Take a family-friendly crossover and splice in an energetic on-the-road attitude more like that of a sport sedan and you end up with the brawny, eminently useful 2014 Audi Allroad.
Audi essentially skipped the first wave of the SUV craze, more than a decade ago, but it did concede a bit to their popularity with the original 2001-2006 Allroad—essentially an A6 Avant wagon with slightly higher ride height and a touch of rugged trim.
The automaker has kept to the same formula with the current Allroad, introduced last year, but this time the Allroad is a bit tidier—and based on the Audi A4. In form, and in function, it's still a station wagon (or sport wagon as the marketing folks might want you to hear). And while it does offer some of the talents of a comparably sized utility vehicle, it carries forward with more carlike performance and a lower, sportier look than Audi's own excellent Q5 crossover.
Under the cloak of some cladding and the extra promise of a little more trail-running lift is the Audi A4 Avant; this time around we're only getting the Allroad, which is upstyled to connect the dots between the A4 lineup and the Q5 crossover. And the Outbacked treatment works very well, with its raised ride height, distinctive lower-body look, and aluminum exterior trim. The Allroad has a stronger stance from the side, while at the front there's a little more presence, probably due to the vertically ribbed grille. Trim LED headlamps are chamfered at the top corners for a subdued, sophisticated appearance across the nose, while wide fog lamps add substance down below. Most models get a matte-finish cladding for the lower body and around the wheel wells, but a higher-gloss look is available.
Get inside, and you'll have more trouble telling this cabin apart from that of an A4 sedan—at least from the front seat forward. The analog, cockpit-like gauge cluster isn't any more complicated than it needs to be, while Audi's controller-and-screen-based MMI system is over at the top and middle of the dash. The look is livened up with aluminum trim, and you can choose between several wood trims if that's not your thing. Overall, the A4's dash and controls have a high-quality look and feel that extends Audi's streak of excellent interiors.
You don't have any choice in powertrains, but we have absolutely no issue with the excellent one that Audi installs in all U.S.-bound Allroads. The 2.0-liter TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes nine extra horsepower for 2014—220 hp—but it keeps its 258 lb-ft rating. It's teamed to a responsive eight-speed automatic transmission, with a sport mode, and the latest Quattro all-wheel drive system is standard. This year's bump in power has knocked a tenth of a second off the dash to 60 mph—now 6.4 seconds, officially. From the driver's seat, the 3,900-pound Allroad responds well with any prod from the right foot, and the transmission doesn't hesitate to shift early when you don't need the revs. Gas mileage is officially 20 mpg city, 27 highway according to the EPA, but in an extended test we noted 24 mpg in a nearly 1,000-mile mix of driving and have seen, quite consistently, more than 30 mpg in relaxed highway driving at legal speeds.