BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Picture the scenario. You quite fancy something that can take the rough with the smooth but don't want to put up with the coarseness of most 4x4s. In order to get a 4x4 with a bit of refinement that either means one of the latest generation of soft-roaders or a very expensive full-sized model along the lines of a BMW X5, a Mercedes M-class or a Lexus RX. The alternative is an estate-based 4x4, a genre popularised by the Subaru Forester and subsequently cashed in on by Volvo with the V70 Cross Country and Audi with the Allroad. The Audi model in particular showed how well the job can be done if a whole heap of development money is thrown at the problem. The Allroad is a far more sophisticated proposition than the Volvo and remains one of the most desirable load luggers about. Used examples are now around in good numbers, but don't expect any outrageous bargains.
Models Covered: 5 door 4x4 Estate: 2.7T V6 petrol, 2.5 V6 TDi diesel
Audi didn't approach the Allroad in a half-hearted manner. Reasoning that their 4.2-litre V8 engine would be too bulky in the nose of a dual-purpose vehicle, the Ingolstadt company instead opted for their two most impressive V6 engines, the 250bhp 2.7-litre turbocharged petrol unit, itself a detuned version of the awesome S4's powerplant, and the 180bhp 2.5-litre turbo diesel, the choice for those who were more inclined to put the Allroad's mud plugging credentials to the test. Arriving in April 2000, the Allroad was an instant hit and demand in the used arena has remained correspondingly high, plumping up residuals. Although the regular A6 range received some light revisions in autumn 2001, the Allroad carried on much as before. A 300bhp 4.2-litre V8 range-topping variant was announced in Spring 2003. A new Allroad based on the next generation A6 Avant arrived in the Spring of 2006.
What You Get
Assuming you're not a farmer or a park ranger, owning a full-sized 4x4 makes little practical sense. They're heavy, thirsty and usually no fun to drive. In fact, their only redeeming feature is that on one day in a hundred, they can get you where you need to be. But what if an ordinary estate car could do that? What if you could have the rough, tough ground clearance of a Land Rover Discovery and the traction of a Land Cruiser with the luxury of a Range Rover? And what if it would make sixty in 7.4s on the way to 147mph? Others promised - and failed - to deliver this combination of virtues. Subaru's Forester and Volvo's V70 XC are fine on wet grass, rutted tracks and muddy car parks but not much good for really rough fields, slopes too steep to walk up, particularly bad ruts or sharp gullies. They are, in other words, fine when it's a bit slippery but no real good for really exploring. Which of course is why people buy fully-fledged off roaders. You may never go chasing buffalo in the Serengeti but there's nothing to beat the feeling that you could if you wanted to. Mind you, whether the Audi Allroad provides this feeling is a matter of some debate. It doesn't look like the kind of car that could complete a jungle expedition: based as it is so closely on an A6 Avant, your neighbours will simply assume you've bought an executive estate. Nor are you seated in the usual high and imposing place at the helm: you sit low down, just as in any other car. All of the usual A6 Avant advantages apply with the added bonus that much of the transmission is even tougher. An A6 on steroids? Sounds alright to us.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Not too much, really. The quattro system is reliable and well proven but it's best not to allow a local spanner man to fiddle with it. The complexity of the car may well lead you to insist on a car with a cast-iron service history and, at this stage, Audi dealers are still likely to have the best examples. The premium they charge may be well worth your peace of mind. Interiors are hard wearing and well designed, much like the rest of the car. As for corrosion, with an Audi you're pretty safe and there's a lengthy anti-perforation warranty to reassure you (ensure any conditions have not been breached by previous owners). Check the underside of the car for damage caused by overenthusiastic rock hopping and also inspect the paintwork. Few realise the damage an innocuous looking bush can do to paint finishes! The tyres should display an even wear pattern - if not the suspension may have been knocked out of alignment. Finally make sure the air suspension is working properly as it's not an inexpensive fix should it all go awry.
(based on a 2000 Allroad 2.5 TDI - ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £150. Front and rear brake pads should be about £65 a set. A radiator is about £140, an alternator about £235 and a starter motor £160.
On the Road
Real offroad experts will tell you that ground clearance is everything, so let's start there. This car has more (208mm) than apparently 'proper' off roaders of the same era like Jeep's Cherokee or Mercedes' M-class. Not even a Discovery or a Range Rover sits much higher. Then there's the low range gearbox that 'real' off roaders use to get out of sticky spots. Not something you'd expect to find on a 4WD car - but was developed for this one (as an option on the manual model). As for traction, well again, it's no problem. Thanks to a Torsen (torque-sensitive) differential and an electronic diff lock (EDL), drive is maintained even if only one wheel has grip. It will tow almost anything - and carry a 630kg payload. Plus you can hurl this Audi at the nearest mountain with relative peace of mind, thanks to side cladding and bumper-mounted front and rear undertray protection plates. Don't get us wrong. No one is pretending this to be the world's ultimate off roader. What we're saying is that on that one day in a hundred when you need to go where you've never gone before, it will do 80% of everything a huge, heavy mud plugger will manage. In fact, if it wasn't for the long front and rear overhangs and your natural tendency towards caution at the wheel of such an expensive-looking motorcar, it would probably do more. More importantly however, you're not stuck with all the usual drawbacks that go along with true off road prowess in more usual use. The main reason why is found in the Allroad's clever adjustable air suspension system, which can automatically (or manually) raise or lower the car to four different ride heights, using air springs on each wheel. The lowest is just 142mm from the tarmac and is automatically activated over 75mph to improve high-speed handling. The standard 167mm ride height is activated at 50mph, while at speeds below that, the car rides at 192mm. The final top setting - up to 208mm - is one you select yourself, via a couple of small dashboard buttons before attempting particularly difficult terrain. This aside however, though you can manually move the car up and down, plotting your progress via a series of four warning lights, it takes rather a long time and there's not much point. Better to leave the system in auto and let it do its own thing. If the prospect of doing so leaves you visualising the car jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box as speeds vary, then don't worry. A delay circuit waits several minutes to establish a continuous speed before activating the suspension. It's really very clever. As is a 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds for the 2.7T.
Even if it never ventures off the metalled highway, the Audi Allroad is effortlessly desirable, an Omega Constellation amongst cars. To not use it to the limits of its design would represent a massive opportunity cost however, so should you take the plunge, why not find out what it will do? However cool an Allroad is it'll always be outscored by an utterly filthy one coming the other way. Unless you can stomach the big bills and need warping acceleration, the 2.5TDI is the pick of the range. Recommended.