In the age of memes, backlash is instant. As soon as a thing – hygge, or joggers – becomes ubiquitous, flooding your various feeds, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's simple Internet physics.
How, then, have SUVs remained immune? Sales continue to climb as those of passenger cars drop. How have we not reached the point where SUVs, crossovers, cute-utes and their ilk are ubiquitous enough – predictable enough – that we can have a backlash?
The all-new Audi A4 Allroad, a fancy name for a station wagon, is as close as you can get to an anti-SUV. It has all of the capability, with none of the SUV-ness.
You couldn't call it a backlash; it's barely a trend, but the new Allroad isn't alone. Trace the niche back to such illustrious machinery as the first Subaru Outback in 1994, or maybe the Toyota Corolla All-Trac in 1988: rugged-ish wagons with all-wheel drive. The A4 Allroad has been around since 2009. Today, there is also the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, Volvo V90 CrossCountry, V60 CrossCountry and the Outback soldiers on as well.
The new A4 Allroad joins the fray with Quattro all-wheel drive, long-travel suspension and bigger wheels, which together grant 34 mm of additional ground clearance over the A4 sedan. Black plastic cladding around the wheel arches makes the Allroad look tough. During some truly awful weather, the kind that sees streets become a river of grey slush, the wide wheel arches did well to keep dirt off the paint.
Predictably, our test car on winter tires handled every road condition with ease. It crawled out of parking spaces hemmed in by snow and over piles left by plows. The point is: Anywhere most SUVs or crossovers can go, the Allroad can go, too.
But handling isn't compromised like it is on most utes. The Audi's steering is crisp; the car turns quickly and easily. You sit low enough so there's little sense of body roll through corners. The new Quattro "Ultra" system – as used on the Q5 SUV – only drives the front wheels in normal circumstances. The car's computer brain essentially guesses when the front wheels are about to drift wide or when the road surface will be slippery, and pre-emptively shuffles power to the rear. It's so seamless you'll never notice. It ensures the handling is always natural, the car driving as if it's on rails, while also using less fuel.
My only real gripe is that there's just one engine available: a 2.0-litre, turbo four-cylinder. A diesel motor is out of the question while VW Group sorts out the emissions-cheating scandal. The 2.0-litre has a claimed 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. In practice, the motor never feels as powerful as the numbers suggest and fuel economy isn't especially wonderful. I averaged 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres over a week. Although the new Allroad is lighter than the outgoing model, it's no featherweight, tipping the scales at 1,735 kilograms.
A V-6 option for those with a need for speed or a plug-in hybrid for those trying to swear off gasoline would be welcome additions to the lineup. Alas, neither option is likely for the near future. As wonderful as the new 2017 A4 Allroad is – and it is a great car – it doesn't stand a chance of outselling similarly priced SUVs and that's a shame. The SUV backlash, such as it is, remains a niche movement.
- Base price: $47,600; as tested: $55,300-plus
- Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged I4
- Transmission/drive: Seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic/all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.2 city, 8.3 highway
- Alternatives: Volvo V60 CrossCountry, Subaru Outback, BMW 330i xDrive Touring, Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
- Looks: If a station wagon hit the gym hard, it’d come out looking like this: pumped and puffed up. The black cladding around the wheels can be painted body colour if you’re not a fan of the rugged look. The optional 19-inch rims are beautiful but cost $1,400 as part of the sport package.
- Interior: Sitting in the driver’s seat, the Allroad feels like a car because it is one. Getting into it, you sit down rather than climb up. The cabin is identical to the A4 sedan, but the extra height is noticeable. Those who appreciate SUVs for their commanding driving positions will like this, too.
- Performance: The 2.0-litre TFSI is a state-of-the-art engine, but it feels as if it’s trying to move too much weight here. More power would be nice, but it’s far from a deal breaker. Zero to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds is respectable.
- Technology: The Quattro all-wheel drive system is standard, as are leather and heated front seats. You’re going to have to pay extra for most other gadgets including: LED headlights, the configurable “virtual dashboard,” 360-degree cameras, a heads-up display or Bang & Olufsen stereo.
- Cargo: Anything your SUV can haul, the Allroad can haul, too.
Better than an SUV in every way.
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