Audi A4 & A6 Allroad

Two cars offering the best of both worlds

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

YOU donít need an SUV, you really donít. You just think you do. All you really need is something like an Audi A4 Allroad quattro or, if youíre oversupplied with money, the facelifted A6 version.

Audi launched its 2015 Allroad range in the Northern Territory to show just how capable its car-like, SUV-lite, rough-andtough wagon offerings are. The NT is an intimidating yet fabulous place to drive, but you still donít need an SUV.

Both Allroads cope effortlessly with high-speed road blasting Ė the A4 finds the imperial ton a doddle, despite a 2.0-litre TDI engine with just 140kW/400Nm Ė and tackle sandy, rutted and ridged dirt roads with ease.

The A4 Allroad, at 180mm, offers 37mm more ground clearance than the Avant on which itís based and, more surprisingly, just 20mm less than Audiís Q5 SUV, while the A6ís height-adjustable adaptive air suspension provides 125-185mm.

They may not literally be able to tackle all roads, but with their underbody protection and chunky plastic wheelarches, theyíll get you far enough outback to make you feel heroic. And on the smooth stuff coming back, they handle like a car, not a cumbersome SUV.

When the A6 Allroad launched here in 2002, Australians bought them because the Q5 didnít yet exist. Amazingly, sales have held up, but now Audi sells more than 6000 Q3s and Q5s a year. Audi says the Allroad has a loyal customer base that appreciates a car-like driving experience but admits itís ďnot our biggest sellerĒ.

This is a shame because the A6 Allroad in particular is a great mix of premium German motoring with dirt-road potential, and one that manages to look tough without being huge.

This new version, which will become the only Avant option in the A6 range (the RS6 is too Ďout thereí in terms of price and performance to count), gets a broader Audi grille, Matrix LED headlights (a $2300 option), special exhaust tips and a rear stainless-steel bash plate.

Inside, itís Audi at its best, with a lovely wood finish highlighting a beautiful cabin, and acoustic glazing on the windscreen and front windows that helps with its blissful refinement. Unless you open a door or window, youíre never aware that the new 3.0-litre V6 engine is a diesel with 160kW and 500Nm. Itís even harder to believe when you whip through the seven-speed dualclutch transmission and watch the revs pile on.

Overtaking road trains is so easy itís almost enjoyable. The 0-100km/h time of 7.3 seconds is a good half a second faster than the A4 Allroad, and yet the fuel figures for both cars are the same at 5.6L/100km.

The seating position is a strange mix of road car and high-chair, but at least the seats in the A6 are plush. The experience is not so lush in the A4 version, which is much firmer on your spine.

Its cabin fit-out also feels half a generation behind its big brother.

In isolation, the A4 Allroad shares this conceptís feeling of solidity and capability, and the performance from what is a smallish engine for the job is never found wanting. The difference in price certainly matches the difference in perception, though, with the A4 Allroad a relative bargain at $70,500 next to the A6ís $111,900.

The Audi Allroad Ė be it A4 or A6 Ė could be, and perhaps should be, all the premium soft-roader you need, and has the market segment all to itself. Itís just a shame that segmentís so small.

PLUS & MINUS

Light steering; collision mitigation not standard; plastic wheelarches Car-like cornering; effortless diesels; A6ís terrific interior; the concept

LIKE IT? LEASE IT!

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Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Audi A6 Allroad TDI quattro 2967cc V6 (90į), dohc, 24v, TD 160kW @ 3250-4500rpm 500Nm @ 1250-3000rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1890kg 7.3sec (claimed) 5.6L/100km $111,900 Now

01 BOX TICKING

A6 Allroad options include a quattro sports differential ($2245), 20in wheels ($2590) and customised front contour seats ($3800). A 15-speaker B&O stereo with over 1200 watts will set you back $12,340.

02 POWER SHUFFLE

A6ís quattro all-wheel-drive system normally splits drive 40/60 front/rear but can distribute up to 70 percent to the front, or 85 percent to the rear, if necessary.

03 FOUR BY FOUR

Being a much older design (an all-new A4 launches later this year), the four-pot Allroad lacks its big sisterís cabin flair and suspension refinement.

Stop right now 03

AUTONOMOUS Emergency Braking will soon be as common as ESC. Indeed, it might well be similarly compulsory.

So itís surprising that, while Audi touted its inclusion on the new Allroad range, itís only available as part of the Technik Package that costs $4800.

AEB is standard on most Volvos, on all Mercedes- Benz C-Classes and even the new Citroen DS3. Itís also, undeniably, a very good idea, so much so that insurers are now offering discounts on your premiums if you buy a car that has it fitted.

Not making it standard on a range of cars that starts at $70K is either penny-pinching or just plain greedy. Either way, it looks mean.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW X4 20d $73,700

ABOUT as close as it gets to the A4 Allroad in concept, if not execution.

X4 is a coupe-inspired SUV like its big-arsed X6 relative, yet itís smaller, wieldier shape is much less offensive. About the same weight as the A4, itís marginally slower but drinks less fuel.

Volvo XC70 D5 Luxury $65,290

RUNNING a twin-turbo diesel five-pot, the XC70 has acoustic charm in spades, but itís an ancient thing with little of the dynamic polish of the Audi pair. Itís much cheaper than the A6 Allroad, yet similarly sized, and suffers a similar level of depreciation.