Audi A4 allroad
Fancy an A4 Avant with extra road presence and ability in slippery conditions? If the answer is yes, you'll be wanting an A4 allroad. This is Audi's alternative to a full-blown SUV and for the majority of buyers who never undertake challenging off-road trips, it could be preferable.
The engine range is loaded with familiar Audi units. Petrol buyers get a 2.0-litre TFSI unit with a 252PS output, but most will want to fuel from the black pump. The TDI diesel range kicks off with a 2.0-litre TDI 150PS unit, an engine also offered in 190PS guise. From a standing start, the 190PS variant gets to 62mph in 7.8 seconds. Top speed is 136 mph. Pokier options are provided by 3.0 TDI models with 218 or 272PS outputs. Naturally, quattro all-wheel drive is standard on all models. The quattro drive set-up is partnered with the updated wheel-selective torque control system, which is active on any surface. Depending on the engine, there is a choice of a manual six-speed transmission, the seven-speed S tronic auto or an eight-speed tiptronic auto.
This A4 allroad is a little better off piste than before. Ride height has been increased by 23mm and larger wheels compared with the Audi A4 Avant provide an additional 34mm of ground clearance. As an alternative to the standard suspension, this model is available for the first time with optional suspension with damper control. Sensors measure the movements of all four wheels plus lateral and longitudinal acceleration. The damper characteristic adapts accordingly to the surface conditions and the driving situation. The results are enhanced handling with even greater comfort and impressive off-road capability. Furthermore, the driver can push a button to choose the default setting of the suspension in Audi drive select and call up the desired handling characteristics at any time.
The A4 allroad certainly looks more SUV-like this time round, powerfully flared wheel arches and a re-styled rear bumper attracting attention. These are finished in matt structure grey or painted in the body colour. The robust underbody guard and the rear diffuser are finished in selenite silver.
The distinctive front end with jagged headlights, unique bumper and model-specific air intakes underscores this car's now more extrovert character. Vertical chrome slats adorn the sculpted Singleframe grille, while allroad badges decorate the front wings and the tailgate. The higher roof rails round out the typical allroad look. Plus there's the option of Audi's clever Matrix LED headlights.
At the wheel, there aren't many changes over any ordinary A4 Avant - but that's no bad thing. That means a classy fascia with its distinctive continuous air vent strip. Out back, the luggage compartment offers 505-litres of storage space in the standard configuration. Total capacity with the rear seats folded down and loaded to the roof is 1,510-litres. An optional rail and load-securing kit makes it easier to transport individual objects. A power luggage compartment cover and the electric drive for the tailgate are standard. With the optional sensor control, the driver can open and close the lid via a foot gesture.
If you're after a true multi-purpose vehicle in the £35,000-£40,000 bracket, the temptation is to look at the various SUV options but this latest generation version of Audi's A4 allroad could actually prove a more agreeable everyday companion for many drivers. Residing somewhere between a compact executive estate and a compact SUV, it aims to balance road-going competence with light off-road ability. Factor in the big boot and Audi's quality interiors and you have what should be a convincing product.Click here to find out more about our Audi A4 allroad range
Volvo V60 Cross Country
We already have a whole lot of time for Volvo's V60 estate, but giving it the Cross Country treatment can only broaden its appeal. Buyers get a 190hp 2.0-litre D4 diesel engine with eight-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive as standard, plus an off-road driving mode. It's not cheap, though.
Volvo offers a single choice under the bonnet of this MK2 model V60 Cross Country, the 190PS D4 diesel engine being a fine unit. It also endows the Cross Country with a braked towing capacity of 2,000kg. Permanent all-wheel drive comes as standard this time round, along with 60mm more ground clearance than you'd get in an ordinary V60. Plus this second generation V60 Cross Country also gets Hill Descent Control and an Off Road Drive Mode setting. So as you can tell, it's much more suitable for rough road treatment this time round. Hill Descent Control automatically controls the car's speed down a steep slope, while the Off Road setting alters the operation of the constantly variable all-wheel-drive system and the responsiveness of the engine, gearbox and accelerator pedal to help when negotiating tricky terrain below 25mph.
The previous V60 Cross Country couldn't really match the sharp handling reactions of its premium German rivals but buyers can expect a significant improvement in that area this time round thanks to the installation of the stiffer, more sophisticated 'SPA' 'Scalable Product Architecture' platform we've already seen used in the company's XC60, XC90, S90 and V90 models. As usual with Volvo models, there's a standard 'Drive Mode Settings' system, one of those set-ups now familiar in this segment that can tailor throttle response, steering feel and - if you've a self-shifter fitted - auto gearshift timings to suit the way you want to drive. Plus there's the option of adding in Volvo's 'Pilot Assist' system. This is a set-up that at cruising speeds of up to 80mph can effectively drive for you.
