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When is an SUV not an SUV? Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

When is an SUV not an SUV?
The 'soft-roader' market has exploded in recent years and of late the premium crossover vehicle has become a very rich vein to mine.

   



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The 'soft-roader' market has exploded in recent years and of late the premium crossover vehicle has become a very rich vein to mine. Lexus, BMW and Volvo are the main contenders in this class at the moment with several offerings from Audi waiting in the wings. One of these is the car on test here, the new Allroad.

The Allroad is an A6-based SUV crossover, designed to fit between the regular quattro saloons and estates and the new Audi Q7.The outgoing Allroad was compromised in design and execution, overshadowed by rivals' efforts. The new car addresses this in a number of ways with a fresh face and improved dynamic package. These cars are expected to excel on road, as well as having some capability off it. In all likelihood these cars are to be confined to suburbia but that isn't the point.

The exterior design is a natural SUV evolution of the A6 Avant. Increased ride height, via selection of the air suspension settings, and more rugged detail lend the necessary off-road air of intent whilst retaining the elegance of the basic A6 design. An interesting exterior detail on the Allroad is the design of the LED rear lights that are highly distinctive at night, as well as offering increased safety. Expect to see these as a design theme on forthcoming Audi models.

On the inside, Audi continues to set the pace in the field of automotive interior design, fit and function; the Allroad has a fantastic interior. There is no question that there is a lot of space available, especially given the exterior dimensions of the car, but the way the space is used is very good. All occupants enjoy generous leg and head room and the Alcantara-faced seats are supportive and comfortable. The air conditioning has vents in the rear as well as the front for optimum passenger comfort.

The design and layout of the controls will be familiar to most people, being similar to existing Audis in the range. Where the Allroad moves the game on further is in the detail. The interior looks very good in the daylight, but is even more impressive in the dark. As well as the usual subtle interior lighting there are a number of areas lit for convenience and ambience. In the front foot wells, under the seats, the door handles and under the armrests on the doors are all lit in an effect that, however faint, adds a lot to the ambience of the interior.

Standard equipment is extensive in this range-topping 3.0 V6 TDi model and our test car also enjoyed a number of options including satnav that pushed the price up towards the 40k mark. Thankfully, the car feels worth it, comparing well with rivals such as the BMW X5. Only the electric rear tailgate divided opinion as to its usefulness and actually ceased to work on more than one occasion.

All of the controls for the satnav, stereo, ventilation, etc. are accessed via Audi's MMI system. This was our first extended meeting with MMI, Audi's answer to the need for ever more buttons in the cabin due to increasing equipment and functions. Similar to BMW's I-drive, in that it is 'driven' via a central dial to move between functions, MMI differs in that it has more shortcut buttons located below the gear stick that take the first click out of the process of selecting a function when compared to I-drive. The function buttons on the steering wheel also make the system more accessible. It couldn't be said that MMI is the perfect solution, but it is less compromised and frustrating than I-drive would be for many users.

To drive, the Allroad is very similar to the A6 Avant. The key to the chassis flexibility is the air suspension setup that can be set to a user preferred setting; there are four ride heights available at rest and three on the move or it can be left to its own devices in the automatic mode. The auto mode does a fine job of adapting to road conditions but can be caught napping by sudden abrupt ridges or pot holes, the delay in its reaction leading to the occasional unseemly judder through the car.

In comfort mode the car is well damped and comfortable, with a ride surpassing that of the standard A6 Avant, but the chassis is left a little too soft for twists and turns, which is where the dynamic setting comes in. Dynamic mode minimises pitch and roll and makes the Allroad a usefully competent handler, albeit at the cost of some ride quality. Our week included many different road and driving conditions and for the most part the automatic mode coped very well. Only on our favourite driving roads did the dynamic mode need to be engaged.

The 3-litre V6 turbodiesel engine produces 230bhp and 332lb.ft of torque enabling the Allroad to hit 60mph in 7.5 seconds and push onto a maximum of 144mph. In combination with the smooth six-speed auto 'box (with sport mode and wheel mounted paddle shift) the torque makes the Allroad an effortless performer with muscular in-gear performance to complement the all-out pace. It also endows the Allroad with appropriately impressive towing capacity, as well as impeccable motorway manners. The engine remains hushed in most conditions, although our car did suffer from an unusual driveline vibration at times. Fuel economy during our high mileage week in France with the car was 27mpg, although 30mpg is a more likely cruising figure back in Britain. The large 80-litre fuel tank makes the car an excellent long range mile muncher.

Overall the Allroad is a very impressive all-rounder. During our week, three adults and all the paraphernalia needed for a 1000-mile Le Mans trip were transported in economical, air conditioned comfort, so much so that it was food and toilet breaks that dictated the need to stop, not the car. Given that this is meant to be a compromised road car, in that it has some off-road capability, then this is deeply impressive. We didn't use the car more off-road than a dusty campsite and a rutted track or two, but doubt many owners will either.

The A6 Allroad may lack some of the ultimate dynamic capability and driving feel of a BMW 5 Series Touring, but as a package it is worth every penny of the 34,980 asking price for the 'basic' 3-litre version. In fact, we can't see the point of having the 2.7-litre TDI version in the range, as it falls quite a way behind the 3-litre in terms of performance yet only costs 1,450 less. In summary, the new A6 Allroad is a quality offering that feels as good as it looks and offers a wide range of virtues for all road conditions. Rivals will have to do a lot of work to make a better soft-roader than this.

Dave Jenkins - 21 Jul 2006



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2006 Audi A6 specifications: (3.0 TDI)
Price: 34,980 on-the-road (test car had Tiptronic 'box at 1,400 as well as other extra cost options).
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 143mph
Combined economy: 32.1mpg
Emissions: 232g/km
Kerb weight: 1880kg

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2006 Audi A6 Allroad quattro. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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