Audi allroad — Life between an SUV and wagon

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

While luxury wagons are popular in Europe, they are hard to find in U.S. showrooms. There's a reason for this paucity of cargo-capable sheetmetal — they simply aren't on the shopping list of North America consumers.

U.S. buyers want their upscale cargo hauler to fall into the sport utility crossover segment, the wagon moniker is verboten. For this reason Audi pulled the A6 Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) from showrooms after the 2011 model year and will discontinue the A4 Avant following the 2012 model year.

For 2013 Audi will launch an A4-sized hauler dressed up as an off-road crossover vehicle, designating it the Audi allroad. This is not the first iteration of the allroad, which lived in the U.S. from 2001 through 2005 riding on an A6 platform.

Audi admits the newest allroad is not intended for off-road use with no available low-range gearing, height-adjustable suspension or hill-descent control. But it appears to have more bad-road capable credentials than the standard A4 with larger tires, sitting 1.5-inches taller giving it 7.1 inches of ground clearance. Its underside is protected by stainless-steel skid plates. And of course it comes standard with Audi's excellent all-wheel drive (‘quattro’) system.

The thing with the new allroad, as it is with all Audi products, is the delightful driving experience. Audi seems to have a leg up on its immediate rivals in terms of driving dynamics, ride quality and interior refinements. The allroad lives up to Audi's new persona with a superbly outfitted and quiet cabin, excellent seating, and relatively intuitive gauges and switchgear.

Design-wise the new allroad returns with a vengeance. It sports an exclusive Single-frame grille with angled upper corners, new headlamp design with freshened LED lighting that’s available with xenon-plus, circular fog lamps, and enlarged side mirrors with an optional power folding feature. The allroad has a beautiful sculpted appearance that highlights every design nuance.

From the rear it has matte finished lower bumpers and wheel arches and stylistic wrap-around tail lamps (LED set is optional). Its twin-integrated circular dual exhausts aren’t just for decoration. They trumpet the power that flows through them via Audi’s powertrain.

It is Volkswagen/Audi's highly respected and well-used 2.0-liter DOHC direct-injection I-4 engine (voted the world’s best engine in its class five times in a row by the UK’s “International Engine of the Year” committee) that features innovative thermal management to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. In the allroad iteration it puts out 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The engine is mated to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and Audi’s legendary quattro permanent all-wheel drive. We found flawless performance, even though at times we were at altitudes above 12,000 feet. Even limited opportunities to pass posed no angst. On home turf at altitudes measured near sea level, the allroad felt sprightly with 0 to 60 times at 6.5 seconds.

Gas mileage is measured at 20 mpg city, 27 highway and 23 combined.

Exclusive to Audi is its Drive Select system that provides advanced control of the vehicle’s adaptive suspension, transmission shifting, and power steering assist and engine response. In essence it allows drivers to configure their vehicle’s drive characteristics exactly to their liking with their choice of Comfort, Auto, Dynamic or Individual settings.

We don't expect a crossover/wagon to exhibit road-carving credentials but we were pleasantly surprised at its athletic demeanor when compared to its SUV brethren. Steering feel is adequate through the electrically boosted system and we found the best all-around driving experience, including the ride, came in the Auto setting.

Interiors are what we have come to expect from Audi including standard leather seating surfaces, leather shift knob, fully automatic dual zone climate control, two cup holders in front and two in back (the rear seat has a fold down center armrest), a bottle holder in each door, deep-tinted two-panel panorama sunroof with power sunshade, plenty of room and an almost eerie cabin silence.

The allroad has 27 cubic feet of luggage space behind the seats and 50 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded down, average for its class.

Standard features abound for a base price of $40,495 (including destination) in the Premium trim including leather upholstery, a 10-speaker sound system with satellite radio, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, and eight-way power front seats with four-way power lumbar. The Allroad also comes in Premium Plus for $43,760 and Prestige for $49,660. Options pushed our Premium test vehicle to a bottom line of $47,870.

The 2013 allroad is a niche player in a limited segment definitely worth pursuing.

Base price: $40,460; as driven, $47,870
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 211 @ 4,300 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.4 inches
Length: 185.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,891 pounds
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 27.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 50.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.1 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 27 highway, 20 city
0-60: 6.5 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Volvo XC70, BMW X3, Audi Q5

The Good
• High-quality cabin
• Solid performance
• Bad-weather capability

The Bad
• Not a true off-road vehicle

The Ugly
• Option packages can seriously inflate price