Before the term “crossover” took root in the automotive lexicon, Audi made small but significant ripples in the luxury utility marketplace with the introduction of the 2001 allroad. Starting with the progressively styled fifth-generation A6 wagon, the allroad leapt out of the gate with standard all-wheel drive, rugged plastic lower cladding, a height-adjustable air suspension and larger tires. The color palette centered on earthy tones both inside and out, and the already exquisite A6 interior was highlighted with sumptuous Alcantara and leather upholstery. In short, it was something special, a true alternative to conventional SUVs of the day.
The A6 allroad left America after 2005, and while Europe has enjoyed various allroad offerings from inception, the model is only now making its return to the U.S. market. This time is a bit different though, not least of which is that the 2013 Audi allroad is based on the latest A4 wagon; in fact, it’s the only way Americans can get an A4 wagon now. It’s also no longer a chic, three-quarter-scale Range Rover – the air suspension having been abandoned for fixed coils – but rather a butched-up wagon in the same league as Subaru Outbacks and Volvo XCs.
While purists may cry over the new model’s missing hardware, the reality is that most will never miss it anyway and its absence results in a simpler, less expensive machine. Beside, in many ways the new allroad still looks the part. It sits 1.5 inches higher than the Euro-spec A4 Avant, thanks in part to larger-diameter 245/45-18 tires (compared to the A4’s 245/40 series), allowing for 7.1 inches of ground clearance. Stainless steel skidplates in the bumpers complement grey-colored lower body cladding remain for the rugged look, although the cladding can also be ordered in white, silver or black to appear more sophisticated. The chrome-finished grille with multiple thin vertical strakes is unique to the allroad, though it appears to be more Art Deco than backwoods.
The interior upholds Audi’s longstanding reputation for class-leading interiors, even without a thread of faux suede to be found. There’s no Alcantara to be found, but leather upholstery is standard, as is aluminum trim on the dash and door panels. Genuine walnut or ash veneers can be had in place of the metal bits, but the unique layered oak inserts really suit the allroad’s persona much better. The large panoramic moonroof that really brings the outside world in is fitted on every American-bound allroad, adding to the luxurious ambience.
The fast rear window and roofline give the allroad a fairly sexy silhouette (for a wagon), albeit at the expense of cargo capacity. The power liftgate, standard on all but the base-level mode, opens high to a broad, flat floor. The cargo area is deep enough to store a family’s full set of luggage under the cargo cover, but stacking anything higher than the window line becomes a challenge. Split 60:40 rear seats help with bigger loads, so long as rear passengers don’t figure into the equation.
Power comes from the latest version of the venerable 2.0T four-cylinder family, with the combination of direct injection, Valvelift and a single turbocharger producing 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. The sole transmission offering is an eight-speed automatic, which manages both seamlessly smooth shifting in full automatic mode plus the ability to shift manually at the flick of the lever or the optional shift paddles. Moving a little under two tons (3891 pounds) around is not a problem for this combination, which manages the sprint to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. For reference, the original allroad’s 250-hp 2.7T V6 and six-speed Tiptronic launched that 4233-pounder to 60 in 7.2 seconds.
Naturally, all-wheel drive is standard on the allroad. Utilizing a Haldex electronic center differential to divvy up torque between the front and rear axles, this version of quattro is optimized for constantly changing road conditions, such as gravel- and snow-packed surfaces. There’s no low range or center differential lock for serious off-roading; in fact, there’s not even hill descent control. However, the stability control and anti-lock brake systems have been recalibrated to react more appropriately on low-friction surfaces. Allowing a little extra slip angle and delaying the ABS intervention make the allroad a more spirited drive than a standard A4 in those same conditions. The allroad’s wheels are also spread apart an extra half-inch both front and rear for a more aggressive stance on the road.
Driving the new allroad in the mountains between Denver and Vail was inspiring, if less than treacherous in the June sunshine. We couldn’t help but wish there were six inches of snow already on the ground with a steady fog of white stuff still falling for our drive. On the dry asphalt, the allroad exhibits perhaps its most valuable virtue: It drives just like a sedan. Even with the extra clearance, it handles like a buttoned-down German sedan (or wagon) ought to, hugging corners and reacting precisely.
Audi’s optional Drive Select system allows the driver to choose from one of three preset programs – comfort, auto or dynamic – that tailors such parameters as throttle response, shifting behavior and steering dynamics to conditions or personal preference. A fourth option allows the driver to create his own individual settings for each of those parameters. Comfort mode is probably fine for most drivers, though automatic dances effortlessly between comfort and performance settings based on conditions and immediate inputs. We used dynamic mode for the back roads on our drive and found it pretty ideal, though the electrically-boosted power steering still leaves a bit to be desired in the feedback department.
Standard equipment in the allroad is fairly generous given its $39,600 base price, though popular features like heated front seats, navigation and xenon lighting remain optional or are included in on of the major upgrade packages (premium Plus at $3300 and Prestige at $9200). A sport package with sport seats, shift paddles and three-spoke steering wheel is only offered on the upper two models, while an optional driver assistance package with adaptive cruise control, dynamic steering and Audi drive select requires buy-in at the Prestige level. Audi continues its relationship with high-end audio supplier Bang & Olufsen for the optional 14-speaker sound system. Unfortunately for a vehicle aimed largely at buyers in northern climates, there’s no way to get a heated steering wheel or heated rear seats.
These are tough days for European wagons, but the simple fact is this: Based on last-generation A4 sales, there just isn’t enough demand in America to offer both a conventional A4 Avant and an A4 allroad. Audi’s product planners had to punt, and to their credit, they chose the one with a stronger emotional appeal, the one that makes a bolder statement, and – it just so happens – the one with a bit more prestige in the brand history department. The 2013 allroad may fall slightly short of its original namesake, but it still offers a compelling, modern twist on the old sport wagon idea.