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Before Audi worked out that hulking SUVs were a sure-fire way to make money, it made the entirely sensible Audi A6 Allroad.
Audi knew prestige car customers were unlikely to head far off road and thought they could make do with a functional raised wagon that had all-wheel drive and a little cladding, which it introduced in 1999.
The Audi A6 Allroad might have made sense, but the German manufacturer soon realised the appeal for many SUV customers was styling, not off-road ability.
Even so, Audi has continued to offer the A6 Allroad and a small band of loyal customers have continued to buy it.
Their allegiance is likely to be tested by the third generation model.
Despite dodging $4000 of luxury car tax this time around (due to its excellent fuel economy), the new Audi A6 Allroad is a hefty $11,000 more than price of the last model when it was discontinued last year.
Audi says the rise is due to increased levels of standard gear that comes with the new car (it reckons the stuff is worth more than $20,000).
At $117,900, the A6 Allroad is now $35,000 more than the diesel A6 wagon, although the pricier car has more gear and a larger engine. It is also $27,900 more than the large Q7 SUV running the same engine.
So, no matter which way you look at it, the A6 Allroad is very expensive.
It’s a quality car though, based on the new-generation A6, which has a steel body but aluminium panels and suspension structure.
This helps peg the vehicle’s weight at 1855kg, which is not light, but is considerably better than the Q7’s tally of 2300kg-plus.
The Audi A6 Allroad runs the brilliant 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, which was present before but has been tweaked for extra performance. Torque is up 80Nm to 580Nm, while the power total is a respectable 180kW.
This is a great engine and provides a seemingly endless reserve of torque. It is quick too, setting an official 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.6 seconds. While that is impressive, it’s the way the engine helps the Allroad flatten hills that makes more of an impact.
With AWD, a long wheelbase and loads of torque, this should make for a brilliant tow vehicle (the maximum tow weight is 2500kg).
While Audi has extracted more performance from this engine, it has maintained its refinement. It revs smoothly and is extremely quiet, both under load and cruising. People outside the car will hear a fair amount of diesel clatter when you drive past at lower speeds in car parks and such, but the cabin is very well isolated.
Our test wasn’t perfect and we experienced a glitch that appeared isolated to our vehicle.
Both my co-driver and I noticed the engine didn’t respond to throttle inputs every now and again in certain situations (it happened four times in a 200km-plus drive). After backing off the throttle and slowing, the vehicle appeared not to respond to initial accelerator input. This seemed to happen for about two seconds before the engine increased revs as normal.
Audi says it couldn’t replicate the issue straight away, but will test it again when the car is returned to its headquarters in Sydney.
The standard (and only) transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual that appeared to respond well, making quick and clean changes.
This efficient gearbox and the standard engine stop-start feature enable the Audi A6 Allroad to achieve a fuel economy figure of 6.3L/100km, which is a lot better than the equivalent Q7’s official average of 9.1L/100km.
Our test car showed an average of 9.2L/100km, but the higher number is not surprising given the car copped a flogging on the launch route.
The Allroad uses a standard quattro constant AWD system, which features a self-locking centre differential.
It usually sends 60 per cent of power to the rear and 40 per cent to the front, but this can be switched around with up to 70 per cent able to be sent to the front while a maximum of 85 per cent can be sent to the rear.
The system was capable on the gravel roads that featured at the launch, including some slippery sections and a mild water crossing.
While we didn’t do any hardcore off-roading, the system provides good traction on the kind of roads that Allroad owners may just venture onto every now and again.
The Allroad sits on airbag suspension, which means the ride height can be altered depending on the conditions.
Its maximum ride height is 185mm, while the car can drop to 125mm for high-speed cruising. This is enough for well maintained gravel roads, and the test car did well on the launch route, but drivers would be justifiably nervous about doing damage to such an expensive car on unfamiliar tracks.
There is a stainless steel underbody guard, but we’re not sure how much protection it offers.
In the event an A6 Allroad owner does head off road, Audi has included Hill Descent Control and a special graphic display that shows the angle of the vehicle. These might be of novelty value, but the kind of hill that requires these aids is not one you would attempt in a mild off-roader such as the Allroad.
The Audi A6 Allroad is a city slicker with the ability to make it to the snowfields, to tow and use the odd dirt road.
It is well behaved on the road, with less pitch and wallow than most large SUVs. The ride is generally comfortable, although the air suspension can sometimes get caught out and bang over certain bumps.
There is no shortage of interior space, thanks to a longer wheelbase introduced for this A6 generation, and the boot is cavernous.
As you would expect for a car at this price point, the interior is top shelf with an elegant design and quality surfaces.
It gets the high-end A6 control for the display including the touchpad, while the instrument cluster is aided by the heads-up display.
The standard equipment list is long and includes an electric tailgate, Bluetooth audio, heated front seats, leather trim, black headlining, metallic and pearl effect paint (which is not always standard at Audi), 20-inch alloy wheels (and a space saver spare), a comprehensive luggage rail system, satellite navigation, roof rails, four-zone climate control and an electric chiller bag for the boot.
Audi says this Allroad, like the A4 version it has just launched, is a limited edition with numbers restricted to 150. However, unlike most limited editions, you can add options including a premium sound system ($1950), panoramic sunroof ($2980) and safety technology pack including adaptive cruise control, lane assistance and park assistance ($6140).
Audi Australia expects to sell 15 to 20 A6 Allroad wagons a month but is likely to then bring in another version with a different level of specification when the initial allocation has sold out.
Of course, it would be preferable if a more affordable version was made available, but Audi must figure the demand is so small that it is only viable if one well specified model is offered.
The Audi A6 Allroad is a sensible vehicle and is far better behaved than tall-riding SUVs of similar size and the new model provides a nice mix of performance and economy, while remaining extremely practical.
It is, however, very expensive and sits next to the excellent and relatively affordable A6 wagon and the Q7, which is also cheaper.
The price is prohibitive for many, but for some it will be a justifiable cost for a car that fills an extremely small niche.