An Allroad Without Ups and Downs

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By JERRY GARRETT

AUDI says the introduction of a new Allroad wagon for the American market, after an eight-year absence, signifies the "return of the icon."

When the original model was withdrawn from the United States after the 2005 model year, it seemed less like an icon than a sales disappointment -- some 26,000 were sold over four years, well below initial estimates. But Audi now considers the first Allroad "quite the success, for its day, for not being an S.U.V.," a company spokesman, Mark Dahncke, said last week.

Audi wagons are quite popular in Europe, and the Allroad continued to sell well there even after it became an orphan over here. Surviving Allroads still have a devoted following in the United States, selling even now at five-figure prices.

The original car's $40,000 sticker price seemed steep in the early 2000s, and that is surely one reason it didn't sell better. The handsome new Allroad is still around $40,000 -- $39,600 and a $875 delivery fee, to be exact. At a glance, given the inflation in German luxury cars of late, such a price seems more palatable than it did a decade ago. But unlike its predecessor, which came pretty well equipped in basic trim, the new Allroad's window sticker can easily zoom higher. The top-line Prestige trim package adds $9,200 by itself, and Audi offers many, many more options.

But one deal-making feature is not available, even as an option: a height-adjustable pneumatic suspension that raised the original model 2.6 inches for additional ground clearance when off-roading or storming through snow drifts. The air suspension is one of the features that made the Allroad more than a station wagon.

So the new Allroad's ground clearance is a rather modest 7.1 inches, just 1.5 inches more than the A4 Avant wagon it replaces. For comparison's sake, a Subaru Outback offers 8.7 inches. The Allroad does have a stainless steel skid plate, ostensibly to protect the underside from rocks, underbrush and other debris, but it seems more ornamental than utilitarian.

 Most measurements are either the same, or about a half-inch greater, than the A4 Avant's. The dimensions are also similar to the 2001-5 Allroad, even though that wagon was based on the A6 of the time. Put simply, the A4 has a larger footprint now, as does the A6.

 The Allroad offers the same 50 cubic feet of cargo capacity, with the rear seat folded, as the outgoing A4 Avant, but Audi says the space is more usable. The interior is thoroughly updated and quite plush; standard leather seating is an advantage over rivals like the Volvo XC70 or the BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon.

The Allroad shares the A4 Avant's 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which makes 211 horsepower and 256 pound-feet of peak torque. Mileage is rated 20 m.p.g. in the city and 27 on the highway on premium fuel (compared with 21/29 for the outgoing Avant). Audi says the Allroad will accelerate from a stop to 60 m.p.h. in a sprightly 6.6 seconds.

On the road, the Allroad's ride height, extra weight and big 18-inch wheels and tires make it handle more like an S.U.V. and less like an Audi sedan. And while the ride is as butter-smooth as the Avant's, the Allroad can tackle a broader spectrum of light-duty driving challenges.

Still, it's no off-roader.

 Most disappointingly, despite the capable quattro all-wheel-drive system, the Allroad is no longer equipped to scramble up rocky hillsides or bound through deeply rutted trails, or pull itself out of mud-bog gumbo like the original model. Audi does not even list performance measures like the towing capacity or the approach and departure angles -- matters of interest to off-roaders -- for the Allroad.

For more diabolical on- and off-road conditions, the far less expensive Outback may be a more capable choice.

When merely crunching numbers, there is a temptation to dismiss the Allroad as little more than an A4 Avant with skid plates, plastic cladding on the wheel arches and a $3,000 price bump.

But beyond the specifications, on a purely subjective basis, the well-proportioned, generally pleasing Allroad falls somewhere between the Avant station wagon and Audi's quite capable, less expensive Q5 sport utility. In that regard, it fills a niche in the lineup rather handsomely.

INSIDE TRACK: The road less trammeled.

autonews

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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