Consider that the company

is a relatively high-volume seller and its innovation approach has to be admired,

although being at the premium end of the market does allow the German automaker

to charge for its expertise. World-wide sales suggest that many people are prepared

to pay that price. The latest tour de force to emerge from Ingolstadt is the

allroad (no, not a misprint), an all-singing and dancing on/off-road station

wagon that can be switched - literally and figuratively - from freeway

flyer to obstacle climber at the touch of a button.

First, though, let us clarify the name. In an annoying (typographically speaking)

piece of marketing hype, allroad is presented in all lower-case characters in

the same way that the company's quattro all-wheel drive system is configured.

So, in compliance with this piece of nomenclature nonsense, be aware that written

references to the vehicle may appear a little odd. For a less formidable piece

of machinery, we would be inclined to disregard this foppery...

But formidable the allroad certainly is. It features a twin-turbo 30-valve

V6 with variable camshaft timing, quattro permanent four-wheel drive with electronic

diff lock (EDL), four-position air suspension with automatic ride height adjustment,

electronic stability program (ESP), gearshift buttons on the steering wheel

as a supplement to the usual Tiptronic automatic, dynamic shift programme (DSP),

special wheels and tyres, and some in-your-face, but classy, body kit. The test

car's dark Highland Green metallic paint merely emphasized the allroad's muscular

looks: it is a substantial and, at over 1 800 kg, heavy piece of machinery.

Launched at the 2000 Geneva motor show, the allroad is essentially a reworking

of the A6 Avant 2,8 quattro. In size, the allroad is 15 mm longer, 40 mm wider

and a considerable 71 mm taller than the Avant. Styling-wise, the differences

are equally obvious. The deep bumpers, wheelarch extensions and sills are in

charcoal-coloured plastic, but Audi has resisted extending this "cladding"

look up the bodysides, instead adding satin-finish aluminum rubbing strips along

the flanks. (These rubbing strips have a pronounced shape, and can be found

- in black - on Audi's S3, suggesting that it represents a "sport"

connotation.) Full-length roof rails (no lateral rails are provided) and a trim

strip across the tailgate add to the aluminium parts list. Although having the

appearance of the light alloy, the skid plates under both bumpers are, in fact,

stainless steel. A narrow bright strip right around the side glass is becoming

a regular Audi feature. The ribbed roof, though steel, is painted charcoal to

match the lower addenda.

The special wheels and tyres referred to earlier require some comment. Starting

with the rubberware, it was deemed necessary to develop a tyre specifically

suited to the allroad's crossover character (best described as a sport-utility

station wagon). Pirelli produced a suitable 225/55 W-rated tyre, but the test

car arrived shod with unidirectional Goodyear Wrangler F1 allroad. (Yes, that

spelling again - even the typeface on the sidewalls is the same as the car's...)

Oh, but there is no conventional spare. A deflated 205/70x16 space-saver is

provided, with an electrically operated compressor to pump it up.

Then there are the wheels, made from cast aluminium in a unique five-spoke

design. The 7,5J rim has a second spoke set attached to the full rim by 20 bolts

with inner-splined heads, probably to add strength. The net result is a wheel

full of mud- and brake dust-accumulating nooks and crannies to practically necessitate

high-pressure steam to clean effectively. But the add-on spokes do take the

brunt of kerb and rock damage - witness the little battle scars on the test

car's rims that suggested some exuberant bundu bashing had taken place prior

to the vehicle reaching us. Very high-tech the wheels may be, but not practical

from an aesthetic point of view.

Suspension is by a four-link system up front, and double wishbones at the back,

each corner boasting a pneumatic spring strut that controls the allroad's ride

height.

There are four settings that increase the ground clearance in increments from

the lowest level of 142 mm. The basic settings are chosen automatically, but

there is a manual override via control buttons on the facia. In the event of

a puncture, there is a "jacking up" mode.

The "normal" setting is at 167 mm, which is high for a road vehicle,

but reasonable for nominal off-roading. However, in auto mode, once the vehicle's

speed exceeds 120 km/h for a short length of time, the suspension drops 25 mm

to its "low" setting to provide a more stable stance for high-speed

motoring. Once the speed drops below 70 km/h for a given period, the suspension

rises back to "normal". For more arduous terrain, the springs can

be raised a further 25 mm from "normal" to a "high level 1"

setting (192 mm), which is also where the allroad will settle when parked and

locked from the outside. For really rough stuff, "high level 2" can

be called up, which jacks up a further 16 mm to the maximum 208 mm - a figure

to rival many SUVs and double-cab pick-ups.

In particularly tricky conditions, selecting the ride height manually may be

preferred. But, sensibly, the settings are speed-sensitive and the system will

automatically lower the suspension if too high a speed is being demanded for

a given position. Around 35 km/h maximum is possible in "high level 2",

and 80 km/h in "high level 1".

