Americans are smart people. Avoid the word “wagon” in favor of “Avant,” and they still see a wagon. And don’t buy it. So for 2013 there are no more Avants for us. Instead, the “allroad” is back. Audi promises that it’s more than just a fancy name.
The original allroad differed quite a bit from the A6 Avant. Terribly late to the SUV party, Audi took a midsized A6 wagon and flared the fenders, widened the track, raised the ride height, and fitted an over-engineered height-adjustable air suspension that rendered the 2001-2005 allroad both more capable of venturing off the pavement and less capable of staying away from the dealer. Unlike in the Avant, a manual transmission was available. Between a 250-horsepower turbocharged V6 borrowed from the S4 (and not offered in the Avant) and a 4,167-pound curb weight (a gain of 100 kilos), the SUV-like wagon’s EPA ratings were an SUV-like 15 city, 20 highway (14/21 with the manual). When the Q7 SUV finally arrived, Audi dropped the allroad from its U.S. line.
Now, after a seven-year hiatus, the allroad is back. Or is it? The new one is based on the A4, not the A6. Audi refers to the new car and last year’s A4 Avant as “cousins,” but the DNA suggests a much closer relationship. Both cars have the same, single powertrain option, a 211-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine driving all four wheels through a manually-shiftable eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s no S-worthy six and no available manual transmission. Also no air suspension, though the fender flares (second tone standard, body color an extra grand), wider track (from the S5 coupe), and suspension lift (by 1.5”) reappear. Oh, I almost forgot: the allroad also gets a bespoke chrome grille and fascia-mounted stainless steel skid plates, “giving you the right kind of armor to help battle even the toughest backcountry roads.” The interior appears identical to that in the A4, typical tasteful Audi fare.
Audi suggests that, despite the platform and powertrain downgrades, the new allroad comes pretty close to the old one. Its cars have been growing with each redesign, so the current A4 isn’t too much smaller than the A6 two generations back. Your eyes will report otherwise. The original allroad felt like a midsize car inside. The new one feels like a compact, especially in the back seat, where both shoulder room and legroom are down by a couple of inches. Cargo volume with the second row folded suffers the most dramatic cut, from 73.2 cubic feet to 50.5.
Audi is on firmer ground with powertrain performance. Peak horsepower might be down, but so is curb weight, to 3,891 pounds. Meanwhile, midrange power is about the same (peak torque is 258 pound-feet for both the previous car’s V6 and the current one’s four) and the automatic transmission picks up three ratios. The 2013 car feels a little winded passing on an uphill in the Colorado mountains, but then so would the original. (Audi apparently selected the route for ambiance, not for showing off its powertrains.) The 2.0T feels fairly energetic near sea level in the A4, and it should feel much the same in the new allroad. The various changes do strongly benefit fuel economy, which the EPA rates 20/27. (Audi notes that the new car does as well in the city as the old one did on the highway. They don’t note that the discontinued Avant managed 21/29.)
I personally prefer compact cars to midsize ones, as they can feel much more agile. Despite a strong supercharged V6, the latest A6 is too large to play. The problem with the allroad is that a higher ride height tends to harm handling. Well, forget that tendency. The new allroad drives very much like the A4, too heavy and mature to qualify as tossable but carving the mountain roads with a solid structure, no slop, moderate roll, and good balance. The all-wheel-drive system’s default 40/60 rearward bias contributes to the last. Consider my fears unfounded and my expectations exceeded. The steering, as in all of Audi’s “B-segment” cars for 2013, gets its assist from an electric motor rather than a hydraulic pump. For better or worse, the new system feels very similar to the old one, with moderate heft and good weighting but minimal feedback. The standard seats lack lateral support, but a $500 “sport interior” option fixes this.
The 2012 A4 Avant started at $37,275. The 2013 allroad starts at $40,495. The “Premium Plus” package added $4,600 last year but adds $3,300 with the new car (because 18-inch wheels and rain-sensing wipers are standard), leaving a difference of just under $2,000. (Which might explain why the Avant is gone and the allroad is back.) Google Earth-based nav (which includes WiFi hotspot capability and moves the MMI knob from the center stack to a much more ergonomic location on the center console) adds another $3,050. A decade ago, the original allroad listed for about the same price when equipped similarly (but with a few more inches, a couple more cylinders, and the trick air suspension). Checking all the boxes on the 2013 (B&O audio, layered wood trim, sport seats, 19” wheels, adaptive cruise, active steering) takes the sticker all the way up to $56,695.
Seeking something more the size of the original allroad? Well, Volvo offers the XC70 (but no longer the V70) for about $3,200 less when both cars are fitted with heated leather seats and 18-inch wheels (based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool). The bigger, softer, heavier Swede doesn’t handle as well as the Audi, and won’t go as far on a gallon of gas (18/24), but its roomier interior includes some primo front seats. Best of all, for a mere pittance ($200!) you can literally boost the inline six-cylinder engine from 240 horsepower to 300.
The original Audi allroad acquired something of a cult following. This won’t be happening with the new one. It’s a good car, but not a special one. Then again, Mom always admonished the intended market against joining a cult. Perhaps good is good enough, and the SUV stylings will actually sell more wagons. Though it didn’t stand out in any particular way, the “right sized” allroad looked and felt the ideal tool for a round trip between Denver and the posh mountain resort.
Audi provided insured and fueled cars, airfare, deluxe accommodations, an abundance of gourmet food, all we cared to drink (a single beer in my case), and a gift that contained the press kit (since regifted to a reader).
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.