Allroad smooth in slightly rough

September 12, 2012, 12:11 pm Richard Bosselman Yahoo! New Zealand

With the Audi Allroad you get exactly what the label says: A car that’s good on all roads. Bear that in mind and all will be fine.

Allroad smooth in slightly rough
Road Tests
Rating:

For: Comfort, on-road competence, roominess, bump-easing ride.

Against: Not overly oomphy, unexciting wheel style, lacking in steering feel.

Score: 3.8/5


Quattro has been part of Audi’s driving dynamic for more than three decades now, but before the Allroad the only all-paw model Ingolstadt ever devised for off-roading was a small scout car for the German army.

Now a museum piece, that wee Meccano-look military mud-plugger is probably still the most serious dirt worker the brand has ever devised.

The wagon-based Allroad cars – and more SUV-like range of Q-prefixed ships – are not devised or expected to be hardy all-terrain travellers; Audi never set out to create a Land Rover or Landcruiser equivalents.

It’s a point reinforced by this latest A6 Allroad. Though exterior enhancements - modified bumpers, larger mirrors, plastic body claddings and even a skidplate – are continued with, in the test car’s pure white paintwork at least it comes across as looking less rugged than the preceding model.

Maybe that’s a good thing because, if you did determine on terrain-taming, it wouldn’t be brilliant. Let’s remember that only the very first car had the potentially useful features of low-range gearing and a off-seal sorted height adjustable suspension. The first was dropped and the second reconfigured to road settings because … well, owners didn’t need them.

This shouldn’t be seen as an embarrassment. There’s still a genuine place for a conventional station wagon modified for light off-road use, and the raised ground clearance and increased suspension travel also deliver an overall plus for comfort. By and large stick to the road and it potentially makes more sense than a contemporary high-rise, over-bulked SUV.

Design

What you’re looking at is, quite literally, a jack-up. An Audi A6 Avant - station wagon in Audi-speak – that has been elevated and meted cladding, ostensibly for protection but more probably to provide a toughened-up appearance. The various styling measures help to instantly set the car apart from its road-biased siblings.

Subaru does the same with its wagons and, indeed, it’s surprising how often you hear an Allroad described as Audi’s ‘Outback.’ That’s valid in a broad context, though the German car is somewhat larger, better-kitted and patently finished to a higher quality level.

This, and the brand’s premium status are reflected in the price, though at $134,500 the Allroad is actually around $5000 cheaper than cheaper of the pair of alternate A6 Avants, basically through give and take on the specification.

Curiously, while the Allroad raises the stakes on ground clearance and arguably visual appeal, it loses ground on mechanical specification; here the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel makes 150kW/450Nm, which is 30kW and 130Nm less than the Avant.

The power difference doesn’t amount to much but the big torque gap is mountainous. I’d have thought the Allroad, with its obvious application for towing, would have done even better with that muscle enhancement. Internationally, the car takes the 180kW/580Nm mill plus another diesel producing 230kW/650Nm. That’d be a whole new ballgame again.

The Allroad also dresses more plainly, most obviously by taking some 18-inch five-spoke alloys that are surprisingly dowdy for an Audi, though it still gets the new seven-speed S-tronic box and equips reasonably well within the cabin within a cabin that is good looking, superbly laid out and commodious.

Given that it is still a premium feature, it might seem odd to suggest the sat nav is an example of cost-trimming, but by Audi standards it is, since this is the base version, on which mapping is less detailed, though functionality seems much of a muchness. For this generation Allroad picks up a standard efficiency package that includes stop-start, brake energy recuperation and an optimal shift display within the instrument binnacle.

In addition to its Bluetooth audio and telephone connectivity, the Allroad is a trailblazer for what Audi calls "Bluetooth phone online", which can connect to the internet and act as a wireless hotspot for passengers to use. In Europe this feature also runs to provide Google Earth functions; you get 3D images of buildings and can internet check on their background and function. Very useful if you’re checking out a restaurant and want to know what’s on the menu!

That interaction isn’t possible here. NZ’s ‘lite’ version basically turns the car into a modem, using a phone SIM card: Any web info you want displays on whatever personal device you have. There’s no functionality through the car’s pop-up screen, as occurs in Europe and is as per BMW’s setup, which substantially reduces the drama.


Safety

Audi doesn’t scrimp on active and passive aides. Audi loads up with ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Pressure Distribution) and Electronic Brake Assist, traction and stability controls, an electronic differential lock, ISOFIX child seat anchors front and rear, a full array of airbags including a sidegaurd head airbag system, a front passenger airbag deactivation. Also included is an anti-theft alarm.

Driving

Blame the name … it quickly became apparent that nothing less than ‘all’ kinds of ‘roads’ would do. Accordingly the test car spent time on seal, from smooth tarmac to more prevalent coarse chip, plus gravel and dirt. To reach the latter meant touching tyres onto a paper road – this being one that will shown on maps, has either never been formed or been allowed to lapse into poor repair, though is still a public thoroughfare. In this instance, it was 3.5km mud track between two farms.

Wheelspin and some tailwag through the gunk was about as hairy as it got; on any surface that offered decent underfoot purchase (and didn’t clog the seal-tuned treads) the car drove competently.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, on regular roads, the Allroad felt broadly similar to a regular wagon, though it could be safely concluded the higher ride height will have some influence on the way it rides over the bumps. It’d be slightly softer and more compliant, though to what degree depends on what setting the air suspension is positioned.

The sports modes deliver the firmer ride, but in turn keep the body movement more in check. I found this more preferable to the most elastic placement, which allows the car to lean more heavily on its outside front wheel during cornering..

It gives strong grip on slippery surfaces but, while handling is predictable and safe, there’s not much involvement for real enthusiasts, who might also pick fault with steering that, while light and fairly tactile, is a bit distant. The driving position is solid, however, offering a commanding view of the road (although not as commanding as from within a dedicated SUVs).

In general driving, the six-cylinder TDI engine is well suited to the Allroad, with a satisfyingly flexible delivery from idle well into middling revs providing an excellent combination of performance and economy. It is also impressively smooth and refined.

What it lacks, though, is real visceral oomph; the torque takes time to build and, though it’s never breathless, you need to think carefully about those impulsive overtaking moves. However, it is a good associate for the seven-speed transmission, and economy is good, even though the claimed 6.1 litres per 100km optimum remained elusive in our week.

Verdict

The introduction of the medium Q5 and full-size Q7 sports wagons might have diminished the Allroad’s standing within Audi-dom, but this drive reminded that a pukka station wagon still has a key role to play.

If you spend most of your time on road but seek a car capable of tackling the odd excursion into easy conditions – sand and snow, basically - the Allroad makes a pretty convincing case for itself. But it needs to dress a little more snazzily and extra torque wouldn’t go amiss.

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