Driven: 2013 Audi Allroad

For the new year the sporty A4 Avant has disappeared from our shores and instead you'll find the 2013 Audi Allroad at your Audi store, a different riff on the whole station wagon thing. You can tell right off, as the plastic cladding on the rockers, more ground clearance and a full-frame grille ablaze with LED lights let you know all about it.

Though we've always loved the Audi A4 Avant for the way it transformed the concept of a fast five-door hatchback into a stylish, sophisticated, and practical choice for grownups, Audi has learned that the station wagon just isn't working as a compelling proposition in the parking lot at the mall. Apparently there are too many crossover utility vehicles to choose from instead. So just like Subaru and Volvo, Audi has changed its wagon into an outdoor adventure vehicle, dressing it in the automotive equivalent of a Barbour jacket and duck boots.

Beneath the skin of the 2013 Audi Allroad, you'll find that not much has really changed from the Avant. All-wheel drive, of course, is standard. Under the hood, Audi's 211-hp, turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter four is paired with the excellent eight-speed automatic, and it provides plenty of oomph for this A4 variant. Acceleration is good (Audi estimates 0-60 in 6.5 seconds) and the turbocharger's boost is seamlessly integrated. The only bummer is the gravelly engine note.

With a ride height that's 1.5 inches taller for more ground clearance plus slightly narrow tires with taller sidewalls that are compatible with snow or mild off-highway duty, the Allroad's steering is not quite as sharp as the Audi norm. Also the steering effort is somewhat over-light and variable -- which, unfortunately, is the norm from Audi in any case. The suspension does a good job controlling body motions, although impacts are a bit harsh. The A4 Avant proved pretty similar, although its handling was sportier by a degree or two.

Once inside the cabin, you find in the Allroad the same beautifully constructed interior that characterizes the A4 and all Audis for that matter. At the same time, it was easier to hop into and out of the A4 Avant without getting your pants dirty against the rockers while stepping over the wide door sill.

Back in 1999 Audi brought us an A6 Avant-based Allroad because it didn't have any SUVs in its lineup. Given the circumstances, the Allroad made sense because Audi was adapting a station wagon to fill in for a missing player. But now that the Audi has both the Q7 and the Q5, one wonders how the brand's lone remaining station wagon in the U.S. will fare as a neo-SUV.

Compared to the Q5, the Allroad is longer, lower, and lighter. With the same engine, it's also slightly quicker. Fuel economy is pretty much a wash, with both vehicles rated at 20 mpg in the city, and the Allroad scoring 27 mpg on the highway while the Q5 manages 28 mpg. The taller, wider Q5 is unsurprisingly roomier in the rear seat and has a slightly larger cargo hold. Also unsurprising -- but still puzzling -- is the fact that Audi charges more for its station wagon than it does for its SUV. The 2013 Audi Allroad starts at $40,495, which represents a $3700 premium over the base Audi Q5.

This is a pattern we've seen for a while. A Mercedes-Benz E-class wagon costs far more than an M-class sport-utility, while the Ford Flex is pricier than the Explorer. Carmakers charge a premium for their wagons, and when those wagons find few takers, they shrug their shoulders and conclude that buyers just prefer SUVs. But when you look at the limited sales impact of the Volvo XC70, you have to wonder if a Barbour jacket and duck boots are really the answer

The Audi Q5 isn't a bad-looking crossover, but it's nowhere near as low, sleek and suited to the street as the 2013 Audi Allroad. I guess you're supposed to see the choice here the same way you do the comparison between an Audi A6 and an A7. If you want the lower, sleeker, more stylish machine, you're gonna pay more.

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A family member recently traded in their A6 generation allRoad for the new A4 version. although the cars appear much the same, the utility of the A6 generation is gone.....this is a small car - comfortable for four adults max, or 2 with 3 young kids. There is hardly any room for hauling items in the rear section....flee marketers will not be pleased. The AllRoad is a great car - but comparing generations, the new A4 is more hat than cattle.
No thanks. Would rather have the lower riding A4 Avant. Since we can't have those anymore, I'll take the new BMW 3er Wagon with 240hp.

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