Audi first glued an “Allroad” badge onto a car in 1999 to designate a mildly butched-up variant of one of its station wagons. Audi wagons were then dubbed “Avant,” French for “front,” as in front-wheel drive — a feature that had set Audi apart when it arrived in the U.S. in 1970. Almost 20 years later, to make the first Allroad, Audi raised its midsize FWD wagon, the A6 Avant, an inch or so and gave it “quattro” (Italian, this time; with a lowercase q) all-wheel drive plus oversize matte-black fender flares and some other manly trim bits. Just as Subaru did with its Outback and Volvo did with the XC70, the point was to disguise a fine but otherwise ordinary wagon with at least the look of off-roadiness. However, Audi also gave its Allroad a wider stance and adjustable air suspension.

As a sales ploy, this worked brilliantly, but it was more than a gimmick, especially in the Snow Belt, where AWD and extra ground clearance are the real deal. Nor did it hurt that the Allroad also had the goods that still serve most Audis today: more than enough — but not too much — power, suave manners, all-wheel drive, German engineering and elegant styling, inside and out. That first Allroad became a cult car, like the all-conquering 1980 Audi Sport Quattro (upper-case Q) rally racer.

Audi Avant station wagons are gone, killed off by our lust for SUVs; but — go figure — Allroad station wagons sell just fine. So when Audi introduced the latest version of its compact sedan, the 2017 A4, an Allroad follow-up was likely, and what a lovely car it turned out to be. It’s packing the same 2.0-liter turbocharged Four, good for 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, that’s in the sedan. The seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox (with manual shift paddles) is the same too, but it’s connected to slightly different final-drive gearing, to compensate for the Allroad’s taller tires and 200 extra pounds.

The all-wheel drive, however, ain’t the same. Unlike the sedan, with full-time AWD, the A4 Allroad has “quattro drive with ultra technology”: Instead of a center differential that sends torque constantly fore and aft, there are electronic clutches on the rear axle that let the Allroad run in only front-wheel-drive until the back wheels need power too. Quattro fans will scream that Audi has dumbed down the Allroad for one measly extra mile per gallon in fuel economy. (We averaged 25 MPG overall, right on target.) But on the road, quattro ultra probably won’t cause any dynamic losses — and in Offroad mode, which could be useful on ice or snow too, the rear wheels are engaged full-time anyway.

Allroads no longer have air suspension, so the ride height stays the same regardless of drive mode. The Allroad’s extra 34 millimeters (1.34 inches) of ground clearance over the sedan causes no perceptible handling “issues.” The new A4 Allroad behaves about perfectly on any surface at any speed — within, of course, the limits of Newtonian physics and tire adhesion.

Thanks to a long menu of standard and available comfort and safety features, this Allroad is even more thoroughly modern than its sedan sibling — high-tech and complex, yet so well thought out that somehow it feels simple again. And it’s good that it’s this good, for an A4 Allroad starts at $44,000 and ours, with all of the toys that help make Audi a luxury brand, lists for $55,575.

November was Audi’s 71st consecutive month of record sales, year over year, in America and 2016 will be Audi’s seventh record sales year in a row in the US — a swell of growth that began during the Great Recession, when some automakers were facing extinction. Audi itself had a near-death experience in the late 1980s, brought on by “runaway acceleration” fears of its 5000 sedan. But Audi powered through that, just as it seems to be doing with VW Group’s emissions-cheating scandal, in which it played a small part, and presently the brand enjoys a reputation as a builder of cars that its owners flat-out love. The new Allroad isn’t going to change this one bit, and it will surely contribute to more sales records to come.

—— Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at calabi.silvio@gmail.com.


Plus

- SUV utility, touring-car handling
- All-weather competence
- Sophisticated, useful, accessible tech
- Auto-retracting cargo cover

Minus
- Slightly robotic throttle
- Pricey