And now for something completely different. . . .
Base Price (MSRP) $41,900
As Tested (MSRP) $50,195
Audi has chosen to dub its new vehicle "allroad" without an initial capital letter. But that's the least of what makes this new turbocharged all-wheel-drive wagon different. It is one slippery machine to pigeonhole.
Want a sedan? The allroad is luxurious. Comfortable leather seats give it corner-office elegance thanks to the tone-on-tone interior with warm wood trim and aluminum accents. The bi-turbo V6 engine is quiet, smooth and responsive, and puts out 250 horsepower. A car of this quality provides a true touring experience.
Want a station wagon? The allroad carries a flexible mix of people and their effects. A lift-up back opens on the cargo space, netted to hold objects in place, with room left for five people.
Want an SUV? The allroad will transport you as the name suggests over anything that makes lines on maps and many that do not. Interstates, secondary highways, twisting country lanes, and backcountry dirt roads are no problem. Even rough, rocky routes to remote fishing spots or hunting blinds are within its capability. Its full-time all-wheel drive is the venerable and venerated Audi quattro system that maximizes traction potential both on dry roads and those with slippery surfaces. Yet the foundation of the allroad's versatility in so many differing conditions is its variable ground clearance. A pneumatic suspension system, electronically controlled, allows a choice of four different ride heights. Choose the one suitable for sports sedan handling on winding roads and straightaway security on high-speed highways. Or select the highest setting for deep snow or rock-strewn, rutted roads.
One model is available; the allroad quattro wagon starts at $41,900.
Audi allroad comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission. A $1000 option brings the five-speed automatic with Tiptronic. With the "Tip" selected a degree of manual control of the gears is permitted. (A second set of controls on the steering wheel allows fingertip shifting.) A number of individual options-a Premium Bose sound system for instance, a sunroof and a special rear-facing bench seat suitable for children that locks in the cargo space-are available as well as several packages:
The Premium Package ($900) includes Xenon High Intensity Discharge headlights, auto-dimming mirrors both inside and out, memory for both driver and passenger seats and the ability to electrically fold the exterior mirrors close to the car.
A Convenience Package ($800) includes heatable seats (front and rear), the multi-function steering wheel (controls for the radio and Tiptronic) and the HomeLink transmitter (for opening garage doors and turning on houselights remotely). A Warm-Weather Package ($1750) offers a solar sunroof (a sun-powered cooling system for the interior when parked) and sunshades for the rear side windows.
A Guidance Package ($1630) includes the Audi Navigation system (with one map CD) and a rear-facing acoustic parking system.
The allroad has a distinct presence. It quietly demands to be looked at with its discreet bright work tracing the window area, the roof rails and smart five-spoke wheel with a unique dimensional design (optional). The allroad appears wind-shaped with its sleek lines, but the darker toned front bumper and wheel flares hint at another life than the highway. Even in repose this appears to be a machine not easily dissuaded from its purpose.
Audi takes second to no one when it comes to interior design. The allroad shows its Audi A6 base with the handsome tone-on-tone interior and the wrap-around wood trim running from the dash across the front and rear doors. The wood is a slightly lighter, more modern shade of walnut. Aluminum accents (the gear lever surround on the console for instance) are symbolic of Audi's advanced technology applied in elegant surroundings.
The two-tone seats (a light gray and a darker gray in the test car) are unique to the allroad and offer bolstering for comfort and lateral support. Legroom is ample both front and back without requiring drastic adjustment of the front seats to accommodate rear-seat passengers. The allroad is designated as a five-passenger vehicle but, truth be told, the fifth is a stepchild with a drive-train bump to straddle. It's best for just two to lounge in the back seat with the wide armrest pulled down between them. You'd expect to be offered champagne or orange juice before take off.
The interior is a flexible space-long items (like skis or fishing rods too precious for the roof) can come in from the back and stretch out at the passengers' elbows. Seats can be folded in a variety of patterns to swallow a few people and lots of stuff or vice versa. Load height, thanks to the variable ground clearance, is kind to even bad backs.
The allroad shares with other Audis that manner of simply oozing down the highway, feeling somehow more in the road than on its surface.
Fudge smooth and just as rich. The steering is easy but commensurate with the car's mass and its speed. The vehicle seems to like turns as much as the driver and its handling is close to that of an accomplished sports sedan. On a Colorado mountain pass between Minturn and Leadville (not really pushing it, but purposeful cruising), the allroad seemed as comfortable with the terrain and the curves as a companion Audi S4 high-performance sedan. At higher highway speeds the allroad automatically hunkers down to its lowest ground clearance and loves the road. It is a most pleasurable vehicle for long distance touring. (Cup holders are at hand; an excellent sound system is at fingertip control.) The car's stopping capacity is equally impressive. All German cars need "Autobahn brakes," the kind that can snug a really fast-moving car down to a truck-passing-truck-pace ASAP. The allroad complies.
In city driving the bi-turbo boost sometimes answers accelerator pressure with a little more brio than wanted at the moment. Practice should temper that. On the highway, the engine's torque is mapped to suit demands for quick passes or sudden decisions. Coupled with the fingertip controls of the Tiptronic, and the instant response, those opportune short periods of dotted lines among the solid yellow can be taken advantage of with alacrity. It's rather fun.
Stretching the "all" of the allroad to meander off on a mere shelf of a rock-strewn dirt path on a Vail Valley mountainside demonstrates the versatility of the allroad. It is sure-footed with the quattro system; the ride is smoother than the eye reading the ruts thinks it will be, and the range of four variable heights feeds confidence that the allroad can go anywhere.
Of course it can't.
Really rich, really serious off-roaders might lay out some $130,000 for a G-Wagen. Those craving the boulders and steepness of way off-road will trick out a Jeep Wrangler with locking diffs and a SEMA showroom of other stuff. The allroad isn't for these folks. It lacks a creeper gear-a low-low gear for those steep plunges that end in a cliff and demand a crawling descent to make the turn-or else. And though the wheels are worn fairly close to the edges of the allroad, enough overhang remains to preclude some of the angles of attack found in the true wild.
And, too, for all the head-on answers to the compromises that matter to most drivers (high stance for clearance on the bad roads and low level for security in turns on the smooth ones) the allroad can wear only one set of tires at a time.
Tires are the ultimate compromise. Off-road (or even awful bad roads) calls for an aggressive tread and thick side walls to resist cuts from sharp rocks. The highway calls for a much milder tread for grip on a dry road and thinner sidewalls to flex properly and keep the tread in contact with the road for traction.
What it comes to is this: the allroad for all its versatility is not all-terrain.
But it is a vibrant, attractive, comfortable vehicle that will get 99.9 percent of the people where they want to go 99.9 percent of the time. And it will look so good doing it. And feel so good, too.