The Allroad name first appeared on the A6 executive model in 1999 – but it took another 10 years before the badge adorned its smaller stablemate. The A4 version sticks to the same template, by taking Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel drive, plus a practical Avant body, and adding off-road essentials.
Sturdy under-body protection gives the estate a purposeful look, backed up by raised suspension and plastic body cladding. It’s certainly a more stylish and desirable package than its rival, as the Subaru looks dated and awkward beside the slick Audi.
The costly monotone colour scheme of our test car is understated, but leaving the extended wheelarches and lower bumpers bare erases any doubts about the Allroad’s intentions. The 4x4 feel begins and ends there, though, because the cabin is pure A4. Ordinarily, that would be great news, but the Allroad isn’t perfect. The simple dash is more modern and classy than the Outback’s, and the smart switchgear, high-grade plastics and intuitive MMI system all rank it above its rival here. What you don’t get, though, is much kit. It does have rear parking sensors and Bluetooth, but it makes do with cloth seats and no sat-nav.
The other shortfall is space, as rear passengers will be better off in the Outback. Its larger windows and standard-fit sunroof provide a greater feeling of space inside, and this is backed up by the tape measure.
Raise the Allroad’s tailgate, and the capacity shortfall continues. Its 490-litre load area trails the Subaru by 36 litres. This gap increases when you fold the rear seats, but practicality in the A4 is boosted by the firm’s neat load- restraint system which comes as standard.
The Audi claws back further ground under the bonnet, where its 168bhp 2.0-litre diesel outguns the Subaru’s boxer unit. It produces 20bhp more than its rival, although they share the same 350Nm torque output. The Allroad sprinted from 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds – a full second faster than its rival – and its smoother, more linear power delivery makes it more relaxed and responsive than the Subaru.
You don’t buy a tall-riding estate for dynamic thrills, but the Allroad isn’t unduly compromised by its off-road aspirations, and feels like it’s a conventional car from behind the wheel. You get the same excellent driving position as in the A4 saloon, and visibility is aided by the Allroad’s raised body. Numb steering is a traditional complaint when it comes to Audis, but the set-up is precise, and the rest of the controls are well judged. The positive gearshift is in direct contrast to the notchy Subaru, and the pedals all provide progressive reactions.
Refinement is excellent, and the Allroad makes a brilliant long-haul companion. We hit 38mpg during our test, so you should be able to travel a realistic 535 miles between fills of the 64-litre tank. And when you’re not pounding along motorways, the Audi displays impressive composure on twisty roads. The suspension has a firm edge, but this is a small price to pay for tight body control and alert responses. And the reassuring traction of the quattro drivetrain provides confidence in slippery conditions.
Few Allroads are likely to tackle anything more extreme than a grassy campsite, but the car’s off-road prowess has been boosted by specially devised suspension. It raises the body by 37mm, increasing ground clearance to around 180mm. That trails the Subaru’s 200mm, but is enough to ensure the Audi can cope with rough tracks. On our short off-road blast, it felt as capable as its rival.
There is a price to pay for the badge, and with only a single trim level, there isn’t a cheaper diesel than our £31,175 example. Picking a winner will depend on your needs, but while the Audi is smaller and less well equipped, it’s a hugely capable and desirable machine.
Chart position: 1WHY: Few marques have a four-wheel-drive pedigree to match Audi. Tough visual upgrades to the A4 Avant body mean the Allroad looks the business.