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Audi A6 Allroad

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Audi A6 Allroad 3.0TDI Car Review | 1 March 2006

Driven April 2006

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Marketing spiel, a highly virulent virus in the motoring industry, is in mercifully short supply on the launch of the all-new Allroad. 

Perhaps this has something to do with a new, no-nonsense approach to selling cars at Audi. Or perhaps, more likely, there's just precious little scope for bullshit with a product like this. 

In the initial stages of the press briefing there's a modest portion of mumbo-jumbo about the car's multi-faceted ability, and later that night, one of the Germans lumbered with the tricky task of pitching the Allroad to a cynical British hack mumbles something into his gazpacho about an executive niche. 

But Audi has spared us any major lifestyle fanfare, and if you study the figures you can easily understand why. 

The old A6 Allroad, launched in 2000, managed to sell a paltry 6,151 units in the UK in its entire five-year life span. That, for those uninitiated in the murky world of automotive sales targets, is precariously close to the proverbial Fanny Adams. 

So the brutal truth is it's not terribly clear to whom the Allroad should be pitched. 

When you back an Audi exec into a corner over who will buy one in today's SUV-centric market, especially now that Audi itself has the fractionally more expensive Q7 to sell, the conversation gets a little stilted. 

The unfortunate reality is that the majority of people intent on buying a car with four-wheel drive are far more interested in the imposing ride height, perception of safety and lofty social standing of an SUV, than they are about good traction or off-road ability. 

And if it is just better road holding you're after, remember you can order a regulation A6 Quattro for a considerable saving. 

So what's going to convince anyone to buy the new Allroad? In all likelihood, very little more than what convinced 6,151 people to buy the old one. Which is not to say that it isn't a good car. 

In fact, for the right person, it's excellent. You get full-blown Audi build quality, the usual classy and understated interior, and the ability to increase the body's ride height by up to 65 millimetres more than a normal A6 Avant. 

Audi's adaptive air suspension is actually a very clever bit of engineering, offering five driving modes that are controlled from the on-board computer. You get Dynamic, which lowers the body to reduce drag and improve handling, Automatic, which is 15mm higher but lowers again when you're tanking it, and Comfort for cruising. 

For the rough stuff, Allroad mode whacks up the ground clearance to 175mm and lowers it incrementally according to the car's speed. The final stage is Lift, offering 185mm of manually operated, low-speed clearance, this time with no adjustment.

This also means you get a 300mm fording depth, a fantastic foil to any long-term global warming anxieties. 

This suspension comes at a price, however. The extra weight of all that high-tech gubbins means poorer fuel economy, slower acceleration and a lower top speed. And the Allroad feels loads more ponderous than an Avant when you sling it about, something that most people buying an estate over an SUV would hope to avoid. 

But the Allroad isn't for most people. It isn't even for some. It's for an odd bunch who need the occasional benefits of better ground clearance but don't want the image, expense and bulk of an SUV. People who probably are, in fact, on to something. Point being, the Allroad is all the SUV most of us will ever need. 

It still looks pretty imposing on optional 18 inch wheels with visible stainless steel underbody protection and flared arches, and new touches like the deeper grille and LED brake lights distinguish it nicely from the old car. 

It can handle all the off-road business the majority of drivers will ever encounter too, but it also goes and stops better than an SUV, and should take it easier at the pumps. 

Both 3.2-litre V6 and 4.2-litre V8 petrol engines are available, but judging by what this car is all about, expect the V6 diesels to be the big sellers. They offer the right balance of performance to economy, and the extra torque will better complement those off-road excursions. 

The 2.7TDI starts at £33,530, the 3.0TDI at £36,380, just undercutting the Q7. 

The Allroad can offer as much luxury as an SUV too. Think leather, Bose stereo upgrade and make sure you tick the superior six-speed tiptronic automatic gearbox option. 

It's a refined and comfortable cabin, faultlessly stuck together and certain to be just as durable as your average off-roader. But even then, it's a big case of caveat emptor. 

The old Allroad was bought as a status symbol by a hefty percentage of owners, but now the Q7's kicking around, the poser's brief is filled for Audi. Which means this second generation car might sell even fewer than the first. That's no mean feat. 

The sort of person who wants one now will be after something to meet a pretty unusual and exacting purpose. But at least they can be safe in the knowledge that it'll do just that, and in a polished and fairly understated fashion. 

Maybe Audi needs to market the Allroad harder, with more smoke and mirrors, because it is a strong product that should make more sense to a number of buyers than the cumbersome and ungainly Q7. 

But if us journalists out driving the Allroad have been spared the spin normally associated with the unveiling of a new car, it suggests that Audi knows there isn't much point. 

This is niche in the same way that dodgy top shelf magazines with blacked-out covers are niche. Not many people are going to buy them, but you know that the loyal few are going to absolutely love it. 

Matt Master

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