Height-adjustable suspension adds off-road versatility
So-called ‘sport-utility wagons’ like the Subaru Outback, Volvo X-Country and Audi Allroad are designed for people who want the off-road capability and cargo capacity of an SUV, but don’t want the tippy handling and uncomfortable ride that often goes with an SUV.
These wagons succeed in providing limited off-road ability with a more comfortable ride and better handling, but they’re generally not as roomy as SUV’s, and their full-time four-wheel-drive systems don’t offer a Low Range gear for extreme off-road adventures. And while their ground clearance is usually higher than regular wagons, it’s often not as high as SUV’s, limiting travel in snow, mud, and poorly travelled back roads.
Still, most sport-utility wagons are a good compromise for buyers who may encounter gravel roads or unploughed backroads on the way up to the cottage, but don’t necessarily want to do some serious off-roading.
The Audi Allroad is perhaps the most sophisticated, luxurious and expensive of these hybrid wagons. Based on the Audi A6 Avant wagon, the $60,900 Allroad has a turbocharged 2.7 litre V6 engine, six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, quattro all-wheel-drive system, distinctive sport-utility-like styling, five or seven passenger seating, and a unique height-adjustable suspension.
Of these features, it’s the height-adjustable suspension that separates the Allroad from other wagons. In snow and on poor roads, it gives the Allroad enough ground clearance to go where most SUV’s can go – and on smooth, paved roads, its lower ground clearance provides handling stability and smooth ride quality. While all ‘sport-utility wagons’ are compromise vehicles, the Allroad is probably the best compromise now available.
The Allroad differs from the A6 Avant with its black front bumper, lower front skid-plate and built-in foglamps, black fender flares, black side lower cladding, and black rear bumper with a stainless steel skidplate, rear foglamps, and twin exhaust pipes. The black bumpers look more rugged and will stand up to more abuse from errant rocks and tree branches than the body-coloured bumpers of the A6 Avant. Even the Allroad’s five-spoke alloy wheels have a rugged, machined look – and appropriately, the Allroad has Pirelli P6 allroad P225/55R-17 inch tires with a rubber compound and tire tread designed especially for combined off-road and highway use.
Unique height-adjustable suspension
Unique to the Audi Allroad is a height-adjustable air suspension with four different suspension ride-heights. Level 1 at 142 mm (5.6 in.) is designed for high-speed highway driving at speeds at or above 120 km/h. The low ride-height reduces aerodynamic drag, a factor in improving fuel economy; Level 2 at 167 mm (6.6 in.) is for paved roads at speeds up to 120 km/h; Level 3 192 mm (7.6 in.) is for moderate rough road and off-road conditions up to 80 km/h – above this speed the Allroad is automatically lowered to Level 2; and Level 4 at 208 mm (8.2 in.) is for extreme road surfaces and steep grades at speeds up to 35 km/h.
The Allroad’s highest ride-height setting is equivalent to the Land Rover Discovery’s ground clearance, and Audi points out, more than the BMW X5’s 180 mm (7.1 in.) ground clearance.
The Allroad’s adjustable air suspension also includes an integrated automatic load-leveling function to keep the vehicle level when there’s a heavy payload in the cargo area, or when pulling a trailer. Each wheel has a ride-height sensor that automatically adjusts the air spring to the correct ride height. Air pressure comes from an air compressor and electronic control system in the rear of the vehicle.
Ride height can be adjusted manually via two buttons on the dashboard – one for raising the height, another for lowering it. The height can be adjusted one level at a time by pushing the button once, or more than one level by pushing the button more than once. However, if the Allroad is being driven faster than 80 km/h, the Allroad will automatically lower to Level 2 or Level 1.
If the ride height is not selected manually, the suspension will adjust itself automatically according to the speed of the vehicle between Level 1 and Level 3. However, if the speed changes constantly, the ride height won’t change immediately. A delay mechanism ensures that the Allroad must have been travelling for more than thirty seconds at speeds below 35 km/h or for two minutes below 70 km/h before raising the ride height. For example, the Allroad will remain at Level 1 or 2 when passing through a short stretch of road construction.
