Before the crossover was the minivan. Before the minivan was the station wagon.
Time was that a station wagon was proxy for America’s family values, writ large. Load the family and hit the road.
But now, with crossovers ascendent, minivans are endangered and wagons are nearly extinct.
Nearly, but not quite. There are enough wagon lovers out there to prompt a handful of makers to keep them coming.
Taking a cue from the Old World
Most of today’s wagons originate in Europe, where crowded cities, narrow roads and high fuel prices favor small cars that carry big loads. There, wagons and hatchbacks are staples.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen represent Germany in the wagon wars. Sweden’s Volvo fields two.
Subaru reigns as Asia’s wagon master and, among domestics, Buick has reentered the segment after a two-decade absence. Its Regal TourX is based on — you guessed it — a wagon built by Opel, General Motors’ German subsidiary.
A small wagon of many talents
Today’s tester, Audi’s A4 Allroad ($44,500), is emblematic of the breed. A compact, five-passenger wagon based on the A4 sedan, it has the dynamics of a sport sedan and the utility of a wagon.
Granted, it can’t match the cargo capacity of most crossovers and it won’t appeal to drivers who like to ride tall in the saddle. But it’s fun to drive, easy to park and as comfortable, safe and attractive as a luxury wagon ought to be.
With standard its elevated ride height, standard all-wheel drive, protective underbody skid plates and off-road drive mode, the Allroad will go places most crossovers can't.
And, because it’s an Audi, its cabin is a study in restrained elegance. Materials quality and fit-and-finish befit its luxury stature and lofty price tag.
Seats are firm and comfortable. Four adults can stretch out in comfort. There’s not much casual storage space, but one makes do.
Ready to romp? So’s the Allroad.
The Allroad was last made-over for the 2017 model year. That year, its organic shape took a sharper set with the addition of the creases, edges and angles that comprise current Audi design.
To improve fuel efficiency, Audi revised its Quattro AWD system last year. Previously, Quattro ran exclusively in AWD. Now, it defaults to FWD in low-demand situations. When conditions — or the driver — demand, Quattro seamlessly transfers torque rearward to drive all four wheels.
Every A4 Allroad is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 252 horsepower and 273 pound feet of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic programmed to adapt to the driver’s style.
Take it easy, and so does the gearbox; when you decide to romp, it responds with quicker shifts and aggressive shift timing.
The Allroad runs the 0-60 sprint in the low-5-second range. It’s not rated for towing in the U.S.
The Allroad’s buttoned-down suspension employs adaptive dampers that react in real-time to changing conditions. Using one of five drive modes the driver can alter ride-and-handling characteristics.
Solidly built, well engineered
Performance is spirited and responsive. The Terrain reacts quickly to steering inputs and its active dampers effectively suppress body lean.
Steering feel is lively and alert. It’s precise, nicely weighted and communicative.
The Allroad feels solidly built and well engineered. Switchgear works with precision and Audi’s attention to haptics — the physical feedback a device imparts responding to input — deepens the connection between human and machine.
Standard equipment includes power-adjustable and heated leather seats, keyless ignition, a panoramic sunroof and three-zone automatic climate control.
Outside, there are xenon headlights, LED running lights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, roof rails and a power liftgate.
A host of safety and driver-assist features are available. However, only automatic braking and pre-collision prep are standard.
MMI continues to impress
The MMI infotainment system dispenses with the conventional touchscreen for console-mounted switches and knobs. Once mastered, MMI can be operated by feel. No need to look away from the road to change radio stations.
The available Virtual Cockpit, which integrates localized Google Earth imagery into a large, 12.3-inch full-color display, is a breakthrough in navigation design.
In a world that’s crazy for crossovers, station wagons have their work cut out for them. Audi’s Allroad is up to the task.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at email@example.com.
2018 Audi A4 Allroad 2.0T Quattro S Tronic
Vehicle base price: $44,500
Trim level base price: $44,500
As tested: $55,200 (includes destination and handling)
Options included Bang & Olufsen sound system; heated, auto-dim and power-folding mirrors; Sirius XM All Access; Audi advanced key; Audi Connect Care; LED headlights; parking system with top view camera system; full color head-up display; Virtual Cockpit; MMI Navigation; active lane assist; adaptive cruise control; automatic high beams; dual-pane acoustic glass; heated seats and steering wheel; all-weather floor mats
Tow rating: N/A
EPA rating: 25 combined/22 city/30 highway
Premium fuel specified