­tish winter, with­out the need for some­thing as gauche as an SUV.

And this four-wheel-drive sys­tem is cer­tainly so­phis­ti­cated. Un­like the prim­i­tive per­ma­nent all-wheel-drive sys­tems that made the Quat­tro name in the 1980s, and dis­tinct from the sys­tems found in other jacked-up es­tates, the Ul­tra sys­tem uses a pow­er­ful com­puter to eval­u­ate road con­di­tions and en­gage the rear axle at least half a sec­ond be­fore it’s needed.

What’s more, a spe­cial sys­tem will dis­con­nect any un­used com­po­nents of the driv­e­train when they’re not in use, sav­ing you fuel.

The A4 Allroad feels as at-home on the Ger­man au­to­bahn as it does around town. Only oc­ca­sion­ally will the au­to­matic gear­box feel slug­gish or need­lessly fid­gety, and the drive modes — rang­ing from ‘com­fort’ to ‘dy­namic’ — help you con­fig­ure the car to your whims.

‘Com­fort’ mode turns the A4 Allroad into a wafty wagon, while ‘dy­namic’ will firm up the sus­pen­sion and force the auto ‘ box to cling on to gears.

Value for money

No of­fi­cial fig­ures have been re­leased as to how much fuel the ‘Quat­tro with Ul­tra’ sys­tem saves, but it’s clear that driving the new A4 Allroad — and many other Quat­tro mod­els to fol­low — will be more ef­fi­cient and en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly than ever be­fore.

Com­bined with the aero­dy­namic shape of the car (es­pe­cially when com­pared to taller SUVS) and Audi’s ef­fi­cient range of en­gines, this could be the most ef­fi­cient pre­mium 4x4 on sale.

Audi resid­u­als should be high, thanks to the peren­nial pop­u­lar­ity of Audi’s 4x4 es­tate range. Ser­vic­ing could cost more than sim­i­lar cars, and it’ll cer­tainly cost more to buy.

Who would buy one?

Af­flu­ent ru­ral fam­i­lies who need all the prac­ti­cal­ity of a 4x4, but aren’t fussed by the image of a big SUV, should take one of these for a test drive. The man­ner­isms of this pre­mium es­tate car are hard to fault, and the clever all-wheel-drive sys­tem is at the top of its game. But all of this comes at a price — the A4 Allroad is not a cheap op­tion.

This car summed up in a sin­gle word: Dif­fer­ent.

If this car was a ... film char­ac­ter it would be Michael Caine as Al­fred Pen­ny­worth, dis­creet and un­wa­ver­ingly loyal but­ler to Bruce Wayne. “Haven’t given up on me yet?” asks Bruce. “Never,” replies Al­fred.

Facts at a Glance Audi A4 Allroad Quat­tro En­gine:

2.0-litre TDI pro­duc­ing 190PS and 400Nm of torque Trans­mis­sion: 7-speed S tronic au­to­matic gear­box Per­for­mance: Top speed 136mph, 0-62mph in 7.8 sec­onds Econ­omy: 57.7mpg com­bined Emis­sions: 128g/km

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