We charge through a tunnel shaped like a coil spring that wraps back on itself as we ascend. After more than a mile of winding upward, we pop out onto damp pavement that leads to a rain-soaked road and eventually a snow-covered pass. Quattro all-wheel drive is of course standard on the Allroad, and straight-line grip on any surface is prodigious with an assist from a set of Dunlop winter tires. Pushed into a fast corner, though, the Allroad plows at the limit of traction briefly until the stability control system yanks it into line without sapping forward momentum.
Liechtenstein, which is some seventeen times smaller than Rhode Island, sits wedged between Switzerland and Austria. You wouldn't guess from the modest surroundings that it's also a financial-services hub and a tax shelter for global corporations, home to more holding companies than people.
Sticking with our theme of avoiding cities, we've planned to snowshoe the next morning, but the pleasant spring weather and emerald turf catch us off guard. When we meet our guide in a nearby parking lot, he promises fresh powder and then leads us on a ten-minute switchback sprint in his Skoda station wagon. After arriving at our destination, we put on our snowshoes and crunch into the wide-open whiteness. It's hard to believe we're on the same planet as the orderly village below.
Sixty-year-old Edi, who is a painter when he's not leading snowshoe tours, only speaks German, and even photographer Jim Fets, who's fluent in the language, struggles to understand some of Edi's Swiss dialect as we march up the mountainside single file. During the two-hour trek, however, there's one word that I hear and understand over and over again. I don't need anyone to tell me how romantisch the views are.
Looking over the valley at the neighboring peaks, we see not a single person, car, or building. As we tread over snow as deep as fifteen feet in some places, Edi leads us past a small, windowless cabin where his guests stop for wine and fondue during moonlight tours. With the bright morning sky overhead and a tight schedule in front of us, we settle for a fistful of virgin snow and continue our trek down the mountain.
From here to Munich, it's all about driving, but we're deliberately avoiding the direct route. Germany's 280-mile Alpenstrasse follows the country's southern border and the northern edge of the Alps, and it's one of those rare ribbons of pavement that delivers the roads, scenery, and distance for an epic drive. Within the first thirty miles, the road has lived up to the hype. Gentle two-lane highways connect short sections of mind-blowing twisties and quaint German villages. The majority of the road would require 100 mph for the turns to be challenging, but at 60 mph they're plenty entertaining.
Every half hour or so, the wide sweepers are pinched into an accordion composed of the best roads I have ever driven. Audi says the A4 Allroad is quicker, more efficient, and larger inside than its A6-based predecessor. Actually finding that extra interior space in the new car would require packing without suitcases, but the performance and efficiency claims are easily discernible. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that charms in everything from the Volkswagen GTI to the Audi Q5 crossover is in its element here as well. This is the refined, vigorous engine that set the standard for the companies that are just now beginning to downsize from their six-cylinders.
Despite being down on power by 39 hp compared with the old Allroad, the new car benefits from a curb weight that is some 600 pounds lower. Keeping the revs above 2000 rpm puts a wave of torque -- up to 258 lb-ft -- under your foot, which feels so good when you're bursting out of corners. The precise action of the six-speed manual shifter amplifies the satisfaction of flicking from second to third gear at the 7000-rpm redline. However, when the Allroad goes on sale in America (in May), it will be available only with an eight-speed automatic. That gearbox, in our previous experience in Audis, produces faultless, snappy shifts; improves fuel economy; and masks the slight whiff of turbo lag below 2000 rpm, so we can't complain. On these tightly kinked sections, though, the Allroad leans in turns just a touch more than a regular A4. Attribute that to the 1.5-inch suspension lift that sets the Allroad apart from its Avant sibling.
Everything we've read about the Alpenstrasse warns that it's difficult to follow, but any concern about being perpetually lost evaporates the more miles we cover. We pass through a half-dozen towns whose names confirm we're on the right path, and the navigation map suggests that we're making the right move every time we turn onto a new road.
Then we pass into Austria and that navigational confidence crumbles. After ninety minutes of driving, it's apparent that we're not on the right road, and we have no idea when we made our wrong turn. Even looking at a map after that fact, it's not clear where we lost the scent and what roads we actually drove. Rather than turn back, though, we embrace the unknown. We're running out of light, but we're still heading east and the roads continue to be amazing, so we push on.
As the sun passes behind the peaks, we reluctantly program Munich into the nav system, which directs us to a new, desolate, entertaining road through the thick Bavarian evergreens. The rutted, snow-packed surface jerks us from side to side, but the Allroad never loses its composure. It's one last endorsement for the Allroad's sure-footed handling, magnetic traction, confident ride, and potent engine before we're spit out onto the A95 freeway.
This fairy-tale road trip doesn't end with an hour of mindless monotony, however. It's the highway that issues the Allroad its final road test -- the fast one. The quickest, computer-calculated route into Munich involves a massive length of unrestricted autobahn, and we take full advantage of it. Our winter tires keep us from nipping the speed limiter, but we're not complaining. A sustained blast at 125 mph gives us the confidence to say that the Allroad lives up to its name.