This is the thinker's all-wheel-drive

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 10:45 23/10/2012
Audi A6 Allroad.
DAVE MOORE/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Allroad: It's the luxury SUV you get, when you don't want to be seen in an SUV.

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Luxury all-wheel-drive wagons don't exactly dominate the New Zealand car fleet.

They're starting to replace SUVs for the well-heeled in some countries, however. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar all supply such machines to markets that demand them, like mainland Europe and the colder states of the US and Canada.


Click on photo at left for more views of the Audi A6 Allroad.


AT A GLANCE
Drivetrain: Front, in-line mounted AWD turbocharged 2967cc V6 24v diesel. Sevenspeed S-tronic transmission.
Output: 150kW at 3200 to 4500rpm, 450Nm at 1250 to 3000rpm, 159g/km CO2.
Performance: Max 223kmh, 0-100kmh 7.5secs, 6.1L/100km.
Chassis: Independent adaptive air suspension; 18-inch alloy rims with 245/45 R18 tyres.
Safety: ABS, EBD, traction control, electronic stability control, front, side and curtain airbags, 5-star NCAP.
Dimensions: L 4940mm, H 1534mm, W 1898mm, W/base 2905mm, Weight 1855kg, Fuel 65L, Load volume 565L, (1680L seats down).
Pricing: One model only $134,100.
Hot: Subtle looks; immense flexibility; surprisingly intrepid car; says more positive things about the owner than any SUV
can.
Not: Pricey, though you get what you pay for, and you could wait for the A4 Allroad.
Verdict: The one that started it all still does the wagon-based soft-roader better than anyone. The thinker's all-wheel-drive.
We tend to prefer SUVs in New Zealand. Our automotive tastes run about half a decade behind more mature markets and that's not about to change when the only semi-rugged luxury crossover wagon we can even look at is the Audi A6 Allroad. Audi is likely to have this small but not insignificant market slot to itself for some time, as the Jag, Benz and Beemer all-wheel-drive wagons (and sedans) are built for markets where the steering wheel is on the left.

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In fact, Audi is about to double the choice pretty soon with the arrival before the end of the year of a smaller A4 Allroad, with a starting price of about $89,000 that will place the newcomer about halfway between the base $134,100 price of the A6 Allroad and the only other well-established crossover wagons lower down in the market, like the Subaru Outback which tops out at just under $65,900, the Volvo XC70 at $82,990 and VW's $59,500 Passat Alltrack also in its sights.

Like those offerings, the Allroad, which effectively sits on its own in the segment above, is derived from an existing station wagon, and Audi has offered its raised, four-wheel-drive A6-based unit since 1999, with the latest version being the third generation of the model.

Like the original, the Audi Allroad quattro is designed to be a semi-offroad offering, and it continues to sell well around the world despite the fact that Audi also offers taller Q3, Q5 and Q7 SUVs - some of the best in the business, to be fair. It has to be said that it is at least as capable as those SUVs in the dirt unless you're doing some serious mud- plugging or rock-hopping, while on the road, it outdrives them so well it's not worth comparing them.

The air-sprung A6 Allroad (the smaller A4 version will have steel suspension) rides about 73mm higher than a standard A6 Avant (that's Audi-speak for wagon) and provides ground clearance of about 180mm, which with the model's dial-in air suspension can be raised by another 20mm if you really need it.

You can also firm up the suspension for brisk road work and adjust the car's ride quality to taste. My taste on Christchurch's quake-ravaged city streets was to pick "Comfort" and stay with it. On the car's standard five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels - you can pay up to $6200 more for 19 and 20 inch sports rims - the Allroad's ride quality is superb. Gone is the crash-bang-wallop suspension soundtrack you get from lesser chassis (some of them German). Instead, you get a car that feels genuinely born for rough roads and while the steering is nicely tactile and accurate, it possibly feels a little distant, truth be known.

Body roll isn't huge, even in "Comfort", but again you can adjust things to taste and with loads of useful grip and a diesel engine that starts delivering most of its torque from not much above idle, the A6 Allroad feels very much in charge of the conditions through which you direct it.

Off-road, the unflustered ability of the lusty diesel to trickle slowly around and over obstacles allows you to concentrate on directing the car.

It will go nearly anywhere a full-sized all-wheel-drive will, and I forded a stream right up to the grille's four-hoop level with little worry - having had a Pajero-mounted mate go through first, of course. He was impressed, as was I, particularly later in the afternoon when the Allroad showed what it could do when scrambling up a scree-surfaced river exit. You could feel the wheel-to-wheel torque adjustment occurring below and there was a touch of momentary wheel slippage, but truth be known, an owner's common sense will call time on the Allroad before its off-road ability does.

The Audi has other advantages, explaining the city layout to some American tourists by spreading their map on the car's bonnet and pointing out some no-go areas, it felt like those old car ads where the professional engineer/ architect points while his or her acolytes nod at important drawings laid on the engine cover of the gleaming company car.

Try doing THAT with a full-sized SUV.

Fifty per cent of Audis sold these days have diesel engines, and the 3.0-litre V6 TDi unit in the Allroad makes you wonder why anyone would bother with a petrol one. Actually, a diesel is all you get these days in the A6 Allroad and while it is not the most powerful of the units of that size and configuration in the Audi lineup at 150kW, the sheer flexibility of the unit's 420Nm of twisting power is addictive.

It doesn't really need all seven of its S-tronic ratios with such mid-range grunt, but its gearing at 100kmh in top means that all you hear at that speed is a sigh of wind noise and a distant hum over coarser road surfaces, while you note sub-2000rpm engine revs and instant consumption readouts as low as 3.8L/100km.

Overall, with low-speed commuting, the factory rating of 6.1L/100km seems almost conservative. Perhaps that figure is calculated on higher cruising speeds than ours. Suffice to say you'd have to drive like a lead foot to break the 7L mark by any distance.

This means that not far short of 1000km should be possible from the 65-litre tank on the open road, which fits in with a cabin eminently well-planned for the long haul.

Big 95 percentile German seats up front - with a myriad of adjustments and heaters of course - support, locate and coddle their occupants well, while in the rear, three tall people can sit across the cabin with plenty of space around them. Carrying space is good too, with folding seats that really do lie flat, and sumptuously carpeted squared-off load area sides that allow more awkward loads to slide easily into place, while simultaneously posing no threat to items with precious surfaces of their own.

As you'd expect of what is a genuinely luxurious car with four hoops on its nose, the choice of cabin materials and their execution is exquisite. A blade of pewter-like polished grey metal separates the textured vinyl and fine-grained oak on the test car's dash, and this is a nice change from the rather too symmetrical designs of recent Audis.

A pop-out sat-nav/information screen is a lovely touch. It can be stowed at the touch of a button when not in use, so unlike some German offerings, it doesn't look like someone left behind their iPad, having jammed it into the fascia.

I've liked many Audis over the years, but this is the very first one I openly lust after. It looks good, even in the test car's white with black plastic protection and I couldn't fault its cabin or the way it goes on and off the road. Just don't be tempted to swap the base wheels with sportier items. You won't improve its looks and you'll ruin its ride quality.

- Stuff

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