Car reviews - Audi - Allroad - 3.0 TDI 5-dr wagon
TDI performance and economy, cabin presentation, adjustable suspension, overall quality, quattro security, not an SUV clone
Room for improvement
Expensive, with expensive options ugly glossy grey cladding
1 May 2007
DESPITE offering the gargantuan Q7, as well as having a range of smaller SUVs in the pipeline, Audi must be hoping that the second-generation Allroad ‘crossover’ hits the right nerve with today’s consumers.
History may yet see the original version – the previous A6 Avant-based model released in 2001 – as the right car in the wrong time, unveiled just as the world’s appetite for larger SUVS went ballistic.
Although that car drove quite well – especially the rare and underrated manual version with low-range gearing – it struggled against SUV super-divas such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes ML-class.
Buyers saw the Allroad for the jacked-up, Subaru Outback-esque A6 that it really was, despite Audi claiming otherwise.
And nothing has changed, but now Audi is more realistic than before, forecasting a paltry 100 buyers for the new C6-series Allroad, which is once again based on the A6 Avant.
But surely, in this age of global warming, high fuel prices and growing carbon footprints, the lighter, cleaner and lither Allroad can wrestle at least a fraction of the SUV buyer base?
Audi has worked hard to keep the weight down to a reasonable 1880kg, aided by using aluminium and plastics in much of the car’s outer and inner construction, as well as ultra-high strength steels, which also enhances strength and rigidity, as well as crash-worthiness.
In terms of style, our test car’s contrasting shiny grey bumper on black paint with matt chrome highlights seemed at odds with Audi’s usual elegance. Luckily, buyers can choose a less eye-searing monochromatic effect.
The criss-cross single-frame grille is no thing of beauty, either, but the Allroad is pure Avant elegance otherwise, with its flowing silhouette, clean surfacing and gorgeous design details. When switched on, the boomerang-shaped tail-lights are especially lovely.
That Audi can manage to advance the cabin design game as it has with such ease over the last decade is astounding for proof, open the vault-like door and step inside.
Thankfully, the interior, which is significantly more spacious in every discernible direction than before, is largely unmolested by any of the Allroad gargoyles that inflict the exterior.
Here we find surfaces that are sensual to the touch, opulent aromas, dials that are beautiful to look at, an expensively well-oiled feel to the switches and buttons, plus faultless ergonomics.
Special mention goes to the lovely tear-drop instrumentation, superb colour co-ordination and firmly supportive outboard seating (the middle rear seat is too high and hard for any non-masochistic posterior).
Beyond the rear seat is a cargo area of an entirely reasonable 1660 litres of load capacity that is so pristinely presented you would be disinclined to place dirty things on it. Sliding the cover across also cuts out what little road rumble emanates from back there.
Audi’s rear parking camera screen, sited high up on a centre console, is clever and effective, taking the guesswork out of manoeuvring around tight spots.
We did find the computer mouse-like MMI console interface initially confusing to operate the air-con and heat flow, but familiarisation should soon fix that befuddlement.
It also works the nifty ride-height adjuster with supreme ease and clarity, while the colour-coded radio, phone, optional satellite-navigation, vehicle set-up and media functions are sensibly and logically laid out.
You are also insulated aurally from the marvellous V6 diesel engine once on the move, although when cold the TDI does sound louder than a regular petrol unit.
There is nothing wrong with the driving position as everything is every-which-way adjustable. And this bodes well for the driving experience, too.
As with most German vehicles, the ride is on the firm side, but one of the Allroad’s party tricks is its adjustable air suspension, in place of the regular A6’s coil springs.
Scrolling the MMI knob, drivers can select ‘Comfort’ if plusher progress is preferred ‘Dynamic’ drops and tightens everything up for a more dashing drive, ‘Allroad’ grows ground clearance from 125mm to 175mm, while ‘Lift’ elevates the Audi a further 10mm for traversing rough terrain at below 35km/h.
But don’t go thinking this is a hardcore 4WD, or even a casual off-roader such as a Nissan X-Trail. The clue is in the second syllable of the Allroad’s name.
Leave the bitumen and you will probably get stuck... or a puncture at the very least.
Instead, the A6 and A8-derived multi-link suspension set-up gives the Allroad a hunkered-down feel.
At high speed in almost blinding sleet and howling winds, the Audi feels as unflappable as a Leopard tank. It sticks to the road regardless of how slippery road conditions become, imparting an aura of safety and security that borders on majestic.
After 27 years, Audi’s quattro drivetrain can still leave you awestruck.
Sure, the steering is not particularly quick, but it is smooth and relaxing, well weighted and ultimately as sharp as you would expect from a large and luxurious wagon.
And nothing can quite prepare the Allroad novice for the charms of the 3.0-litre V6 TDI. Here is a vehicle that revs and pulls and surges forward like a goods train while maintaining complete decorum and control.
The new, highly advanced, Euro IV emissions turbo-diesel unit, with its particulate filters and multi-injectors, runs clean and lean and, well, serene.
Forget the sub-Commodore 171kW power delivery, and instead concentrate on the V8-agitating 450Nm of torque instead. Accessible from 1400rpm (little more than idling speed), it helps the Allroad hit the 100km/h mark in 7.8 seconds while recording a remarkable 8.8L/100km average fuel consumption.
The six-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox does a sterling job of co-ordinating all this. We prefer to slot it into ‘S’ mode with the Dynamic suspension setting switched on, which turns the Allroad into a rapid and rabid sports tourer extraordinaire.
Massive performance with great economy and responsibly restricted emissions: conflicting characteristics, perhaps, yet this heroic diesel does the job.
And here’s the sting in the Allroad’s tail: in the Q7, which weighs up to 400kg more, a variation of this engine is remarkably unremarkable, struggling to properly propel the behemoth with any sort of urgency or grace.
In the Allroad, words like ease and alacrity spring to mind because the 3.0-litre’s power-to-weight ratio is child’s play. Like a Lego toy, this engine simply picks the Audi up and throws it around. Not a sweat is raised.
On a long highway jaunt, one colleague recorded 7.2L/100km. We could not get close to that, but we did absolutely floor the Allroad’s accelerator almost at every opportunity, because we could and it was always fun.
So there you have the Allroad, an intriguing and invigorating luxury-car alternative.
Why would you pay $20,000 more than a Q7 for one?
Perhaps you could look at it this way: If you could choose a vehicle to be an extension of your own being, the crossover would represent a leaner, fitter, smarter, more youthful and more affluent self, against the somewhat pumped-up and dumbed-down SUV.
Even in the luxury segment, consumers are now suddenly and very publicly at an environmental crossroad. The Allroad is a crossover in more ways than one.
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