The base V60 was always a handsome car, but the Cross Country amps up the attitude a good few degrees with the addition of robust bodywork protection elements. Finished in charcoal grey, these include wheel arch extensions, lower sill mouldings and a rear bumper embossed with the Cross Country logo. With the lower grille adopting the same finish, extra visual ruggedness is added right around the lower part of the car, referencing its ability to tackle more challenging conditions. It also gets five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, which are specific to the Cross Country.
Inside, there's much borrowed from the brand's V90 and XC60 models, the interior boasting Volvo's latest, paired back interior design language with a 9.3-inch portrait orientated touchscreen infotainment system. Plus there's a digital instrument panel, with virtual dials separated by a customisable central space that can display a navigational map, trip computer info or your chosen phone or media settings. Out back, boot space comes in at 529-litres with the rear seats in place, outstripping rivals in this segment like the Audi A4 allroad, BMW 3 Series Touring xDrive and the Mercedes C-Class Estate 4MATIC. The rear bench splits 40/20/40 and drops down flat to the floor.
There has to be a better way, something smarter than the legions of soft-roader SUVs. They're inefficient, lumbering and have become a bit of a cliche. Volvo reckons that the answer's been there all along. Its Cross Country brand has a long heritage, dating all the way back to 1997 when this Swedish brand was the first to take an ordinary estate (then the bigger V70 model) and give it extra all-road capability and chunky off road styling.
Over twenty years of experience since have culminated in this second generation V60 Cross Country model, a superior example of its genre. Yes, the price is quite high and you could get a quality premium SUV for the same amount, but if that's not what you really want, this this countrified Volvo just might be.Click here to find out more about our Volvo V60 Cross Country range
Volkswagen Passat Alltrack
Volkswagen's second generation Passat Alltrack is a family-sized 4x4 estate that continues to strike an appealing balance for many buyers who don't need - and probably don't want - a traditional compact Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4-style SUV. It has the quality look and feel of something premium and much more expensive, blended with an extra dose of subtlety that'll suit potential buyers. Plus it'll be as good off road as you'll need it to be. In other words, it ticks a lot of boxes.
The Alltrack isn't much different to drive than the standard models as only a few changes have been made over the regular Passat. The heightened suspension does have a small effect on handling though, as the centre of gravity is now a little higher. It's a small price to pay though as it stops the underside of the car from being damaged when off road and allows it to go over ground that the regular car couldn't look at. Performance is a fraction down on the regular car but not enough to be noticeable and the Alltrack has more than enough power for most, especially in the models with the more powerful engine. Two engines are currently available for the UK market, both 2.0TDI diesels. One is the 150PS version which comes with a manual gearbox. The other has 190PS and comes only with the DSG automatic. The extra power of the pokier model is desirable as is has extra torque more widely spread over the rev-range. Not only is this useful for off-road but it allows the car to give its performance in a more relaxed manner.
The performance is very accessible off road too. This car's Haldex all-wheel drive system uses sensors to detect any loss of grip and transfers power to the wheels with most traction. As well as making off road driving easier, this set-up ensures the driver has optimum traction during more spirited driving or in adverse weather conditions.
As is expected of any contemporary Volkswagen, the build quality of the Passat is excellent; materials are both hardwearing and aesthetically pleasing and the general feel of the whole car is solid but luxurious. As this is the Alltrack model.
The bodywork, suspension and numerous other areas have been tweaked to cope with rough terrain. The exterior of the Alltrack looks more workmanlike than the standard Passat thanks to its plastic wheelarches, raised suspension and modified bumpers. However, the sleek lines and distinctive styling features such as LED lights remain. The Alltrack is certainly one of the more subtly designed vehicles of its kind and is all the better for it.
The interior of this MK8 model Passat follows the design principals of the exterior - simple but elegant. All controls are ideally located and in true Volkswagen style, feel of high quality in terms of materials and ease of use. The combination of stitched leather and metal accents give a premium feel to the cabin and by simplifying the controls, the designers have avoided an excess of buttons and switches - an affliction which many cars suffer from.
We've had 4WD Volkswagen Passats in the UK since 2001 but they've been a rare sight. This second generation Alltrack version though, deserves wider acceptance. It's the car that so many buyers of compact soft roaders should be looking at - but probably aren't. Less extrovert than RAV4s, CR-Vs and the like but, in truth, probably better suited to their owners' needs - providing those don't include anything too extreme on the rough stuff.
This, indeed, is a car perfectly suited to those who don't believe in going to extremes. In buying something suitable for the Amazon when all they really need is something that'll guarantee to get the kids to school in a snowy snap. This is, in short, the most complete expression of pragmatic Passat motoring since this model was first launched back in 1973. And an SUV-style 4x4 estate that gives you the quality and cred of an Audi allroad for not much more than the price of a comparable Skoda or Subaru. A car, in other words, that the marketeers have thoroughly thought through. Just as you'd expect from a Volkswagen.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Passat Alltrack range