Take an Audi A6 Avant station wagon, add one twin-turbo V-6 engine, an adjustable-height suspension and some industrial-looking body trim and you have the Allroad Quattro, Audi's answer to an SUV.

The Allroad joins a growing crowd of car-based hybrids as a more practical, and useful, alternative to truck-based SUVs that rarely, if ever, see off-highway use. Key to its versatile handling both on- and off-road is a pneumatic adjustable-height suspension that enables it to stand tall for wandering off the pavement and yet hunker down on pavement so it can dive through corners without feeling skittish. Most hybrid vehicles are a compromise between off-road ground clearance and dry-road handling, but the Allroad's sophisticated system tries to maximize both. Ride height is controlled automatically or manually by buttons on the center console. The suspension has four settings that raise it by as much as 2.6 inches. In the tallest mode, ground clearance is 8.2 inches, 1 inch greater than the BMW X5 and the same as a Land Rover Discovery.

How does it automatically adjust the height? Below 22 miles per hour, the suspension is at its tallest. At 22 mph it drops one level, and at 50 mph it drops another. At 75 mph the vehicle squats to its lowest level to improve aerodynamics and save a little fuel.

So what does it feel like out in the real world? I couldnÕt tell much difference as the suspension worked its way through all four heights. I raised the suspension to its tallest setting and drove around a field near a new subdivision, and the only change I could detect was a slightly bumpier ride. At reasonable speeds in city driving, the Allroad feels as stable and well-anchored as any Audi sedan.

This is an enjoyable machine, as well it should be for an out-the-door price of more than $47,000. The cabin is what one expects in a luxury tourer: leather seats, real wood trim, automatic climate control and a high-quality sound system. The thoughtfully designed instrument panel has large gauges and large control knobs. Adjusting the automatic climate control temperature is harder than it should be. The seats are scooped out for good all-around support, and folding down the split rear seat is a piece of cake.

The twin-turbo, DOHC V-6 puts out 250 horsepower, and it feels robust in all situations. This engine is not temperamental and does not have to be revved hard for it to make serious power. The bulk of its torque, which is the force that actually moves the vehicle, is available from 1,850 to 4,000 rpm. Its throttle response and acceleration characteristics are more like a small V-8 than a high-strung V-6.

Transmission choices include a six-speed manual or a five-speed Tiptronic automatic. While the six-speed gives it a zero-to-60 mph acceleration of 6.8 seconds, the automatic is more relaxing for the majority of drivers, and it is still plenty lively. It hits 60 in 7.3 seconds.

Another significant key to the Allroad's ability to trav el across a wide variety of terrain and through differing driving conditions is the well-known Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Quattro uses a viscous center differential to distribute power to the front and rear wheels. Audi asserts that driving all four wheels reduces the amount of work each tire has to do, and that contributes to its ability to manage sand, gravel, ice, snow or rain with uncommon grip. Up to two-thirds of the vehicle's driving force can be sent to either the front or rear axle as conditions merit. An electronic differential lock (EDL) that functions at speeds below 58 mph means the vehicle can move forward when only one tire has sufficient grip. EDL gives the Allroad increased off-road mobility.

Aside from its taller stance, various styling cues differentiate the Allroad from the regular A6. It has a brushed-aluminum, ribbed skid plate on the front fascia, while similar ribs highlight the body sides and roof rack. The wheel arches and front and rear bumpers ar dark gray composite material. The center section of the roof is painted dark, as well.


The base price of the Allroad Quattro is $41,900. Options on the test car included a power sunroof, automatic transmission, 17-inch wheels with twin-spoke design, Xenon headlights, folding outside mirrors, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel and Homelink remote transmitter.

The sticker price was $47,850.


Four years or 50,000 miles.

Point:The Allroad is a luxury station wagon that can be driven in limited off-road situations because it has all-wheel drive and an adjustable suspension that raises the vehicle for rough going. The twin-turbo V-6 makes generous power, and the interior is classy and comfortable.

Counterpoint:This is a pretty pricey package when loaded with popular options. A standard A6 station wagon with Quattro would be just as capable in all but off-road driving, so unless you do a lot of that, the Allroad is overkill.

Engine: 2.7-liter, 250-hp V-6
Transmission: Tiptronic All-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 108.5 inches
Curb weight: 4,233 lbs.
Base price: $41,900
As driven: $47,850
Mpg rating: 15 city, 21 hwy.
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