Lament the demise of station wagons in North America all you want, but there's no denying the truth: SUVs and crossovers won this battle for dominance about two decades ago.
Not many members of the buying public are willing to pony up the cash for wagons of any sort these days, so Audi has put its A4 Avant out to pasture here and replaced it with the new and improved Audi allroad.
Yes, Virginia, you're right on two things: No, Audi does not capitalize allroad... and, yes, this station wagon looks rather like an A4 Avant with a lift kit and a set of fender flares.
What is it?
It's an Audi A4 Avant with a lift kit and a set of fender flares! Recognizing that buyers in North America tend to be a little more interested in slightly ruggedized wagons like the Subaru Outback, Audi took a page from its autobiography by lightly modifying and renaming the A4 Avant for 2013.
If you're a student of history, you're probably aware that Audi offered an A6-based allroad wagon on these shores more than a decade ago. Proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same, the 2013 allroad is slightly shorter but rides on a slightly longer wheelbase than that old A6 since the A4 grew substantially with its most recent (in 2009) redesign.
For the most part, the changes are cosmetic. Big fender flares hide a wider track for the standard quattro all-wheel-drive, while the slightly taller suspension offers a hair over 7 inches of ground clearance. Make no mistake, though – this allroad is not meant for anything resembling mud-plugging or rock crawling. Instead, it's designed to be something of a fashion statement for when its driver arrives at the ski lodge in Stowe or Aspen.
Notably, the new look adds around $3,000 to the outgoing A4 Avant's base price. If this model succeeds in increasing wagon-ish Audi volume, the accountants should be pleased. Our tester was further equipped with the mid-range Premium Plus trim, which adds goodies like auto-dimming mirrors, heated seats and HID headlamps with LED running lights.
What's it up against?
The Subaru Outback remains the lifted wagon segment's gold standard, but premium buyers will likely find more to like in the Volvo XC70.
Like Audi, Volvo has pulled out of the standard wagon market entirely in this market, although the XC70 is merely a crossover-light version of the V70 still sold in big numbers elsewhere.
What's it look like?
Aside from the unpainted fender flares and rocker trim, the biggest change the allroad sees over its A4 Avant predecessor is its toothy grin. By that, we mean that the allroad features a gigantic, chrome-lined grille that bears a passing resemblance to Cruella DeVille's car.
But don't take that as criticism. Audi's line-wide shield-style front grille has become a bit passe now that the automaker's sales continue to break records, so the allroad's bigger snout both breathes new life into the company's design language and corresponds to its Q-badged crossovers.
Otherwise, the allroad fender flares and wider stance give the car a nicely planted look that elicited a few second glances from other drivers.
And on the inside?
Don't get us wrong – the A4 has a fantastic, logically arrayed interior. But in essentially keeping the allroad identical to its siblings, we feel that an opportunity has been missed here. Our tester's vinyl-like leather trim felt robust (perhaps too robust), but nothing else hints at the ruggedness Audi attempts to imply with the car's fender flares.
Audi does offer a trio of optional (but not seen here) wood trims, which would give off a bit more of a woodsy chic (if that's possible) atmosphere. But we'd like to see perhaps contrasting stitching, Berber-style floor mats and maybe a unique grain or pattern for the leather seats. The allroad doesn't need to look like a Bass Pro Shop, but a hint of Land Rover elegance would go a long ways here.
Still, the basic goods remain likeable, aside from Audi's occasionally confounding MMI system. The menu-intensive infotainment is fairly easy to figure out after a brief acclimation, but we don't like the location of the volume switch on the passenger side of the center console and we wish there were redundant audio preset buttons like most other premium brands. Also, the central control knob's menu-spinning direction seemed counter to most drivers' intuitions, although we suppose we'd get used to it.
On the other hand, the extra cost (for service) Google-based satellite map views are impressive and surprisingly useful.
There's plenty of room on board for four passengers, while a nicely finished cargo area happily swallows way more luggage than most drivers might expect.
But does it go?
The allroad's 2.0-liter, 211-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder is a common sight among Volkswagen and Audi products. In this application, it works brilliantly, providing nearly instant access to the 258 lb-ft. of torque available just after tip-in at 1,500 rpm.
An eight-speed automatic transmission with Audi's Tiptronic manumatic system is standard. Left to do its own thing, the transmission fires off rapid shifts and does a good job of both keeping the engine within its power band and minimizing engine revs to save fuel.
Speaking of guzzling premium, we tagged the EPA's 20/27 mpg rating in most of our driving, although we did manage to best the 23 mpg combined figure. Regardless, those numbers are a bit lower to last year's A4 Avant, revealing the dirty little secret associated with higher ground clearance.
But if the allroad drinks a bit more fuel, at least it doesn't handle much differently than an A4. Delightfully precise steering makes it a joy to toss into corners, although the tiller is a bit weak in terms of overall feedback.
In the twisties, the allroad's quattro all-wheel-drive system provided sure, predictable grip. There's a little more body lean than in a standard A4, but what's there is hardly comparable to a crossover or SUV. We thought that we detected a bit more road noise in the allroad than in our last A4 test car, which could be more attributable to the open cargo bay than tire selection.
Intent on discovering the wagon's ability to live up to its name, we ventured down a few unpaved roads. The firm ride that feels suitably upscale on pavement seemed confused over rutted and washed out country lanes, but we never struggled with traction. Despite the decent running ground clearance, the allroad's long front and rear overhangs prevented us from taking it anywhere we wouldn't have gone in a Toyota Camry, however. Rugged this thing ain't.
Leftlane's bottom line
What you see is what you get with the Audi allroad. In most respects simply a taller version of last year's A4 Avant, its more butch looks might appeal to a few additional buyers. At its core, it remains a competent, premium-feeling and genuinely entertaining compact station wagon – albeit one with a jacked up suspension and a new price tag to match.
But even if sales remain about the same, Audi will probably be plenty happy since those fender flares don't add $3,000 to the bottom line.
2013 Audi allroad base price, $39,600. As tested, $47,395.
Premium Plus package, $3,300; MMI Navigation, $3,050; Proximity key, $550; Destination, $895.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.