The rugged Subaru Outback is the most popular wagon in America, while the Audi A4 Allroad offers a more refined take on the same formula.
The wagon is dead. Long live the wagon. Or so it goes according to Subaru as their Outback accounts for approximately 85% of wagon sales in the US. Subaru’s secret to keeping the wagon alive has been adding AWD, a lift, and some clever marketing. Across the pond in Europe wagons, or “estate cars,” never really went out of fashion. As a result, manufacturers like Volvo, Mercedes, and Audi have been making great wagons all the while.
For this match-up we chose the Audi A4 Allroad to go head-to-head against the Subaru Outback owing to the former’s lift, all-wheel drive, and luxury pedigree. Both bridge the gap between sedans and SUVs without succumbing to crossover sameness syndrome. The Outback emphasizes its “outdoorsiness” while the A4 Allroad leans heavily its European refinement. The question is this: is it worth the extra scratch for the Euro-wagon or is the more modest Subaru really the better value?
The Audi A4 Allroad offers a single powertrain, but it’s a good one. New for 2021 is the integration of a 12-volt mild-hybrid system to boost the output of the 2.0L turbo four-cylinder to 261 horsepower and 273lb.-ft. of torque. This mill is paired to a smooth and responsive seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The Allroad comes with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system and a 6.5-inch clearance height. Fuel efficiency is a respectable 24 city and 30 highway mpg.
The Subaru Outback offer two choices for engines. The first is a 2.5L flat-four making 182 horsepower and 176lb.-ft. of torque. The second, coming in the XT models, is a 2.4L turbocharged four-cylinder making a spritely 260 horsepower and 277lb.-ft. of torque. Both are connected to a CVT. Subaru’s standard symmetrical all-wheel drive is also in full effect here along with 8.7-inches of ground clearance. The 2.5L gets an impressive 26 city and 33 highway mpg while the 2.4L turbo give up a little efficiency for more power at 23 city and 30 highway mpg.
The 2.4L engine does allow the Outback to tow up to 3,500lbs. Audi doesn’t list A4 Allroad’s towing capacity.
The Audi A4 Allroad’s standard adaptive suspension is tuned to that sweet spot of comfort and handling. Steering is sharp and responsive, and the A4 Allroad benefits greatly from its quattro all-wheel drive providing good grip whether on pavement, snow, or gravel. The 2.0L turbo delivers impressive acceleration, shuttling the A4 from 0 to 60 in just 5.6 seconds. As good as the all-wheel drive is, the 6.5-inches of ground clearance is over two inches less than the Outbacks. The A4 Allroad is probably better car in town and on the highway, but the Outback has a distinct advantage off the tarmac.
The Subaru Outback has kept the flame of the station wagon alive in part because it can provide most, if not all, the crossover utility buyers want while maintaining the car-like driving CUVs lose in the bargain. The 2.5L offers decent acceleration and the CVT does a good enough impression of an automatic that most drivers won’t even notice the difference. The 2.4L turbo adds pep and nicely compliments the Outback’s low center of gravity to provide some surprisingly nimble handling. Perhaps most importantly, the 8.7-inches of ground clearance combined with standard AWD makes the Outback arguably the most capable wagon around. It may not be a true rock climber, but it can take on muddy dirt roads and snowy conditions with ease.
The starkest departure between these wagons is apparent once you sit inside. The Audi delivers on its luxury name with a well-wrought cabin replete with high-quality materials and elegant designs. Many refined items like the walnut accenting come standard. The seats are particularly comfortable, front and back. One detraction for the A4 Allroad is the lack of interior space. Headroom is at a premium, especially in the rear. Backseat leg room also runs a little short at 35.7-inches of available space. Less than stellar cargo capacity also cuts into the A4 Allroad’s practicality at 24 cu. ft. in back and 58.5 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded down.
The inside of the Subaru Outback isn’t as fancy as the Audi’s, but then it’s not trying to be either. And yet, the Outback’s cabin is a nice one given its price point (we actually prefer it to comparable crossovers like the Toyota RAV4). Most hard plastics are kept well away from common touch points and the overall quality of materials is quite good. We preferred the upgrade leather seats to the base model’s cloth ones, but even the top trim Nappa leather seats in the Outback can’t match the Audi’s.
The Outback does distinguish itself when it comes to interior space, however. Head and legroom are ample, with an impressive 39.5 inches of legroom in the back seat. The contrast is even more stark once you open the rear hatch as the Outback features a cavernous cargo area with 32.5 cu. ft. behind the rear seats and 75.7 cu. ft. with them folded down.
Panoramic sunroof, walnut interior accents, three-zone climate control, leather seats, and a 10.1-inc infotainment touchscreen.
12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, “Virtual Cockpit Plus” adds safety features like active lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and top-view camera system.
19-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, LED headlights, ambient lighting, heated rear seats, HUD, navigation, and parking assist.
Additional safety features can be found in the Driver’s Assistance Package that imparts lane departure warning, adaptive cruise, and automatic high beams.
Automatic climate control, X-Mode, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, satellite radio, Bluetooth, two 7-inch touchscreens.
11.6-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, options for keyless entry, moonroof, and wireless charging.
Leather upholstery, heated rear seats, 12-speaker Harmon Kardan stereo, and hands-free power liftgate.
Nappa leather upholstery, navigation, moonroof, heated steering wheel, and ventilated front seats.
Adds the 2.4L turbocharged engine. Also available on the Limited ($37,995) and Touring ($39,995) trims.
Standard safety tech includes lane departure warning, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and rear seat warning.
Additional safety options include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, lane change assist, driver attention monitoring, and a front view camera.
The differences between the Audi A4 Allroad and the Subaru Outback are less significant than one might assume at first blush. Yes, the Audi cost a good deal more, but aside from the snazzy interior, the two vehicles have a lot in common. Both feature all-wheel drive, a decent lift (thought the Outback’s is greater), both offer the utility of a wagon, and both sport turbocharged engines. And topping out at just under $40,000 for the Outback Touring XT, the Audi A4 Allroad’s initial price of $44,600, isn’t all that far off.
As nice as the Audi A4 Allroad is, by contrast, the Outback looks the stronger choice. It offers more cargo and passenger room, two additional inches in ride height, a generous host of standard safety features (many of which will cost you extra with the Audi), and most of the modern creature comforts we’ve grown accustomed to in new cars. And then there’s the price. The Outback Limited looks like the best value overall with leather, the Harmon Kardan stereo, and the option for the 2.4L turbo all at between $6,000-$10,000 less than the Audi.
If you want the more refined and better driving wagon, go with the A4 Allroad, for everything else go for the Subaru Outback.