Audi has launched a two-car Allroad quattro range aimed at the fussy few who don’t want an Avant (wagon in Audi-speak) or an SUV, but would like a mix of both. The new A6 Allroad will become the only wagon option in its niche, while the refreshed A4 version is higher, wider and longer, and has more ground clearance than the A4 Avant you can still buy.
WHAT IS IT
Audi describes the Allroad as its first SUV, launched in 2001, five years before the first Q car was sent out to chase down BMW’s X range. It is supposed to offer a combination of soft-road ability and rugged, pumped-up looks, with car-like handling and a lower centre of gravity than an SUV. The A6 version is classy and, at $111,900, expensive, while the A4 is more utilitarian and affordable at $70,500.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
If you love driving, and cornering, then the high-topped handling of an SUV should push you towards a car like this – if you really must have a premium soft roader with dirt road-bashing abilities. Yet sales of the Allroad have never set Australia on fire the way the Q3, Q5 and Q7 have.
The other Germans have left this niche within a segment entirely to Audi because they don’t make beefed-up, underbody-protected versions of their Estates and Tourers. Realistically, though, a potential Allroad buyer will shop it against cars like BMW’s X3 and X5, or an Audi Q3 or Q5.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Buying a soft-roader is all about trying to have the best of both worlds, and it seems like the two Allroad offerings deliver a cleverer, more car-like compromise than a traditional, top-heavy SUV. It’s a surprising shame that so few people buy them.
PLUS: Tough styling; excellent interior, particularly the A6; car-like cornering; effortless diesel engines
MINUS: Steering too light; options expensive; automated emergency brake not standard; plastic wheel arches a bit gauche
THE WHEELS REVIEW
YOU don’t need an SUV, you really don’t. You just think you do.
Okay, sure, if you’ve got a genuinely non-ironic beard and you consider killing small animals a fulfilling hobby, you might, but even then all you really need is something like an Audi A4 Allroad quattro, or, if you’re over supplied with money, the all-new A6 version.
Audi chose to launch its new Allroad range in the Northern Territory, where some of the animals consider killing humans to be a satisfying pastime, to show just how capable its car-like, SUV-lite, rough-and-tough wagon offering is.
The NT is an intimidating yet fabulous place to drive. Bits of it catch fire randomly, which then attracts dozens of picnic blanket-sized wedge-tailed eagles, who fly in to eat whatever flees the flames. Kangaroos almost outnumber trees, and if you stop and walk towards the nearest water source, you’ll be eaten by at least one of the Northern Territory’s 110,000 crocodiles.
Throw in the ridiculous road trains and the fact that every vehicle other than them seems to average 160km/h and it’s an experience you simply have to try. But you don’t need an SUV.
Both new versions of the Allroad coped effortlessly with the high-speed road blasting – the A4 finds the imperial ton a doddle, despite a mere 2.0-litre TDI engine with 140kW and 400Nm – and just as easily with the sandy, rutted and ridged dirt roads we took them down.
The A4 Allroad, at 180mm, offers 37mm more road clearance than the Avant it’s based on and, more surprisingly, just 20mm less than a Q5, while the A6’s Adaptive Air Suspension allows you to choose ride heights between 125mm and 185mm.
They may not literally be able to tackle all roads, but with their underbody protection and chunky plastic wheel arches they’ll get you far enough out back to make you feel heroic, and then when you hit the smooth stuff on the way back they’ll handle like a car, not a cumbersome SUV.
Sadly, this clever compromise appeals to almost no one, yet just enough people for Audi to somehow make a business case.
Just after the Allroad concept was officially launched, back in 2002, Australians bought 262 of them because the Q5 didn’t yet exist. Amazingly, in 2013, with more premium SUVs than you could point a selfie stick at, 231 Allroads were sold, which would sound like an achievement if you didn’t know that in a single month, Audi will sell more than 300 Q3s and 320 Q5s.
Audi says the Allroad has a loyal customer base which appreciates the more car-like driving experience but admits it’s “not our biggest seller”.
This is a shame because the A6 Allroad, in particular, is a great mix of premium German motoring with soft-roading potential, and one that manages to look tough without being bulbous and huge.
This new version – which will become the only Avant option in the A6 range (the RS6 is too out there, price and performance wise, to count) – gets the wider Audi grille, Matrix LED headlights (a $2300 option) and special exhaust tips with a stainless-steel bash plate at the rear.
Inside it is Audi at its best, with a lovely wood finish highlighting a beautiful cabin and acoustic glazing on the windscreen and front windows, which helps with its blissful quietude.
Unless you open the door or windows, you are never aware that the new 3.0-litre engine is a diesel, equipped with 160kW and 500Nm. It’s even harder to believe when you whip through the seven-speed “S Tronic” dual-clutch gearbox and watch the revs pile on. Overtaking road trains is almost enjoyable, it’s so easy.
The 0-100km/h time of 7.3 seconds is a good half a second faster than the A4 Allroad, and yet the fuel figures for both cars are the same, 5.6L/100km.
The seating position is a strange mix of road car and high chair, but at least the seats in the A6 are plush.
The experience is not so lush in the A4 version, which is far firmer on your spine. In general, the interior fit-out of this car feels half a generation behind its big brother.
In isolation, the A4 Allroad shares this concept’s feeling of solidity and capability, and the power and torque from what is a smallish engine for the job are never found wanting.
The difference in price certainly matches the difference in perception, though, with the A4 Allroad a relative bargain at $70,500 next to the $111,900 A6.
The Allroad could be, and perhaps should be, all the premium soft roader you need, and it has this market segment to itself. It’s just a shame it’s so small.
Model: Audi A6 Allroad quattro
Engine: 2967cc V6, dohc, 24v turbo
Max power: 160kW @ 3250-4500rpm
Max torque: 500Nm @ 1250-3000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Fuel economy: 5.6L/100km
On sale: Now