Driven: 2013 Audi Allroad
By Tom Martin
July 11, 2012
Audi enters the 2013 model year as something of a phenomenon, having enjoyed strong growth during much of the recession. Chalking this up to better marketing and a bevy of new product offerings is directionally correct, but probably doesn’t quite do justice to the thousands of details that have gone into the resurgence of the brand.
Still, there is no denying that Audi’s multiple specialty models, from the R8, to the A7, to the S5 are attractive products with real distinctiveness. In fact, the premium German marques are becoming masters of micro-segmentation. There may not be an Audi for everyone, because Audi doesn’t operate at lower price points, but if you have the money, Audi is likely to have a car intended for you. And it is entirely possible that Audi has several cars that you might consider.
In keeping with this successful slicing and dicing of the market, Audi has added an additional offering: a new Allroad that is repositioned from the car sent to the US in the mid-2000s. For those who don’t recall the Allroad, it was and is a car-based player in the lux-utility part of the market that has been an important part of Audi’s recent growth. The previous Allroad was A6-based and had turbo V-6 power, while the new one is A4-based and carries a turbo I-4. Audi invited us to Vail, Colorado to drive this new Allroad Quattro in something like its “natural” environment. Ever the fans of mountain twisties, we happily accepted.
The basic idea of the car is simple. The goal is to create a vehicle suited to active lifestyles, but that looks and feels different from an SUV or a crossover. Audi starts with an A4 Avant (that’s Audi-speak for station wagon), and then modifies the suspension and styling to make the car more suitable for the market. The ride height is raised by about two inches, which makes the car work better in both snow and in urban areas, with their badly designed parking entrances and road humps. This change also makes ingress and egress a bit more comfortable for many people. At the same time, the ride height is lower than an SUV, so the Allroad doesn’t feel or look as bulky as vehicles that qualify as light trucks (the classification of almost every crossover and SUV).
This latter point of differentiation is reinforced by the design of the Allroad. Because the body shell is wagon-based, the Audi looks lower and sleeker than many crossovers. At the same time, Audi has realized that an active lifestyle car can’t look too prissy, and so have pumped up the exterior design a bit with fender flares and roof bars for attaching ski racks, and kayak or bicycle carriers.
You can see the distinction between the Allroad and a crossover by comparing it with the Audi Q5. Both cars ride on a 110-inch wheelbase and use the Audi 2.0T four-cylinder turbo with 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque driving the Audi Quattro all-wheel-drive system via an automatic gearbox. The Allroad is four inches longer than the Q5, and yet the Allroad is seven inches lower. The Q5 has a bit more luggage capacity with the second row folded, with 57 cubic feet available for suitcases, picnic baskets, chainsaws, and baseball bats, whereas the Allroad has 50 cubic feet for those transportable necessities. The Allroad will probably be rated to tow about 1500 pounds, in contrast to the Q5 which can haul up to 4400 pounds. As recompense, the Allroad shaves 200 pounds from the Q5’s weight, and partly as a result delivers 1 mile per gallon better gas mileage. These may seem like small differences, but those differences are part of what micro-segmentation is about.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Allroad and its similarly sized crossover competitors like the Q5 is in appearance. The Allroad simply reads differently than a crossover. It is clearly a car, not a truck, for example. In particular, it looks smaller, and lighter, and more efficient than those latter vehicles. And yet it isn’t exactly a station wagon, because it is taller and more muscular. The Allroad neatly threads the needle between macho and mommy.
If the Allroad doesn’t make sense to you, we suspect you’re not in the target market. If, for example, you look at the Allroad and think that it is close to what you want, but with the caveat that Audi should lower it, add a manual, and offer a bigger engine, then you’re not in the target market. When Audi offers an S4 Avant in the US, we’ll let you know, we promise.
Besides styling, one other area where the Allroad might be different from its crossover peers is in driving dynamics. While we are fans of the 2.0T engine, there is no denying that it shows its stuff best when pulling a relatively light vehicle like the A4. Since the Allroad weighs about five-percent more than the sedan but a similar amount less than a crossover, the engine works better here than it does with, say, the Q5 crossover.
The difference isn’t huge, but we’d say in normal driving the Allroad feels quite adequately powered, with good quickness off the line, and a reassuring sense of responsiveness in urban and highway cut-and-thrust maneuvers. Note, however, that some competitors that also blur the definition of crossover, like the Range Rover Evoque, weigh about the same as the Allroad and offer a bit more power. Nonetheless, for many non-enthusiast drivers, the Allroad has a nearly ideal powertrain, with ample torque and acceptable fuel economy.
You might also think that the Allroad would offer different ride/handling than its taller crossover competitors. In theory, lowering the center of gravity on a car should allow more responsiveness without a sacrifice in ride quality. In reality, we thought the Allroad’s handling was good, with typical Audi firmness and solid body control. That said, the Allroad gives some understeering signals when pushed more than slightly, and it has more body roll than you would get on a car like the A4.
All in all, we don’t think the handling of the Allroad will be a motivating factor if your point of comparison is one of the better crossovers. Nor do we think that any ride quality improvements will be compelling. Audis have rather stiff suspension tuning, and while the Allroad might be a tad softer than a Q5, if you want cushiness, you’ll probably choose another brand. Still, we thought the wagon was an enjoyable steer, so don’t misconstrue our point that the ride and handling benefits of a slightly lower chassis are subtle to mean that the ride and handling here are bad.
A final virtue of breaking the crossover box is that the pricing of the Allroad might offer a different value proposition than the typical premium crossover. That’s true, but in a different way than you might imagine. The Allroad has a base MSRP of $39,600 and, by comparison, the base Audi Q5 has an MSRP of $35,600. The Allroad comes standard with some features that require you to step up to the Premium Plus Q5 ($39,900), but pretty much any way you look at it, the Allroad is priced $2-3K above the Q5. That isn’t a huge difference, but this pricing, in concert with the non-traditional segment that the car operates in, will likely make it a significantly less common sight on the road. If exclusivity is something you want, the Allroad seems designed to deliver it.
We opened this review with an overview of Audi’s recent success, and we would be remiss not to mention that the Allroad has many of the design elements that are now taken for granted as part of the Audi package. The shapes are attractive, the materials are good, and the color offerings are conservative. That commonality carries over to comfort and convenience items as well. So, for example, the seats are very firm and the electronic controls are manageable if a bit confusing at first glance.
We’ve always thought that the Audi A4 was a solid competitor in its class from a driving standpoint. Given Audi’s strengths as a design shop, the surprising weakness of the A4 sedan was its very conservative design. But several years in, Audi’s strategic wisdom is made clear with a glance at the A4-derived lineup. While the A4 captures the middle of the road, the A5/S5 and Q5 are design standouts in this class. Now, along comes the Allroad, with a design aimed at a different group, yet leveraging the basic strengths of the A4. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how growth is done.
2013 Audi Allroad Quattro
Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 211 hp/258 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 6.5 sec
Top Speed: 130 mph
Weight: 3891 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 20/27 mpg
Base Price: $39,600