By on November 4, 2016

2017 Audi A4 Allroad white

Compared with Audi’s new, fifth-generation 2017 Audi A4 sedan, the 2017 Audi A4 Allroad is nine-tenths of an inch higher. Ground clearance grows from 5.2 inches to 6.5.

It’s not exactly Rubicon ready.

But wait. Audi added four inches of black cladding above the front wheel arches; four-and-a-half above the rear wheels. Jeep Jamboree, here we come.

Full disclosure: I’m not one of those guys who’ll rail against the onslaught of small crossovers on his morning commute. I don’t look back to an era prior to RAV4 and Rogue domination and think, “Yeah, that was what automotive enthusiasm was all about: the beige 1999 Nissan Altima.”

So when you hear me questioning the gall of Audi marketing this car with an off-road mode, when you sense the incredulity in my voice in response to the silliness of a wagon that’s only slightly elevated, and when you see me doubting the authenticity of excessive cladding, don’t think it’s because I have a problem with your Subaru Forester.

You didn’t want a Legacy. You wanted a Forester. That’s fine. Buy what you want. Is your center of gravity too high? Sure, but I suspect you won’t be careening around the Stelvio Pass on the lock-stops regardless of whether you’re in a sedan or SUV.

2017 Audi A4 Allroad white rear

But Audi has its Forester, it’s called the Q5, and it’s a hugely successful small luxury crossover that outsold the previous Audi A4 Allroad 10-to-1 over the last three years in the United States.

The A4 Allroad is a niche filler, a smaller premium answer to the Subaru Outback.

Subaru, however, take the Outback very seriously. The Outback features a driver’s seat out of which a climb is not required, 225/60HR18 tires (admittedly not the profile of a mudding 4Runner), and 8.7 inches of ground clearance. That’s more clearance than you’ll find under a Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, or Honda Pilot.

And it’s 2.2 additional inches of ground clearance than you’ll find under the 2017 Audi A4 Allroad, out of which you do need to climb.

This has nothing to do with off-roading, of course. If you really want to venture far off the beaten path, we certainly don’t recommend an Audi A4 Allroad; we wouldn’t recommend a Subaru Outback, either. (Though you’d be surprised.)

No, this is about being inside a wannabe-SUV-wagon that does something more than coat itself in SUV cues. Still, there’s no sensation of increased ride height inside the Audi A4 Allroad – you’re still looking up at most of the traffic that passes by. Commanding cladding, it seems, does not automatically produce command-view seating.

2017 Audi A4 Allroad and G-Wagen

If the Subaru Outback seemed odd when it arrived two decades ago — why would anybody want a wagon that lost a smidgen of its handling prowess just to look like an SUV? — it makes a lot more sense now. The Outback gives buyers exactly what they want: SUV-esque cues, a wagon shape, and quantifiable increases in ride height and ground clearance.

The Audi A4 Allroad, on the other hand, is almost exclusively focused on symbolism. Wearing optional 245/40R19 Continental SportContacts, the Allroad is about as suited to logging roads as a Jeep Wrangler is suited to Laguna Seca. Indeed, the ride height increase doesn’t stop the A4 Allroad from coping really rather well on a twisty backroad. Surely an Audi A4 Avant, a wagon we can’t buy on this continent, would set a marginally better lap time at Laguna Seca, but it’s hard to believe the real-world differences between the two extended-roof A4s would be more than barely noticeable.

So why does Audi even bother lifting the car if the ride height increase is so inconsequential? Why not just slap on the cladding and call it a day if you’re not even going to make it all that visually taller? TTAC’s wise Bozi Tatarevic has the answer.

“They can say it’s lifted.”

Aha. Of course. Touché.

Cladding alone would just be silly. Nine-tenths of an inch in height adjustment allows Audi to call it an Allroad, not just a Manyroad.

Moreover, if Audi stuck to its Volkswagen parent company’s mindset, there would be even less of a material difference. Volkswagen’s new Golf Alltrack is elevated by only six-tenths of an inch.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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29 Comments on “Audi A4 Allroad is Clearly All About the Cladding, Not the Height...”

  • avatar

    Michael K said in 2012 that the new A4 Allroad was lifted 1.5″ over the regular wagon.

    So did they drop it back down when they restyled it?

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    And yet every auto publication “insists” that the Outback is still a wagon :rollseyes:

    • 0 avatar

      With the last redesign, when Subaru raised the roof and shortened the vehicle, it stopped being a wagon. It is now exactly the same height as the BMW X3 I used to own.
      There is nobody on earth calling the X3 a wagon so I cannot understand why the faithful cling to the dream that they can still buy a wagon from Subaru.

