Audi A4 Allroad is Clearly All About the Cladding, Not the Height
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.
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.
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 GoodCarBadCar.net, 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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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.
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.