The Allroad uses the same powertrain as the A6 2.7T sedan, a smooth 2.7 litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine with five valves per cylinder and twin overhead camshafts which develops 250 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 258 lb.-ft of torque between 1,850 rpm and 4,000 rpm.
A standard six-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with manual shifting option are offered.
Standard equipment includes Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system which uses a self-locking Torsen centre differential to direct power evenly between the front and rear axles. The Torsen differential has the ability to divert up to two-thirds of the engine’s power to the front or rear axle when traction is lost at the other end. Combined with front and rear electronic differential locks (which work up to 100 km/h), the Allroad has the ability to move if only one wheel has traction.
I found the 2.7 litre turbo engine offered excellent off-the-line response with very little turbo lag and virtually no torque-steer. Mid-range passing power is also commendable – the engine’s long, flat torque curve is responsible for this. My test vehicle equipped with the 5-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission did 0 to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds, and at a steady 100 km/h, the engine turned over just 2600 rpm. I found the Allroad very quiet and smooth on the highway, and there’s just a mild buzz from the engine when accelerating.
Fuel consumption, as you might expect from a turbocharged 250 horsepower V6 engine, is not particularly thrifty: 15.4 l/100 km (18 mpg) in the city and 10.5 l/100 km (27 mpg) on the highway.
The 5-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission changes so smoothly that, though you can hear the engine pitch change as the revs drop, you cannot actually feel the transmission change. In the manual mode, the Tiptronic adds the ability to choose your shift points – you push the gear lever forwards to shift up, and tap back to shift down. There are also shift buttons on the steering wheel hubs – both buttons do the same thing – press + to shift up and – to shift down. Shifts take about a second when shifting up and half a second when shifting down, and I preferred to use the stickshift rather than the steering wheel buttons. In this vehicle however, I left the transmission in automatic mode most of the time because of the transmission’s inherently sporty nature and ability to adapt automatically to my driving style.
The Allroad’s suspension is independent at all four wheels – in front there’s a four link design (just like the A4, A6 and A8) but with air spring struts and twin gas shocks; at the rear are double wishbones and air struts. As Audi advertises, the Allroad offers rock-solid car-like stability and straight-line tracking at freeway speeds, much more than you’ll find in any SUV. Wind noise is also much lower. As the car ride-height raises, handling is affected slightly, but I was surprised at how good it was, even in Level 3. The Allroad didn’t feel ‘tippy’ or unstable, and grip was tenacious.
Allroad’s include standard Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP), a computerized anti-skid system. Using sensors for steering angle, yaw rate and lateral acceleration, the ESP system automatically regulates engine power and brakes individual wheels to counteract oversteer or understeer. In most cases, this system will prevent the Allroad from ‘spinning out’ on slippery surfaces.
Allroad’s have standard four wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS and EBD (electronic brake differential), and I found pedal responsiveness and stopping performance to be excellent.
Outward visibility is excellent, although the rear centre head restraint does block visibility a little bit.
One small quibble: during my test-drive, a low fuel warning light and warning chime came on each time I started up the car. After filling up the tank, the warning light and chime continued to come on when I started up the car. It was only later that day that the warning bells disappeared.
Allroads have five seats, but an optional rear-facing bench seat for children can be installed in the rear cargo area, bringing seating capacity to seven.
The upscale interior includes 12-way power heated front seats finished in two-tone leather with light-coloured seat inserts; wood trim on the centre console, dash and front and rear doors; and chrome door handles.
The Allroad’s attractive round gauges have chrome rings or ‘bezels’, but I found the Allroad’s speedometer markings unusual and confusing. Between 0 and 80 km/h, the marked increments are 5 km/h apart. Between 80 and 100 km/h, the increments are 6.7 km/h apart and its very difficult to tell where 90 km/h is. Between 100 km/h and 280 km/h, the increments are 10 km/h apart. This inconsistent marking is just plain confusing when you’re trying to tell how fast you’re going.