  • avatar

    Sad thing about the Allroad is that SUV buyers don’t like it and wagon buyers don’t like it. You can’t even lower this thing and removing the plastic cladding will cost you a fortune.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s crap anyway. Far too expensive for what it is, it’s got to be the worst value in the segment.

    • 0 avatar

      I had no idea one could not lowered to proper height. Regarding plastic cladding – why would you want to remove it? I’d buy a set for Golf/GTI if available (at not ridiculous price). Looks cool and provides basic protection to dd.

  • avatar

    The prior A4 Allroad had a wider track than the regular A4 Avant by using underpinnings from the A5, thus giving it potentially greater cornering ability. I don’t know about the new one, maybe the author of the post can give some insight here?

    In any case, who cares about the cladding, just be glad they offer another model instead of just the Q5. How’s it drive, how’s the interior, review it please. When you’re inside it seems like a nice, premium, small wagon. Compare it to the Volvo XC60 and to the Outback 3.6R as well even though this is a different league pricewise.

    I get a feeling TTAC is going to lose its $%^* when the 2018 Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain is released with cladding and a raised ride height…

  • avatar

    I really do think that Audi made a mistake replacing the Avant with the Allroad in their North American product lineup. It doesn’t appeal to SUV buyers, and it doesn’t appeal to wagon buyers. It’s the worst of both worlds.

    As an Audi wagon fan, I remember travelling in southern California in 2012, and being impressed at how many Avants I saw, and how few Q5s. The next year, after the Avant had been replaced with the Allroad, I saw almost no Audi wagons, and tons of new Q5s.

    If Audi still sold the Avant in North America, I’d probably be driving one. Instead, I’ve defected to BMW.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, although I also wish the A6 Avant was still around.

      • 0 avatar

        I miss driving my ’01 A6 Avant. I don’t miss owning it (MASSIVE repair bills between 50-105k miles before I finally dumped it after nearly 9 years).

        A major flaw (IMO) on the A4 Allroad is that it’s significantly smaller than the Outback (cargo capacity), it’s a compact wagon at best. One car buying metric “must have” for us is must fit all our luggage, etc., for a 2-week trip to Cape Cod (525 miles one way) including kayak equipment (kayaks on roof).

        The current ’09 Outback just about makes it. An A4 Allroad? Not even close. The current Outback is a bit larger than the ’09 and holds much more than the Allroad. That quick comparison (and memories of my horrible experience once my old A6 was out of warranty eliminated the Allroad from consideration, I have a ’17 Outback on order.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree regarding the size. I was just cross shopping a lightly used Avant or Allroad vs a newer GTI and went with the GTI. Back seat space is more than the Audi and cargo space is just a tad less seats up and more seats down.

  • avatar

    So does it actually qualify as a CUV/SUV?

    A few years back Subaru lifted the Outback just a little bit higher to change where it fit on the CAFE requirements and make it a SUV/Truck in the eyes of the Feds. Some of their core environmentally conscious customers were pissed.

  • avatar

    So what’s the point of this article then?

    The author doesn’t like faux-SUV cues applied to cars?

    The author thinks the A4 Allroad is a dumb idea, and we should buy Outbacks instead?

    The author thinks the Allroad should be moar (sic) lifted?

    How does it drive? How does it compare to other “faux-SUV-lifted-wagon-things” (of which there are several, with more on the way)?

    I have appreiated Mr. Cain’s contributions in the past, but this article leaves me baffled…

  • avatar

    I test drove one a lightly used one year and half ago. Too low, too cramped and seats were uncomfortable. Price was way too high.

    We did recently buy a T6 XC70 though, for my wife. 8.3 inches of ground clearance in that, and it’s a rocket with the best seats in the world. Mostly, it’s just a much nicer car than the XC60 for the same money (lightly used). Handling is nothing great, but who cares?

  • avatar

    As an owner of a C5 A6 based allroad, I turn my nose up at the new ones. In my eyes the new ar loses everything that made the old special (and unreliable, haha) No variable air suspension that gave the car moderate offroad capabilities, no silly but fun engines, and significantly reduced cargo space are all turn offs for me.

    The old allroads are unreliable, quirky, and sometimes maddening, but at least they have a soul. The new allroads appear to me as nothing more than an A4 with a plastic trim package.

    • 0 avatar

      “but at least they have a soul”

      Sorry, mass-produced modern A6 Allroad does not have a “soul” simply because it’s unreliable.

      • 0 avatar

        lol a car that has soul is generally old enough that you have to “know” it to anticipate what it is going to do or how to bring it to life. My old Mustang (if you don’t know how to start it) you’ll likely either flood it or kill the battery before it barks to life.

        • 0 avatar

          I think the newest car to currently have a soul is an ’80s carbed something or other malaise.

