Audi revives its off-road wagon for a new generation of drivers
Nina Russin, Tue, 10 Jul 2012 12:27:00 PDT
In 2001, Audi rolled out a sport wagon called the Allroad, combining car-like proportions with the off-road capability of a sport-utility vehicle. An adjustable-height suspension gave the first Allroad enough ground clearance to navigate trails, while its low profile made it more aerodynamic.
Although the concept was compelling, it was a hard sell in the United States at the height of its love affair with full-sized trucks. In 2005, Audi retired the nameplate, replacing it with the A4 Avant wagon.
Seven years later, Audi rolls out the second-generation Allroad, with a more fuel-efficient two-liter engine, enhanced off-road capability and Audi's first ever in-car wireless hot spot.
Base price is $39,600, excluding the $895 delivery charge. The test car is equipped with four options: special paint ($475); a premium package including power folding and heated side mirrors, automatic dimming interior mirror with compass, Bluetooth and iPod interface, heated front seats, xenon headlamps, three-zone headlamps and a power rear tailgate ($3300); navigation with a rearview camera, Audi connect (wireless hotspot) and Bluetooth streaming audio ($3050) and Audi advanced key ($550). MSRP is $47,870.
A smarter solution to the road less traveled
When I drove the first-generation Allroad with a V-6 engine, I felt Audi's execution of fell short of its goal. Perhaps it was the height adjustable suspension or some excess vehicle weight, but the car seemed cumbersome, which is completely uncharacteristic for the brand.
The new model of the same name is a completely different animal. The two-liter turbocharged engine is surprisingly powerful, producing 211 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque at speeds as low as 1500 rpm. The 100 rpm overlap between peak horsepower and torque gives the new Allroad exceptional acceleration throughout the power band. Direct injection delivers fuel to the engine cylinders without passing through the valves for reduced emissions and better gas mileage: 23 mpg on average according to the EPA. An eight-speed automatic transmission utilizes friction couplings for the feel and fuel economy of a manual gearbox. Drivers can leave the transmission in full automatic mode or select gears manually using the shift lever.
Quattro all-wheel drive sends power to the wheels with the best traction, to enhance performance on wet or snow-covered roads. Although the Allroad is based on the A4 chassis, its track is the same as the A5 for better cornering. The 2013 Allroad has 1.5-inches more ground clearance than the A4, so it can wade through deep snow or avoid the rocks and tree roots which populate dirt roads.
Total ground clearance is 7.1 inches. Underbody cladding gives sensitive parts of the chassis additional protection. An off-road mode allows the tires to slip more so the driver can maneuver out of holes or snow drifts.
Buyers with active lifestyles will like the Allroad's standard roof rails, and fold-flat rear seats which extend the cargo floor to hold bicycles and other large cargo. A standard cargo area cover conceals valuables from prying eyes. A mesh cargo area divider, tie, down hooks and cargo area light are also standard.
Drive test in Colorado
At an Audi event in Colorado this week, I drove the Allroad from a location near the Denver airport over the 10,662-foot Vail Mountain pass to the nearby town of Avon. Our drive route covered about 150 miles- all on paved roads.
Whether today's car buyers will embrace Audi's new sport-utility wagon is still a matter for debate. But if they don't it will have nothing to do with the 2013 Allroad's performance, which is flawless.
The four-cylinder engine made quick work of steep climbs through the mountain passes. Turbocharging enhances engine efficiency at altitude. The dual clutch has the crisp shifts which drivers associate with manual transmissions.
It performs quite well in automatic mode, downshifting smoothly during hard acceleration. I found the manual gear select option helpful primarily on steep descents, to avoid overusing the brakes.
Although the new fixed-height suspension can't raise the chassis quite as high up as the adjustable air suspension on the original Allroad, it is a significantly better performer on pavement. At speed, the five-link design absorbs bumps in the road without floating.
Stabilizer bars kept the chassis flat on hairpin turns in the mountain passes along our route. This in turn impacted steering response. Audi has transitioned from hydraulic to electro-mechanical units throughout the vehicle line-up.
The steering system is smaller and lighter than a hydraulic unit. With variable response, it provides ample assistance at low speeds while maintaining positive on-center response on the highway.
Four wheel disc brakes with four channel antilock braking stop the Allroad in a firm, linear fashion.
Visibility around the vehicle is good. The navigation system includes a rearview camera which projects a wide angle view to the back of the car when the driver shifts into reverse. I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes on the highway.
Engineers minimized road, wind and engine noise intrusion to the interior. The only obvious sound outside the car was an occasional exhaust note during hard acceleration.
Navigation system includes Google earth photos
The Allroad interior is classic Audi, with bolstered sport seats, uncluttered instrument panel and the optional MMI system. Engineers improved the interface, enabling the driver to move through options with a simplified mouse.
In order to minimize driver distraction, the system limits browsing while the vehicle is in motion. For example, the driver can scan news headlines but cannot go deep into any individual story.
Because the vehicle is a wireless hotspot, navigation includes Google earth imagery, as well as traffic and weather updates. While the technology is appealing, the option adds several thousand dollars to the vehicle's sticker price. With today's free 4G navigation systems improving constantly, I wonder if the feature adds a lot of value to the car.
I found both the gauge cluster and center stack screen easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. Designers put a large hood over the center stack display so it won't bleach out of the driver opens up the panorama sunroof.
Because of the car's tall floor tunnel, legroom in the center, second-row seating position is limited. However passengers in outboard positions should find ample leg, head and hip room. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin.
Both rows of passengers have access to cup and bottle holders. The locking glovebox provides secure storage inside the passenger compartment. There are three twelve-volt power points, including one in the cargo area.
Rear seats fold flat creating an uninterrupted cargo floor. The compact spare tire is located below the cargo floor. Standard roof rails enable drivers to add a roof rack up top.
The Audi Allroad comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, quattro all-wheel drive, and electronic stability control. Audi's factory warranty includes complimentary scheduled maintenance for up to 12 months or 5000 miles, and four years of roadside assistance.
Audi builds the Allroad at its Ingolstadt, Germany assembly plant.
Likes: An active lifestyle vehicle with off-road capability and exceptional on-road performance. The Allroad offers drivers off-road capability in an aerodynamic package.
Model: Allroad 2.0T quattro tiptronic
Base price: $39,600
As tested: $47,870
Horsepower: 211 Hp @ 4300 rpm
Torque: 258 lbs.-ft. @ 1500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy*: 20/27 mpg city/highway
Comment: The manufacturer recommends the use of premium unleaded gasoline.