Between the front seats is a folding armrest/storage container, however the container is not big enough for CD’s. CD’s can be placed in an open storage bin directly below it. Both front and rear doors have unique, swing-out door pockets that make it easier to deposit or retrieve items stored there, and there’s also a small flip-out coin drawer in the doors.
Both front seats and outboard rear seats have seat heaters with six adjustable heat settings – as well, the steering wheel is heated when the seat heater is turned on. The power front seats feature power lumbar and a 3-position memory setting.
The Allroad features dual zone automatic climate control for driver and passenger, and a 140 watt, 8-speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD player with symphony-like sound.
The cupholder situation is good. A cupholder extends from the dash above the radio, but it is positioned in such a way that it doesn’t interfere with the controls. There’s another cupholder which flips out of the lower centre console.
The rear seat is roomy. Rear passengers have lots of footroom under the raised front seats and plenty of kneeroom, hiproom and headroom. Outboard rear seating positions have seat heaters with five adjustable heat settings, and there are rear air vents and rear reading lights. For storage, there are swing-out map pockets in the rear doors. The centre rear seat has a fold-down armrest, and the split 60/40 folding rear seats also include a ski pass-through.
The rear hatch can be opened remotely with the key fob. With the rear seats up, there’s 1031 litres (36.4 cu. ft.) of cargo space, or roughly twice as much as in an A6 sedan. With the rear seats folded down, there’s 2073 litres (73.2 cu. ft.) of cargo space.
The carpeted cargo area has a mesh net, a power outlet, and a pull-type privacy cover. A small air compressor with a pressure gauge is included and it can be powered from the rear power point. A stainless steel scuff guard on the floor lip protects the rear bumper from scratches while loading.
In addition, the standard roof rack and optional cross bars will carry up to 100 kg (220 lb.) of cargo on the roof.
Safety a priority
Like other Audis, the Allroad has many passive and active safety features. Apart from quattro all-wheel-drive, EDL, ESP, ABS, and EBD, the Allroad features a safety occupant shell for crash safety, next-generation driver and passenger front airbags, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, five 3-point seatbelts with automatic pre-tensioners, and five height-adjustable head restraints. Rear seat side airbags are optional. The optional third rear seat is also offered with 3-point seatbelts and head restraints.
Other safety features include front and rear fog lamps, heated rearview mirrors, headlight washers, heated windshield washer jets, door reflectors, a first aid kit and an emergency triangle.
Price and features
For $60,900, the Allroad comes equipped with everything I’ve mentioned here except the Tiptronic transmission and third row seat. Also optional are power moonroof, rear seat side airbags, Xenon gas discharge headlamps, Parktronic rear obstacle sensors, Bose 200 watt premium sound system, and 6-disc CD changer.
Allroads include a four year/80,000 km warranty which includes no-charge scheduled maintenance and 24 hour roadside assistance.
|2001 Audi Allroad quattro|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger mid-sized wagon|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 30 valves, variable timing, twin turbo|
|Horsepower||250 @ 5800 rpm|
|Torque||258 lb-ft. @ 1850 rpm|
|Transmission||6 speed manual/5-speed Tiptronic automatic|
|Curb weight||1920 kg (4233 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2757 mm (108.5 in.)|
|Length||4810 mm (189.4 in.)|
|Width||1932 mm (76.1 in.)|
|Height||min. 1526 mm (60.1 in.)|
|max. 1592 mm (62.7 in.)|
|Trunk capacity||1030 litres (36.4 cu. ft.) seat up|
|2078 litres (73.4 cu. ft.) seat down|
|Fuel consumption||City: 15.4 l/100 km (18 mpg)|
|Hwy: 10.5 l/100 km (27 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|