So much for clearance then, what about traction? Audi's quattro four-wheel

drive system has been around for 20 years, and continues to be one of the best

available. But it is applicable only to longitudinally mounted engines, which

has been an Audi peculiarity in its otherwise front-wheel drive offerings, S3

and TT excepted. A central Torsen differential apportions up to two-thirds of

the engine's torque to the end with the most grip available, leaving the EDL

to monitor - via the ABS brake sensors - each wheel's rotation, and

in the event of spin being detected, direct torque to the wheels with better

traction. Provided that at least one wheel has grip, the allroad will move.

Capping it all is ESP, which incorporates the EDL and ABS functions to keep

the allroad on an even keel. The system detects the onset of excessive under-

or oversteer, or any potential skid situation, and applies braking effort to

the appropriate wheel(s) to counter the condition and stabilise the vehicle's

attitude. ESP can be switched out when a certain amount of wheel slip is desirable

(it will do so automatically in extreme slow and/or difficult off-road driving),

in which case the ABS switches to a special off-road mode. Warning lamps indicate

that ESP is deactivated. In extreme circumstances, the ride height's control

sensors can appropriately either prevent disengagement or activate the ESP.

There is a motoring guardian angel in the underpinnings...

Manual versions have the added bonus of a low range gearset, but the test car

came with a Tiptronic autobox and a choice of selection methods. On the floor

console is the regular shifter offering P-N-R-D-4-3-2 full automatic control

to the left of its gate, and manual sequential control for the five forward

gears on the right: a push forward to change up, a pull back to change down.

Sequential shifting can also be done via buttons at the ends of the cross-spoke

of the steering wheel. Both buttons can activate up- and downchanges, and are

quite sensitive. Fun to use with the wheel in the straightahead position, they

are tricky while turning, when depressing the right part of the button becomes

a bit hit or miss. But, once again, there is an electronic aid to prevent any

accidental downshift. It really is difficult to do anything daft in an allroad.

Typically Tiptronic, DSP thinks for the driver, too, by continuously adapting

the transmission's shift points to the style of driving. Gentle use of the accelerator

brings about the most economical programme. Activate the kick-down, or prod

the right-hand pedal in a determined fashion, and the 'box moves into

sport mode, changing up at the top of the rev range and changing down at higher

than usual revs. Gradients are also sensed, so unnecessary hunting between ratios

is avoided.

But does it all work? Yes. Very effectively, too, if there is determined input

from the driver. Expect the powertrain wizardry to make piloting the allroad

a figurative walk in the park and you will be disappointed. There is plenty

of grunt available from under the aluminium bonnet, but it needs some forceful

directives from the accelerator foot to elicit response. Tread softly, and the

tuned 2 671 cm3 V6 takes a while to spool up the 184 kW (15 kW more than the

A6 saloon). Peak torque of 350 N.m (40 more than the four-door) arrives at 1

800 r/min and remains until 4 500 is reached, but overcoming inertia means that

the thrust only makes itself obvious around 2 200 r/min. Power delivery is smooth,

thanks no doubt to each of the two intercooled turbochargers having only three

cylinders to feed.

On-road, once on the torque plateau the allroad whooshes along with purpose.

But it necessitates some considered steering input as the mass of the vehicle

and the quattro system combine to create typical four-wheel drive understeer.

Body roll is well controlled, but arriving at a corner at a higher than prudent

speed highlights the vehicle's considerable bulk. It occasionally demands some

muscling around. Heavy braking does cause some pitch; otherwise the ride is

sportingly firm. Every now and again, though, the test vehicle did produce some

"clunks" from the underpinnings over odd patches of rough terrain.

Venture off the tar and this crossover "sport utility wagon" is no

less competent. There is plenty of low-down torque, sophisticated all-wheel

drive hardware, traction assistance, and more than ample ground clearance. Front

and rear overhangs - 977 and 1 076 mm, respectively - are limiting factors,

offering an arrival angle of 23,5 deg and a departure angle of 24,5 deg with

the suspension at its highest. The allroad was never meant to be mechanical

mountain goat, but it will surprise many with its ability to go trekking. This

is no soft-roader.

All the expected Audi wagon treats are supplied, including automatic climate

control, full electric driver seat adjustment with three-position memory, custom

radio/tape/CD sound system with satellite controls on the adjustable steering

wheel, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, on-board computer, cellphone

preparation, luggage net, and a roof-to-seat cargo screen that is usable with

the backrest up or down. Drink holders? One up front and two in the back. One

innovative standard item is a removable tow hitch. Selective central locking,

a full complement of airbags, and ISOFIX child seat fixings are also part of

the package.

Original article from Car