If anecdotal evidence gleaned from trips through L.A.'s moneyed coastal enclaves like Malibu, Pacific Palisades and Manhattan Beach is any indication, there's a new automotive trend for the outdoorsy yuppie. It's a station wagon.
Too culturally sensitive to be caught in an SUV, yet ever mindful of the curbside erratum that is the minivan, those with an active lifestyle or projection thereof clearly seem to be finding solace in the 2013 Audi Allroad.
The car is essentially a more rugged yet equally sophisticated cousin of the A4 station wagon (nee Avant) that Audi no longer sells in the U.S. Think Zac Efron in crampons or Gisele Bundchen in a ski parka. To cruise around the ocean communities is to see there is no shortage of buyers willing to part with at least $40,495 to get the look.
This blending of concepts starts with the Allroad's exterior. Audi recently refreshed the nose and tail of its A4 and A5 lineup, and this station wagon shares the new aesthetic. Sleek new headlamps with those daytime-running LED lights you see from the other side of the freeway now have a more contemporary presence with a cleaner "light tube" effect.
The headlights are complemented by a brash chrome grille with vertical slats, under which sits a stainless-steel skid plate. Dark plastic molding covers the lower portion of the front and rear bumpers, as well as the flared wheel arches. This gives the Allroad hearty, confident shoulders and a proficient stance.
At 7.1 inches, this Audi's ground clearance is 1.5 inches higher than the basic A4 wagon. This may sound exciting, but if you truly need a wagon riding on its tippy toes to get you home every night, consider that other buff wagons such as the Subaru Outback and Volvo XC70 have at least another inch of clearance. Maybe the name Audi Allpavedroad didn't pass muster with the Patagonia-clad focus groups.
Powering the Allroad over obstacles real and imagined is a turbocharged, direct-injected, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's your only engine choice and it's paired with your only transmission choice, an eight-speed automatic with manual and sport modes. Audi says this combination scoots the Allroad from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
All Allroads have Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system and are rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway. During 180 miles of testing in more city driving than highway, I averaged 19 mpg.
What a smooth 180 miles of driving it was. Both the engine and transmission work very hard at not feeling like they're working hard. Silent and serene at all times, the shifts were nigh imperceptible and the engine refused to complain no matter how hard you kicked it. It is down a bit on power during freeway passing; keeping the transmission in sport keeps a couple of useful downshifts ready in the chamber.
The car's additional ride-height pays dividends with a good view of the world in front of you, and though the body rolls a bit around corners the ride is generally as smooth as the drivetrain.
The motoring serenity carries into the Allroad's cabin as well. On top of being quiet, it carries all the assiduous craftsmanship and comfort Audi insides have become known for, though it lacks a unique treatment like the exterior gets. Because the sticker price on my loaded tester can see the $50,000 mark from its house (it's yours for $47,870), it would have been nice to see a little more trim or flourish other than the flat and monotonous gray plastic that dominates the cabin.
Another quibble that you notice only after logging extended seat time in the car is Audi's rigid adherence to maintaining a certain aesthetic over practicality. As is the case with other Audis, changing the fan speed or vent selection is a two-step process; there's no dedicated button for just that function.
Finally, the aforementioned Subaru and Volvo will wallop the Audi in terms of cargo space. Yes, what's there is usable, by virtue of this being a station wagon. But consider that with the rear seats folded, this Audi has less cargo room than the subcompact Honda Fit does with its seats folded. Think of this as a positive; not only could the chic Allroad make you feel like a better-looking person, it will also make you a better packer. At least there's plenty of space in the front and rear seats for people.
Also pulled into the Allroad's competitive orbit is another Audi product, the Q5. Consider that this SUV has the same drivetrain, a bit more cargo room, slightly better gas mileage and a legitimate towing capacity and costs several thousand dollars less than the wagon. If you have to ask why one would bother with the Allroad, you clearly never sat at the cool kids' table in high school.
If you are set on this Audi wagon, here are some of the options that $47,870 will get you: a navigation system (using Google Maps and Google Earth), backup camera with parking sensors, heated front seats, a power liftgate, three-zone climate control and Audi Connect. (This gives you real-time traffic and weather updates and a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot.)
All models include leather seats, a panoramic moon roof, fog lights, heated mirrors, power driver and passenger seats, Sirius satellite radio, six airbags, stability control with an off-road mode (yeah, right) and anti-lock brakes.
Also standard? The Allroad's style and drivetrain. The former maintains one's alpine street cred and good standing with well-heeled surf buddies. The latter helps buyers think they bought the car for a reason other than its image. In L.A., that's what makes a winner and a trend.