"Audi started with a pretty darned nice wagon, and the "all-road" additions are mostly cosmetic. "
Good: handling, styling, cargo net
Bad: push-button controls, potential repair costs

 

The Audi allroad is the latest example of a station wagon dressed up in an SUV muscle suit, in the tradition of the Subaru Outback and the Volvo Cross Country. In the allroad's case, Audi started with a pretty darned nice wagon, and the "all-road" additions were mostly cosmetic. The main mechanical add-on is an adjustable suspension that can increase ground clearance by nearly two and one-half inches.

Introduced as a 2001 model, the allroad (we're expecting the e.e. cummings edition any day now) has a cars.com target price of $39,133, meaning you'll be approaching mid-40s territory once you've checked off a couple of boxes on the option sheet, paid your taxes and delivery fees and filled the tank with premium. The allroad comes in one body style, a four-door station wagon, with Audi's excellent all-wheel-drive system, called quattro, and a turbo-charged, 250-horsepower, 2.7-liter V6 engine. The car we drove had a five-speed automatic. A six-speed manual is available.

Audi created the allroad from its A6 Avant (Audi's name for station wagons), a vehicle that was already pretty nice, in our humble opinion. Since the Avant can already be had with the quattro system and the 2.7 liter engine, what you're getting by spending another two thousand dollars for the allroad is the adjustable suspension, the turbo-charged , and the bulked-up body panels.


Driving Experience

As you might expect for your $40,000-plus, the allroad is a very nice vehicle to drive. The five-speed automatic, a $1,000 option, has a manual shift option that's better than most of these that we've tried, in that it reacts without a lot of lag time. The ride, although comfortable, seems a little stiff to our derrieres, possibly because of the adjustable suspension. The allroad handles extremely well, going where it's pointed with virtually no body roll. The 250 horsepower felt more than adequate in a 4,167-pound vehicle, and provided powerful acceleration. Overall, it's a powerful, comfortable, and good handling car to drive, like other Audis.

While the sporty suspension says, "Audi," the power steering feel, oddly enough, says "Cadillac." It's very, very light, which makes for easy parking, but feels a little out of place in such an otherwise taut car.

The allroad comes with standard ABS brakes.

Although we didn't get a chance to drive the allroad around in the snow (our invitation to speak at the Saskatoon University Commencement and Ice Fishing Festival was withdrawn at the last minute), other Audis with the quattro system are excellent in the snow. The added ground clearance will only make the allroad better.


Interior

The allroad definitely gives off a luxury feel, with high quality materials throughout the cabin. There's a fair amount of room inside the allroad. It's not a large car, but it's big enough. There's plenty of space for your shoulders, knees and head, and there's adequate storage. One very nice touch is the cargo net that extends from the top of the rear seat to the roof, which would, we suppose, be helpful if you carried something like a dog in the cargo area. (Something we are far too responsible to ever do with a test vehicle. Right, Zuzu?) When you fold the seatback down to extend the cargo area, the net goes along with it, attaching to the roof behind the front seats to again keep the cargo -- for the sake of argument, let's call it a dog -- confined. An extremely well thought out feature, in our humble opinion.

The front seats are firm but comfortable, the kind of seats you'd like to have under you when setting out on a journey to the far corners of the earth. We also thought the heated steering wheel was an unusually nicetouch, although when you mention that you love it to anybody, you can see the bubble go up over their head that reads, "Sissy."

The allroad comes with front and side air bags along with power windows (with automatic up), mirrors and doors, headlight washer/wipers, sunshades, a six-disc CD changer, dual-zone temperature controls and lots of other stuff that you'd expect in a high end car. Also standard is an air compressor, which you'll need if you ever have to use the deflated full-size spare tire.


Ergonomics

The allroad loses points with its ventilation controls. While many otherautomakers have embraced the three-round-knob school of thought, Audipresents its drivers with a bunch of identical flat pushbuttons. How do youknow which does what? Well, you have to look at them, which, as you'redriving, is what? A bad idea.

The stereo is a pushbutton lover's dream come true, too, but at least thereare remote controls on the steering wheel. Remote is also a good word for the mirror buttons, which are buried down next to the parking brake. Why? It beats us.


Styling

We think the allroad looks great, much better than the standard A6 Avant. The flared wheel arches and the beefier-looking bumpers make a huge improvement in the looks, in our humble opinion.


Reliability

We would expect the allroad should be about average in terms of reliability.


Maintenance

Because of its complexity and idiosyncracies, this is a car you're going to have to have serviced at the dealers. Like all other Audis that don't have sensible four-cylinder engines, this car is a service nightmare. Worse still, this car has not one, but two turbos that will eventually need replacing. If you buy the allroad, we suggest you set aside a few grand for when the warranty runs out.


Overall comments

If you were looking for the ultimate vehicle for the upcoming Paris-Dakar Rally, this might be it. Or, if you really want an Audi A6, but don't think the styling is tough enough, the allroad is for you. It's comfortable, stylish, sporty, and actually capable of going off road. For competitors, there is the Volvo Cross Country, which, while a few thousand less, lacks the Audi's power and sports car handling. The Volkswagen Passat and Subaru Outback all-wheel-drive wagons are not as luxurious or powerful, the Saab 9-5 doesn't come with all-wheel drive, and the Mercedes E320 wagon will take another $10,000or so out of the kids' college fund.

There's one fundamental problem with the allroad, in our humble opinion. It's not a vehicle that you're really going to want to take off road. It's a $45,000 luxury car. Do you want to scratch the polished alloy wheels? Of course not. But for on road and bad weather driving, it's a pretty darned nice car to drive every day.

Here's our unsolicited advice to Audi: Put the SUV appearance package on every A6, ditch the variable-height suspension, and shave a few thousand dollars off the price. The adjustable suspension is nice, but it's just a toy that's going to break some day, and be expensive to fix. So give us a cheaper version of the allroad without it, and we'd be even happier.


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