If you haven’t been paying attention to my life story (discretely woven into my reviews), I’ll spell it out clearly: I live in what is considered to be a temperate rainforest on the California coast, the nearest asphalt or concrete surface is over a mile away, and I have a deep (some say questionable) love for station wagons. If you combine this with liberal political leanings, my DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) status and a passion for Costco runs, I am the target market for an off-road wagon. Enter the 2013 Audi allroad. (No, for some reason “allroad” doesn’t get a capital letter.) Audi invited Michael Karesh to a launch event, event a few months ago, but what’s the XC70’s only competition like to live with for a week? Let’s find out.
If you remember the original A6-based (2001-2005) allroad, this isn’t it. That allroad remains a European delicacy not available on our shores. Instead we get the European A4 allroad (but we drop the A4 prefix in America) which replaces the A4 Avant as the only Audi wagon on sale in the United States. While the new allroad is a bit more than just a jacked up A4 Avant, it’s far less of a transformation than the A6 allroad. First Audi lifted the Avant by 1.5 inches to allow for 7.1 inches of ground clearance, then they borrowed the wider track from the A5 to compensate for the height increase. The added width meant the body was too narrow so they added some rugged plastic wheel arches. To to convince shoppers this is more than just a “jacked-up-station-wagon,” Audi fitted a baleen inspired front grille to the A4, because in Audi-speak cars have horizontal grilles and SUVs have vertical schnozes. Transformation complete.
While Audi butched up the exterior of the A4 for allroad duty, little has been done to the cabin. Inside we find the same A4 interior introduced in 2008. While the A4’s cabin was class leading in 2008 and it has aged well, it does show its age when compared to the newer Volvo and BMW interiors, especially in the black-on-black-on-black color scheme of our tester. While I found nothing wrong with the trappings, I found myself continually asking if the plastics that surrounded me were fitting of the $40,495-$57,170 price range. One thing is for sure, the camel leather and brown dash combination with oak wood trim make the interior a far more attractive place to spend your time.
The natural competition for a soft-roading wagon that will set you back 50-large is limited to the Volvo XC70 AWD which ranges from $35,450 to $54,754. Comparisons are tricky because the allroad has shrunk over the past 6 years going from an A6 to an A4 based wagon and the XC70 has grown from an S60 to an S80 wagon. As a result the allroad’s seats are more compact than the XC70’s Barcalounger-sized thrones, the difference is most obvious in the rear where the allroad has troubles swallowing four adults comfortably. The cargo situation is similar with the XC70 swallowing 33 cubes of widgets with the seats in place and 72 with the rear thrones folded while the allroad’s cargo hauling rings in at 27/50.
The Germans have cornered the market in joystick based infotainment systems since BMW first introduced iDrive in 2001. Since then Audi has been in a gadget arms race with the Roundel. Taken as a whole, MMI isn’t as intuitive as iDrive with more confusing menus and illogical button placement. While I’m sure you would get used to it over time, even after a week I found myself needing to stare at the array of buttons for way too long to find what I needed. See that little knob in the upper left of the picture above? That’s the on/off button, volume knob and track forward/backward toggle. You probably don’t want to know what happens if you spill your Slurpee on there.
On the flip side, MMI has probably one of the most advanced feature sets on the market thanks to their well-executed Google integration. While iDrive allows you to search for Google results (as do a number of other systems), MMI takes it a step further and overlays your traditional map images with Google satellite imagery and even allows you to zoom in and view Google Street View images so you can creep your neighbors. On the down side, the Google map function requires a $15-$30 a month subscription after the first few years for the built-in cellular modem, and when traveling at freeway speeds the system has troubles downloading maps fast enough to keep up leaving you with a blank screen at times.
Since the XC70 is the logical competition, a comparison to Volvo’s Sensus system is inevitable. Volvo’s system lacks the online data, app integration and Google snazz that MMI brings to the table, but it counters with a considerably easier to use system. Volvo’s screen size and graphic quality is easily on par with MMI and in sharp contrast to MMI, most of the system’s commands can be fully utilized via the steering wheel button which means you eyes are off the road less.
