Car reviews - Audi - Allroad - 2.5 TDI 5-dr wagon
Engine performance, transmission, suspension options, handling, build quality
Room for improvement
Unpainted plastic exterior trim, limited centre console space, space-saver spare wheel
16 Aug 2002
YOU could be excused for thinking that if you desire a luxury off-roader these days you first need a farm or a block of land up the bush to have a valid excuse, and a few high-jump lessons to prepare yourself for getting on board gracefully and in one go.
As manufacturers have showed us since the first Range Rover appeared and, more specifically, in the past five years, four-wheel drive and luxury equals big, not totally practical design with a huge powerplant to overcome the weight gain that all that metal and running gear brings with it.
But, let's face it, if you want to move from a luxurious two-wheel drive to something a bit more adventurous you shouldn't have to sacrifice on-road performance or driving comfort.
Enter the Audi Allroad quattro.
Based on the vault-like A6 Avant and competing with soft-roaders like Volvo's Cross Country, Allroad offers an impressive level of chassis sophistication in a wagon that can take you as far as you need to go - if back-country excursions is what you enjoy.
And the more recently arrived 2.5 TDI, though more expensive than the Mercedes-Benz ML270 CDI, brings economical turbo-diesel power to the already accomplished Allroad, which will also rival forthcoming oil-burners in BMW's X5 and the new Rangie.
While exhibiting all the hallmarks of Audi's quality, luxury focus, the Allroad does not make a bold statement about its undercarriage abilities, except for the unpainted plastic trim that surrounds the vehicle and the elegant but not so robust entry and exit bash plates that stamp the front and rear of the Allroad as "off-road".
The reason Allroad may look more suburban than its competitors at first is that its clever pneumatic spring-strut suspension allows the vehicle to be set to four different height settings, giving it ground clearance ranging from 142 to 208mm.
The vehicle's height can be set by the driver but is also controlled by the on-board computer system to avoid travelling at high speed in the off-road height setting.
Given the Allroad quattro 2.5-litre V6 TDI auto is not considered a traditional four-wheel drive, as it does not have a low-range transfer case, you can concentrate on its ability to hold the road or the dirt track and forget about entering the hill climb or mud bash event.
And hold the road it does.
(The 2.7-litre turbocharged petrol V6 manual Allroad has low-range standard but is still built on the same chassis as the diesel auto and is not considered a true four-wheel drive but rather an all-wheel drive).
Audi's four-link front and double wishbone rear suspension affords Allroad a suspension tuning that rivals any traditional luxury wagon and performs exceptionally well when cruising or pushing hard on gravel and damp clay.
Add to this ESP stability control and Audi's refined four-wheel drive system, and it's easy to see why the vehicle has balance and poise.
Only when pushed too hard into a tight corner will the Allroad exhibit understeer and it otherwise drives in and out of most turns with ease. The Allroad is no lightweight, however, and can feel big and bulky in the carpark and at speed - although it is considerably lighter than both ML and X5.
To enjoy a suspension such as this you require an engine and transmission that responds to driver input and can handle the vehicle's mass without running out of puff.
Audi's 2.5-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine is up to it and we believe is one out of the box.
Audi claims it pushes the wagon's substantial 1825kg bulk to 0-100km/h in 10.5 seconds, which is no mean feat, and gives the wagon a top speed of 205km/h.
The engine is surprisingly quiet for a diesel and revs well up to 4000rpm, delivering 132kW of power - proving adequate for most situations.
Diesels are renowned for torque or pulling power and this little gem serves up 370Nm of it which, when compared to its 350Nm 2.7-litre twin-turbo petrol sibling and even a 305Nm Holden Commodore 3.8-litre V6, is quite significant.
This torque is available between just 1500 and 2500rpm and for that reason requires a tough and smooth auto to get the engine's output down to the four wheels effectively and without giving the occupants whiplash.
Audi's five-speed Tiptronic auto with dynamic shift program and sports mode is driven by a hydraulically operated torque converter with single-plate dry lock-up clutch that does the job brilliantly.
Its permanent 4WD system has a self-locking Torsen centre differential and evenly distributes the torque to the wheels with no noticeable bias.
Sports mode allows the driver to move the vehicle along with greater engine speed between gear changes and also to use the steering wheel-mounted up/down shift buttons at any time the engine is not quite delivering or to keep it spinning in the optimum torque range.
Downshifting in the auto is made easy by this function or by the Tiptronic manual override funtion and the diesel engine's high compression provides welcome braking assistance in excess of any petrol engine of similar size.
Sitting on striking five-arm double-spoke 17-inch alloys that fill the flared wheel arches and draw the eye from the broad, prominent front and rear bumpers, this classy wagon is not out of place in town.
Genuine and imitation metallic highlights found across the vehicle are a feature and give the Allroad a busy but not overdone exterior look. And from the rear the twin chrome pipes provide a degree of mystery about what might be under the bonnet.
The benefit of Allroad's low ride height is, as we said, the handling. But it also has spin-off advantages in terms of aerodynamics, loading of cargo and simply getting in and out of the vehicle.
To back this up, the seats are supportive and comfortable, the pedals well placed, the steering wheel adjustable for reach and height, the soft trim on the dash is used to great effect, maps and loose items are easily stored, all controls are simple enough to use and door grab-handles are effectively positioned.
Rear passengers are also well catered for in terms of seat comfort, space, storage, ventilation, cupholders, maplights and appropriate safety.
The cargo compartment is roomy and contains luggage tie-down hooks, a security blind, separate power outlet, some token storage space and a lamp in the side trim and tailgate.
Although many of its luxury four-wheel drives are V8-powered, the turbo-diesel V6 Allroad auto should not be overlooked as it performs better than some may expect and will reap financial rewards in the long run.
For luxury buyers, the safety conscious, those with a family to accommodate or simply those with an outdoors lifestyle that like to travel in style, the Allroad TDI offers enough to make the price seem excellent value.
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