LEADVILLE, Colo. -- We're passing through Leadville -- elevation 10,152 feet high in thin air of the Rocky Mountains -- on Colorado Route 91 in a vehicle that returns to the marketplace in new format following a seven-year hiatus: Audi's 2013 Allroad, a high-hiked four-door and five-passenger station wagon outfitted with a turbo-boosted powertrain and Audi's smart Quattro full-time all-wheel-drive traction.
The Allroad Quattro wagon debuted as a 2001 model riding on the platform of Audi's mid-size A6 sedan.
Allroad Quattro 2013, displacing Audi's compact-class A4 Avant wagon, uses the A4 platform and engine but measures half an inch wider and 2.5 inches taller than A4 Avant, with 1.5 inches of additional suspension height for good ground clearance of 7.1 inches plus 18-inch wheels as standard and 19-inch wheels available.
The new version of Allroad amounts to a slick design with a wide track, jacked suspension, protective undercarriage stainless steel skid plates and a five-door wagon format featuring a sinuous and curvy exterior design and a spacious cabin containing two rows of seats with seatbacks of the back bench splitting and folding down to expand the capacity of the rear cargo bay.
On the prow Audi's designers planted a vertical waterfall-style grille sandwiched between narrow composite headlamps featuring signature white-light LED tube rings.
A matte-finished ring around the body consists of lower bumpers, wheel arches and side sills, while the roof gets aluminum roof rails.
Allroad is a substantial vehicle, tipping the scales at close to two tons despite some weight-saving measures like aluminum body parts.
And it carries serious hardware like a forceful turbo-charged engine and electronics governing the vehicle's dynamic movements as well as communications, navigation and comfort.
The suspension, intensive in lightweight aluminum components, is independent at all four posts.
Steering, using a new electromechanical steering system that saves weight and improves fuel economy, acts quickly.
Brakes, with a disc at each wheel, rely on electronic and computerized links to tame the tires. Anti-lock brake (ABS) controls are standard, along with electronic brake distribution (EBD) plus Audi's electronic stabilization program (ESP) that checks lateral slippage and skidding.
Another mechanism -- Torque Vectoring -- adds a touch of braking to the outward front wheel when powering through a corner, while the optional Audi Drive Select device enables the Allroad driver to customize settings for steering, throttle mapping, shift points, even suspension dampening.
And Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system for traction at every wheel sets up the tire grip of a sidewinder snake in sand. Using a self-locking center differential with rear-biased torque split, the Quattro device automatically shifts the majority of all engine torque to whichever wheels, front or rear, attain the best bite of traction. Normal operation divides the engine's torque at 40/60 percent (front/rear), so the torque bias works like a rear-wheel-drive car. Yet with wheel slippage the differential can channel more than 60 percent of the power to the front wheels or more than 75 percent to rear wheels.
Now consider that power package in the Allroad.
The four-in-line engine, longitudinally mounted and displacing 2.0 liters with turbo-charging plus Audi's remarkable FSI (fuel straight injection) technology applied, nixes the customary lag in timing for launch -- that annoying lull of a second or more after pushing the accelerator while the turbo-charger spools up before spitting out boosted torque to turn the wheels.
It feels vigorous and quick, drawing on the full force of the engine's production of 211 hp at 4300 rpm plus 258 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm.
The transmission is a new fuel-saving eight-speed Tiptronic automatic.
EPA-estimated fuel economy figures calculate to 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
Audi constructs the 2013 Audi Allroad in three trims: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige.
Allroad Premium edition comes with automatic headlights and a panoramic sunroof, leather seat upholstery, eight-way power controls for front seats, split-folding rear seats, tilting-telescoping steering wheel, automatic climate system, cruise control and a 10-speaker sound kit with CD deck and satellite radio service.
Optional packages for Allroad Premium issues are Convenience (with Bluetooth connectivity, iPod interface and enhanced trip computer) and Lighting (bi-xenon headlamps plus LED running lights).
Allroad Premium Plus trim stocks the equipment of Convenience and Lighting packages but also installs heated outside mirrors, heated front seats and driver memory functions, triple-zone automatic climate controls, auto-dimming mirrors and a power liftgate.
Allroad Prestige carries adaptive headlamps, keyless ignition/entry, blind-spot warning system, a navigation system with voice controls, rearview camera and rear parking sensors, plus a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system with 14 speakers.
Audi starts the MSRP chart at $39,600 for a 2013 Allroad Premium.