AUDI GOES ALL IN
The latest generation Audi A6 allroad shows that compromise is far from a dirty word. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second ReviewAudi's allroad has always been a winner with buyers looking for do-anything family wheels. The latest car doesn't deviate too much from an established template but is smarter, better equipped and a whole lot more efficient.
BackgroundSometimes, the best ideas are born from less than ideal circumstances. Audi doesn't drop the ball too often but it managed to completely miss the bonanza days of the full-sized SUV around the turn of the millennium. As Mercedes and BMW cleaned up with their M-Class and X5 models respectively, Audi had nothing to bring to the party. Its response was the rapidly conceived allroad, a model based on the A6 Avant estate, featuring air suspension and some macho-looking body cladding. It was a huge hit. Where Volvo and Subaru had struggled to convince the market of the attraction of a high-end 4x4 estate car, Audi smashed the ball out of the park.
Its successor, the 2006 model year car was also well received, but toned down the look and feel a few notches. I drove one of these cars fairly recently and it's a testament to its engineering that it still looks and feels fresh. Audi stick to a strictly regimented product succession plan though, and the latest A6 allroad, unveiled at the 2012 Geneva motor show, improves on it in a multitude of respects.
Driving ExperienceOne thing this latest A6 allroad isn't short of is power. Even the entry level engine fronts up with 202bhp, plus a huge torque figure of 450Nm from its 3.0-litre diesel engine. Alternatively, there's an even more powerful variant of this engine with 243bhp and 580Nm. The small percentage of customers who want a petrol-powered engine are catered for in the shape of the 3.0TFSI unit, which offers 306bhp and 440Nm of turbocharged muscle. That's enough to see it dip below six seconds for the sprint to 60mph.
All three engines are paired with the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission. The driver can operate it manually, using either the gear lever or optional paddles on the steering wheel. Obviously, there's quattro permanent four-wheel drive and in this instance it's mated to a clever torque vectoring system. During spirited driving, this serves to apply a nip of brakes to the inside wheels at the threshold point where they would normally lose traction and start to skid. The adaptive air suspension is this allroad's signature feature and it combines air suspension with controlled damping. It lowers the body by 15 millimetres at high speed and raises it by 35 millimetres at the push of a button. This allroad mode is suitable for rough terrain and the driver can select a lift mode at low speeds. A hill descent assist function for steep downhill passages is also included. This limits the speed to between 6mph and 12mph, depending on the surface. It's no Land Rover Discovery but the allroad has the hardware to cope with the demands of all but the most adventurous owners.
Design and BuildWhen the first press shots of the MK3 A6 allroad were released, it was clear that Audi had taken an evolutionary approach to the styling but had cleverly fused the looks of the two previous cars. Whereas the second generation model was, if anything, a little too close to the stock A6 Avant in its styling, this time round the allroad touches are a little more overt. It's an undeniably handsome thing, with extended side sills, more widely flared wings and vertical slats within the single-frame grille. Stainless steel guards protect the underbody at the front and rear of the car, and the exhaust system ends in two hefty flattened tailpipes. Buyers get roof rails mounted on double bars, plus will find the wheel arches, bumpers and sills painted in a contrasting colour, though these items can be body-coloured if the optional aluminium exterior package is specified. There's also an exclusive colour; Java Brown. Let's face it, brown is the new white for car manufacturers this season.
At 4.94 metres long, 1.90 metres wide and 1.47 metres tall, the latest A6 allroad quattro sits six centimetres higher than the standard A6 Avant. Around 70kg has been pared from its kerb weight over the old model thanks to extensive use of the latest Audi ultra lightweight construction principles, with aluminium components making up roughly 20 percent of its body. Practicality hasn't been compromised though as the luggage compartment has a decent capacity of 565 litres with the rear seats in place and up to 1,680 litres when they're folded. The luggage bay features a rail system into which a load-securing kit for dividing the luggage compartment can be inserted, with tensioning straps on the left wall and a double loading floor. Broken eggs on the return from Sainsbury's are going to be down to you, not the car, I'm afraid.
Market and ModelAs big a success as the original allroad was, in developing this market Audi has seen customers increasingly rejecting a big, brash SUV in favour of something with a degree or two more discretion. While that may hurt sales of its Q7 - in this country at least - Audi would rather cannibalise sales internally than see customers defect to a Volvo XC70 or a Subaru Forester. It's been helped in many regards by BMW and Mercedes' curious reluctance to offer to British buyers many of the four wheel drive versions of the 5 Series and the E-Class that are sold so successfully into many European markets.
Equipment levels are strong and the allroad takes its cue from the A6, a car that established new levels of technological integration in this sector. As always, the juiciest toys reside on the options list so you'll need to be a little circumspect if you're not to turn your allroad into a potential depreciation disaster. Nevertheless, it would be hard to resist the head-up display that can project important information onto the windscreen, ambient lighting which bathes the interior with subtle LED light, and the widely adjustable comfort seats that offer a ventilation and massage function.
That's before you start to delve into features like the hard drive-based navigation system ('MMI Navigation plus') with touchpad operation ('MMI touch') and whole-word voice control. The power-retractable eight-inch monitor displays extremely sharp, high-contrast images. Those who take their music very seriously might be tempted by the Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System with 15 speakers. You need to take a look at a fully specified car to see just what is available. It's quite astonishing.
Cost of OwnershipThe last allroad's residual values were always very encouraging and there's no reason to see why this latest car shouldn't follow suit. As we've hinted at, it's important to keep your options spend in check in order for the car's pence per mile running costs to remain reasonable. The engines and running gear have benefited from Audi's latest raft of technical improvements, with the company claiming a combined economy figure of 46.3mpg for the entry-level version, with emissions pegged at a respectable 159g/km of CO2. Even the muscular 3.0TFSI petrol model will see a combined fuel figure of 31.7mpg which, to put it into some sort of perspective, is better than that returned by the original 2.5 TDI diesel allroad. Given that you've got almost double the power under your right foot, it speaks volumes about how far efficiency has improved in the space of a decade.
SummaryThe Audi A6 allroad is a car built from compromise. It needs to perform a vast array of roles to a mandated level of excellence, trading off ability in one area for talent in another. Getting that mix right is fiendishly tough, especially if the car is to be anything but a minor niche player. Audi has given this latest model a little more attitude but behind the more strident styling is a car that's even more sensible than before and which can be specified with some simply jaw-dropping technological options.
The introduction of the A4 allroad has given its bigger brother carte blanche to extend a little further upmarket, but it would prove a shame were this car to become too jewel-like to ever be seen bumping up a green lane. For the wealthy owner who wants capability but is looking to reduce the hassle incumbent in owning a number of vehicles, the A6 allroad holds all the aces.