          • 0 avatar

            I suppose more what I meant was at least the old version had things that made it stand out, whereas the new one only seems to be better at being more expensive than the other things out there.

            But at the end of the day, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder :)

          • 0 avatar

            My OBD1 VW Mk3 would beg to differ. It had it’s quirks, and so does the one I’m considering buying. Whether it’s “soul” or not is up for debate, but as I see it, if there are certain things you need to finesse to make work, she’s got soul.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought one of the last previous generation allroads and I love it. HUGE dealer discount helped! But if I could find one of those A6 based allroads in decent shape now, I’d buy one of them too.

  • avatar

    But what if you want a car exactly 6.5 inches off the ground? I do. I’m reminded of a time when I parked my ’04 Forester right next to a Mk II GTI, like I used to own. One was marketed as a performance car, and one was an outdoorsy wagon, but both had about the same amount of air space underneath. The difference was surely less than an inch. Wait, my SAAB 9000 was had also about 7 inches to the ground.

    I didn’t want a foot. I wasn’t climbing the Rubicon, or crossing it. But I also wasn’t lapping the track, trying to eke out the last fraction of a G on fast turns. So I didn’t want four inches, which was all my Mk IV VWs had, before I lifted them. All I wanted was a car that would handle a graded Forest Service road for the last miles to the trailhead, while giving me good economy, a lively driving experience and a good ride on the hours of highway to get there.

    One, all-purpose car – that used to be easy to find, until federal regs and profit imperatives led us to split the vehicle market in two. Now there are lots of AWDs and SUVs and CUVs that ape the Jeep ethos. Some are authentically optimized for the trail. But on a paved road, that capability is wasted. You’re just hauling around hundreds of pounds of marketing. The biggest problem I find with high ride height is head toss; because you sit higher above the wheels, your head moves farther laterally when the roadway dips this way or that. The only ways to counter that are active suspension or a soft suspension, and each has its costs.

    Then there are cars, all of which are lower, more streamlined and more road-specialized than yesterday’s cars. They’re prone to damage from sharp inclines and road objects, like the timber that split the oil pan of my MK IV before I lifted it. Nowhere is the kind of versatile vehicle I want, and ride height is key to that. Six inches of clearance is perfect in my world, and that’s harder to find.

    Audi offered a wide range of ride heights with their original allroad, but it ended badly. The pneumatic height adjustment system suffered frequent leaks and failures. I’ve seen them sitting parked, front end held high like a planing speedboat, after the rear air springs got leaky. Ironically, on my own allroad, that system was totally reliable, though the rest of the car wasn’t. I can only imagine the criticism heard here if Audi had installed another air-lift system.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t trust your eyes, Wheatridger. Eying up the free space under the car is a misleading way to judge appropriate ride height. Your Subaru had more than 2.5″ on your Golf (4.9″ vs. 7.5″). You can have similar amounts of clearance overall, but if one or two major components hang down below that it’s all ruined. Plus, approach and departure angles are another big function of how well something works off-road.

  • avatar

    When I drove the pre-Allroad Avant, it distinguished itself by hanging itself on standard height USA curbs or sidewalks when parked: murder on the underside and no fun. No such issues with either the Allroad or the Subaru Forester. Inside of Allroad was cramped thanks to a ridiculously huge transmission tunnel and console: don’t know if Audi opened up space with redesign or if they stuck with the fighter pilot layout euro brands seem to love so much.

  • avatar

    I am confused.

    6.5 – 5.2 = 1.3 inches

    not 0.9.

    Am I missing something here?

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    An inch is a pretty big number in terms of clearance. My old A4 was a total of 4.2″ off the ground; fitted with an aluminum skidplate it rarely met an open FS road that it couldn’t handle – an inch could have made it never. My new Fiesta ST has 4.5″ and a shorter wheelbase; I can tell the difference immediately when I hit gravel. 6.5″ is huge, and about all you’ll ever need if you don’t plan on off-roading for fun and just want to make it to the trailhead.

  • avatar

    I’m looking for something to replace my ’05 outback xt. I don’t really like the new outbacks and don’t want anything bigger than what I currently have. I want a much nicer car and with better handling characteristics, so was looking at awd sedans. But I don’t think I could give up the wagon’s space – I use the space for skis, bikes, sleep/car camp, etc. I’m not planning on off-roading it, but do need some ground clearance for snow. I’m not sure why the author is getting weird about ground clearance – clearly its for snow and dirt roads. Small SUV’s handle like crap, aren’t good off the beaten path and don’t have as much space as you might think. Those aren’t right either. Anyway, this A4 allroad seems like a really perfect fit for me. Plus they are made in Germany.

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