The latest generation Audi A6 allroad shows that compromise is far from a dirty word. Jonathan Crouch reports on the top 3.0 BiTDI version.
Ten Second Review
It's hard to think of a better 'one car fits all' vehicle than Audi's A6 Allroad, especially in top 3.0 BiTDI guise. It's presentable in any situation, it's at home in the city, blasting across continents, and slogging its way along dirt tracks. What's more it'll do all this in any weather, in total comfort and with some style to boot. This latest model takes the same Allroad template and adds some more space, some high-tech interior touches and a quite mighty diesel engine into the mix.
It's hard to believe given the car's healthy sales now, but the A6 Allroad was originally a car borne from Audi's failure to plan ahead. Where rivals from BMW and Mercedes had predicted that the market for lifestyle SUVs would explode, Audi sat on its hands. The result was that the BMW X5 and the Mercedes M Class both made massive profits for their rivals while the Allroad, whilst successful in its own right, never quite achieved that star billing. That was back in 2000 and it was another six years before Audi would introduce the Q7 SUV to take the fight to its rivals and replace the Allroad with a slicker, more sophisticated successor. By that time, the SUV market had started to mature and the early adopters were starting to look for alternatives that offered much the same capability but in a more socially discreet guise. While this may not have been great news for the Q7, it meant that the Allroad's time seemed to have come. What was once merely an expedient piece of product planning became a fixture in the Audi line up. That second generation car started to distance itself on price from the car that had been the Allroad's key rival, the Volvo XC70, and by the time this third generation A6 Allroad appeared in 2012, there was very little overlap between the Volvo and Audi offerings in terms of price. Don't let the fact that the latest A6 Allroad operates in a virtual class of one suggest that Audi has become complacent. Join me and we'll have a good look at why this car deserves some serious respect, especially with its most potent 313PS BiTDI engine beneath the bonnet.
Equipped with air suspension, the ride quality is very good, Audi having left behind its period of overly firm riding cars. The suspension up front comprises struts enclosed by pneumatic springs while at the back these units are separated. The air suspension settings can be controlled via the Audi drive select system and can be switched between Dynamic, or Comfort which are quite self explanatory. There's also an automatic mode which uses a series of sensors to attempt to gauge the best mode for any given condition and an Allroad mode which raises the body for off-road driving by 35mm. Lift mode adds another 10mm to that for when you really need all the ground clearance you can get. The 3.0 BiTDI variant we're looking at here features two series-connected chargers. At low revs a flap between them is closed and the smaller turbo with its variable turbine geometry does most of the work, with the big charger taking care of pre-compression, yet you'll still be able to make the peak torque figure of 650Nm from just 1,450rpm. From about 2,500 rpm, the valve starts to open, and the small charger increasingly transfers the major share of work to its counterpart. In the range between 3,500 and 4,000 rpm, the valve opens completely, and only the large charger still operates. To avoid the usual tuneless diesel blare there's a sound actuator in the exhaust system which gives the engine a purer bass tone, best sampled in Dynamic mode. The 313PS output propels the Allroad to 60mph in 5.3 seconds and on to an electronically restricted top speed of 155mph. That's pretty good going for a car that weighs nearly two tonnes.
Design and Build
This third generation Allroad follows a very specific evolution of the line. Each successive model has become more subtle and elegant in its styling and has also grown in size. Make no mistake, this is now a very big motor. The designers have worked to reduce weight by introducing more lightweight materials into the build process and this car features aluminium cross members in the bumpers and luggage area. The front wings, doors, bonnet and tailgate are also aluminium and Audi claims that this cuts the weight of these parts by 20 per cent. The car has grown in length by 6mm which doesn't sound much, but it's also 36mm wider and 13mm longer. More significantly, there's an additional 72mm of wheelbase, largely brought about by shifting the front axle-line forward, enlarging the passenger cell and reducing front overhang. Jump inside and you'll appreciate some of the benefits of that increased size. Front headroom, interior length and shoulder room have all increased, with the front seats now an additional 20mm further apart. There's 7mm more rear headroom but the luggage bay remains the same size as before at 565 litres. Up front, it's much as you'd find in a conventional A6 Avant and that's certainly no bad thing. The build quality is typically impeccable, from the leather work on the seats to the attention to detail of the damped handles and covers. The piano black trim parts have even been treated with a UV-resistant coating to keep them from fading in fierce sunlight.
Market and Model
A6 allroad pricing starts from just under £45,000, but you'll need a £50,000 budget for the 313PS 3.0 BiTDI flagship variant we've been looking at here. Like all models in the line-up, it features Milano leather seats fitted as standard as well as cruise control, parking sensors, auto dimming rear view mirrors, dual zone electronic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels and heated door mirrors. The MMI system includes full colour satellite navigation on the 6.5-inch retractable display and there's also a 180 watt stereo with AUX-in and a separate subwoofer for a really crisp clean bass response. If you're feeling a bit flush, you could opt for the head-up display or the hard drive-based MMI Navigation plus system with touchpad operation and wide-screen eight-inch monitor. Then there's a 15-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, comfort seats with a ventilation and massage function and a panoramic glass roof. Where things really start to get a bit next level is by specifying the Mobile Phone Preparation - High option with Audi connect. This brings online services to the car via a 3G connection on your mobile phone, including Google Earth mapping, Google Street View, and Audi traffic information online function which uses your phone signals to pinpoint traffic congestion or accident black spots in real time.
Cost of Ownership
Perhaps the smartest thing about the Audi Allroad is its efficiency. You'll have already justified the asking price of the car in terms of its build quality, equipment and power output, so getting excellent efficiency almost feels like a bit of a bonus. Audi likes to publish comparison information with its cars that's clearly massaged to show its products in the best possible light but with the Allroad there are some stats that just can't be ignored. According to CAP Monitor, you should get about 38% of your purchase price back after three years. Plus day-to-day running costs are almost unbelievably low for the 3.0 BiTDI variant, given the potent 313PS it offers: a combined cycle figure of 42.2mpg and a CO2 return of just 176g/km. It's not so long ago that these were respectable supermini figures. Now we get that from a massive four-wheel drive twin turbo car with the sort of performance that will embarrass a Porsche. Obviously, the residual values figures start to look a bit less impressive if you've loaded a few grands worth of options into the Allroad, so it's important to figure out exactly what toys will give you a decent bang for your buck come resale time.
We get an average of 184 wet days per year in the UK. Climatologists tell us that our winters are set to get more unpredictable with higher likelihoods of snowfall. British roads are routinely rated as the worst in Western Europe. Given that prospect, an all-wheel drive estate car with an elevated ride height seems like the perfect car for this country and if you want the best one, there's not really any argument where you need to shop. Audi's third generation Allroad isn't cheap, especially in this top 3.0 BiTDI guise, but once you've swallowed the initial purchase price, it retains its value well, the diesel engines are clean, powerful and economical and, above all else, it feels as if it's built to last. The air suspension cushions the worst excesses our cable TV, gas and electrical contractors can do to our roads and with more space and better equipment than before, but the end result is that the Allroad is just a really relaxing and enjoyable place to spend time behind the wheel. Sometimes it takes a lot of cleverness on the part of a manufacturer to arrive at such a simple result. Maybe Audi are onto something here.