Nestled inside the “classically Audi” (read: long) front overhand is a 2.0L turbo charged four-cylinder engine. This 2.0L TFSI (in Audi speak) is a rework of the classic 2.0L turbo engine that Volkswagen and Audi have had on the books for a while. Despite having the latest in direct injection and variable valve timing tech, the engine puts out just 211HP. Thankfully torque is on par with the other entries in the Euro D segment at 258lb-ft from 1,500-4,200RPM. Sending the power to all four wheels is a ZF 8-speed automatic and Audi’s Quattro AWD system. Like many in the Audi lineup, this system is now programmed to send 60% of the power to the rear wheels under most situations. The rear bias delivers a driving feel more similar to a RWD vehicle than Quattros of the past.
Pitted against Volvo’s XC70, the allroad is livelier than Volvo’s base 3.2L inline six thanks to the turbo, the XC70’s curb weight and Volvo’s 6-speed automatic. Rather unexpectedly however, the XC70 T6 with 300 turbocharged horses and 325lb-ft of torque is the performance leader in this shoot out. If 300HP in your Swedish sled is insufficient, $1,495 will bump the T6 to 325HP and 354lb-ft. Volvo of course continues to use a FWD biased Haldex system to send power to the rear. While the system isn’t capable of sending more than 50% of the power to the rear wheels, this fifth-generation Haldex system spends more time than ever in AWD mode making the system’s FWD heritage unnoticeable in 99% of driving situations.
Don’t get too excited about those performance numbers from the Volvo just yet. When you’re out on the road the XC70 is faster in a straight line, dispatching 60 in 5.6 seconds (T6 Polestar) vs the allroad’s 6.3 second time, but the extra 261lbs, taller ride height and skinnier/higher profile tires mean when the road bends, you’ll be seeing the XC70 in the allroad’s rear view mirror. That being said, the allroad feels less confident out on the road than the XC70. Why? Mostly because that engine is hanging out in front of the front axle. The weight balance, coupled with the rear wheel bias makes oversteer and understeer close neighbors in the allroad. While I found the dynamics entertaining, even pleasing, I know a few drivers that found it disconcerting and preferred the XC70’s understeer-all-the-time dynamics.
Road noise and engine noise in the allroad were higher than I expected even on smooth roads. We can probably chalk this up to A4 platform’s age and the wide 245-width tires, but at these price points I expected things to be quieter. BMW’s new 2.0L turbo engine is a pinnacle of four-cylinder refinement, this is not something that can be said of the Audi mill which sent more vibrations into the cabin than a number of modern economy cars. This is another area where the XC70 comes out ahead as even Volvo’s anemic base engine is a smooth inline six.
Out on the trail, its obvious that Volvo and Audi’s missions were different. The XC70’s higher profile tires, 1.2-inch higher ground clearance and shorter front overhang meant that despite having an AWD system that many in the industry describe as “less sophisticated,” the XC70 is better equipped to handle mild off-roading than the allroad. When the road gets icy, the Haldex system is slower to respond than the Quattro’s always-engaged AWD system to send power front/rear but Volvo fights back with a traction control system, that was far more willing to send power left/right on either axle.
With a starting price of $40,495, the allroad is $3,200 more than the 2012 A4 Avant it replaced, $4,150 more than an XC70 3.2 and $395 more than the powerful XC70 T6. Audi’s premium pricing doesn’t just stop at the base points however. Should you want a nav system in your allroad, expect to shell out $46,795 for the Premium Plus trim with Audi Connect which widens the gap to $1,100 over the XC70 T6. Adjusting for feature content further widens the divide to between $2,590 and $4,595 in favor of the Swede. After a week with the allroad I was still unable to figure out who it is really for. Despite my rural lifestyle, I have never honestly felt the need for a jacked-up AWD vehicle that couldn’t tow 7,500lbs. When pitted against the Volvo competition, the Audi has trouble justifying a larger price tag due to an unrefined engine and reduced soft-road ability. If I lived in Europe, the allroad might make more sense to me (taking into account my love of wagons) but as it is, the allroad ends up being an expensive landing at the wrong airport. Maybe it really is time to say goodbye to the Euro wagon?
Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.4 Seconds
0-60: 6.3 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.9 @ 93 Seconds
Average Fuel Economy: 23.5MPG over 811 miles