The Audi A6 allroad shows that compromise is far from a dirty word. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
It's hard to think of a better 'one car fits all' solution than Audi's A6 allroad quattro. It's presentable in any situation and as at home in the city as it is blasting across continents or slogging its way along dirt tracks. What's more, it'll do all this in any weather, in total comfort and with some style. This third generation version improves the concept further, with sleek style, extra space, high-tech cleverness and great efficiency from a mighty range of diesel engines. It is, in short, a smart choice for those who need occasional off road traction and all-weather capability. And it's very well equipped in its top 'Sport' guise.
Back in the year 2000 as the world struggled with the Millenium Bug, German prestige brand Audi was struggling with a lack of foresight. Having virtually pioneered four wheel drive in ordinary road cars with their clever quattro system, they'd failed to foresee just how popular it would prove to be in big, chunky SUVs. As a result, by the turn of the century, while rivals like BMW and Mercedes were racking up sales with X5s and M-classes, Ingolstadt was getting left behind, its own Q7 SUV still years away from launch. A stop-gap was needed - a car like this one, the Audi A6 allroad.
The allroad was an Audi A6 Avant estate with clever air suspension for limited off road ability and a little more styling attitude. A simple enough idea you might think, except that at the time of this brilliantly executed model's launch, no one else had thought of it. Even so, fast-forward a decade or so and you might wonder why this car is still with us - two further generations having made the British market, the MK2 model of 2006 and this MK3, launched in the Spring of 2012. Audi has, after all, long since properly plugged the SUV-shaped gap in its line-up with Q3, Q5 and Q7 models. But almost any brand can sell you an SUV these days. This A6 allroad, in contrast, remains a largely unique proposition, copied in concept by more compact rivals but never bettered in execution. Let's look at this latest version, in recent times enhanced by a plushly-equipped top 'Sport' trim level.
One thing this A6 allroad isn't short of is power. Even the entry level engine fronts up with 218PS, plus a huge torque figure of 500Nm from its 3.0-litre diesel engine. Alternatively, there's an even more powerful variant of this engine with 272PS and 580Nm. At the top of the range is the V6 BiTDI diesel unit that puts out a thumping 320PS. This makes 62mph in just 5.5s and has to be artificially restrained at 155mph.
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 Build
The A6 allroad is 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 A6 allroad quattro sits six centimetres higher than the standard A6 Avant. Around 70kg has been pared from its kerb weight 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 Model
Audi now offers two kinds of A6 allroad- a standard model priced from around £45,000 and, for a premium of around £4,000, a 'Sport' variant that adds in 19-inch alloy wheels, all-LED headlights, dynamic rear turn signals, electrically-adjustable front sports seats and rear privacy glass. 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 Ownership
The A6 allroad's residual values have always been very encouraging and there's no reason to see why this latest car shouldn't continue to 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 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and 149g/km of CO2 for both the 218PS and the 272PS versions.
Even the muscular 3.0 BiTDI model will see a combined fuel figure of 43.5mpg and 172g/km of CO2. Given that you've got 650Nm of torque under your right foot in this top variant, it speaks volumes about how far efficiency has improved in recent times.
A6 allroad buyers are apparently the most affluent of any of Audi's customers, so it makes sense perhaps that they're also amongst the cleverest, amongst the few choosing a car with four-wheel drive for what they actually need it to do, rather than buying into vague perceptions of safety and social standing. There are other biggish, plush estates that offer limited off road ability of course, but without the clever air suspension that really makes this car work in that respect, these can seem very pretentious and contrived.
No, if you want the occasional benefits of better ground clearance and off road traction without the usual clunky dynamic downsides. If you can do without the image, expense and bulk of a fully-fledged SUV. And if, in summary, you want to make a sensible lifestyle statement, then we can't think of a better way to do it.