So, you want to drive a luxury station wagon with four-wheel drive, one that’s not only fit for the road, but also for unpaved paths? Here’s a new option: the Audi allroad quattro.
Based on the A6, it’s Audi’s freshest model, with standard all-wheel drive and rough but stylish looks.
As all-wheel-drive specialists, Audi’s been fiddling with all-wheel drive for 20 years, since the first Quattro blasted to rally victories in the 80s. Nowadays, one out of every three new Audis is equipped with Quattro. But it took Audi time to be convinced that blending in SUV styling traits would sell more all-wheel-drive cars. Audi launched the idea for the allroad quattro in 1998 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, under the thin guise of "testing public reaction." Sport-ute buyers had already accepted the Subaru Forester and the Honda CR-V, and many wondered why Audi didn’t simply step into the market right away.
To build the allroad, Audi tapped the expertise of Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the Austrian off-road experts (they also build the Jeep Grand Cherokee for European markets). At this year’s Geneva Motor Show, Audi announced the production version of the allroad quattro, helped along with suspension development by Steyr.
Audi allroad quattro interior
Steyr had well-defined orders: the allroad quattro needed to have enough ground clearance for driving off-road, but also exemplary behavior when driving on paved roads. It’s the classic sport-ute conundrum: good ground clearance almost always means a high center of gravity and thus less capable cornering and high-speed stability, while a low center of gravity usually makes cars unsuitable for off-road use.
2001 Audi Allroad
What Steyr and Audi came up with to resolve the problem is a unique four-phase air suspension that provides variable ground clearance of nearly 2.5 inches. The front and rear wheels have pneumatic struts that are each separately controlled by a height sensor. At 75 mph, the allroad assumes its lowest suspension level of about 5.5 inches. The suspension rises about an inch for normal driving speeds; another inch, to about 7.5 inches of ground clearance, for off-pavement driving up to 50 mph; then up to 8.3 inches for maximum off-road capability.
We drove the new Audi in Austria, from the Salzburg airport to the Schladming ski region. On the freeway you could hardly feel any difference compared to a normal A6. The 2.5-liter V-6 diesel engine with 180 hp was fun to drive, willing and quick enough to go too fast in the eyes of the police. On the winding road through small villages the allroad quattro felt quiet and comfortable.
Then we were all set for our off-road experiences and ascended the Hochwuerzen Mountain. On its winding, unpaved roads we could see the light on the dashboard indicating that the car was set in level 2. When it really got muddy we had to make a stop and back up to go around the tight hairpin: level 1 automatically made us go again, helped by the low range gear. Optional with the six-speed manual transmission, this is a low gearing that helps the driver to make optimal use of the torque of the engine. It can be activated up to 10 mph by a switch on the dashboard; it warns you automatically to switch it off when you reach 31 mph. If you don’t, the allroad won’t let you drive faster than 44 mph. Pirelli and Goodyear both developed special tires (225/55R-17s) for the Audi allroad quattro, but they are not heavy all-terrain tires at all.
Audi allroad quattro2
Although the allroad is by no means a poor compromise – it is really very good on tarmac and it can go far in muddy terrain – it’s no Hummer. It has easily reached limits, as one of our colleagues experienced when he tried to drive on a ski slope that still had a one-foot layer of ice. He felt the car sliding sideways, stopped and could not get away until he got assistance from another car and a rope.
Audi will build 20,000 allroad quattros, of which the larger part will be exported to North America. They will be powered by the strong 250-hp V-6, with five valves per cylinder and twin turbochargers.
It’s a shame we can’t do more off-road driving in my native country, the Netherlands. It’s also too bad that this car costs a small fortune there, with all the heavy taxes. In Germany the Audi allroad quattro will be priced roughly near $43,000, but Audi won’t announce pricing for the U.S. until the car arrives at dealerships in October.