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Click to view picture gallery“Audi’s latest Allroad
  quattro estate is now
  even more stylish and
  even more luxurious.
  With a sleek five-door
  estate body, quattro
  four-wheel drive and
  dual on/off road
  capability, it’s a refined
  lifestyle multi-tasker
  that’s perfect for the
  discerning driver...”

MANY PEOPLE GUESSED — wrongly, as it happens that Audi's mighty Q7 SUV 4x4 would sideline its lifestyle on/off road five-door estate, the A6-derived Allroad. Not so. Due to popular demand historically, the Allroad accounts for 20 per cent of A6 Avant sales the Allroad is back. And this second-generation successor is even better all round.

Longer and wider, the all-new, more road-biased A6 Allroad sits neatly between the A6 Avant quattro and the Q7. Audi says it's a logical placement, as the premium 'all-road' estate and full-size SUV appeal to very different customers with markedly different requirements: Allroad drivers, according to Audi, are self-made, successful and seek less attention; regular SUV drivers, however — those likely to purchase the bigger Q7 — don't mind flaunting their success.

Allroad customers have a choice of four engine options beginning with the 33,530 'entry-level' 178bhp 2.7 V6 TDi. A 230bhp 3.0-litre V6 TDi is also available, priced at 34,890. If you prefer to put unleaded in your tank, then you can choose between a 252bhp 3.2 or 345bhp 4.2 FSI petrol engine. Although the majority of customers opt for the 2.7-litre TDI, for just a little more money — and barely any penalty at
the pumps — the 3.0-litre TDI unit gives noticeably more 'grunt' or pulling power. Not only does this unit feel more responsive, but it copes effortlessly with high on-road speeds. So that's what we've reviewed here — the 3.0 TDi, fitted with Audi's smooth-shifting six-speed Tip-tronic automatic transmission with Dynamic Shift and Sport programs.

With quattro permanent all-wheel drive, five-mode adjustable air suspension and adaptive damping and off-road capable ESP (pressing the ESP button once activates an off-road mode that better suits the lower speeds and different hazards encountered when driving off-road), the Allroad has the 'JIC' factor — Just In Case we need to go off-road/or it snows/or the ice-caps melt — nicely covered.

Style-wise, the new Allroad wears a much snappier look, one that is visibly 'harder-edged' than the A6 Avant upon which it is based. The Allroad leads from the front with a chrome-effect vertical-barred ren-dition of the deep, trapezoidal Audi grille. As on the superseded
Allroad, the new model wears strongly-defined, flared plastic wheelarch extensions — our test car's were nicely colour-coded, which adds a stylish yet smartly subtle slant — along with extended aluminium sills and stainless steel skidplates that overlap the lower edges of the front and rear bumpers. In fact, these shiny, almost jewel-like front and rear scuff plates look far too smart to take off road. In a sense, they serve to define the new model's more lifestyle-oriented role.

The beauty of driving one of these comparatively rare new Allroads — Audi are only bringing in around 900 Allroads in 2007 and 800 in 2008 — is that they combine luxurious on/off road ability with estate car per-formance and economy. Equally important, they do so without appear-ing either conspicuous or 'anti-social'.

Audi interiors are now widely acknowledged as being the best in the business in the premium segment and the Allroad's cabin is no ex-ception, proving to be an appealing mix of first-class ergonomics, classy design and top-quality materials. Think laid-back 'luxury' and
you have it in one. Fit and finish is first-rate and the cabin looks set
to still be as good looking a hundred thousand miles down the road.
Not only that, but the Allroad's driver's information management system — Audi's 'Multi-Media Interface' or MMI — is without doubt the easiest to use of any you can buy.

Our test car came with a number of 'must-have' optional extras that included the Tipronic transmission (1,400), metallic paint (600), Sports seats (450), luxury pack with leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear acoustic parking system and interior lighting package (1,250) and full-blown 7-inch colour-screen DVD-based SatNav with six-disc CD auto-changer (3,100). For the record, a CD-based 6.5-inch monochrome SatNav costs 1,350.

Other goodies included a DAB digital radio for outstanding sound clarity and increased station availability (345), 18-inch 10-spoke alloys
with all-terrain tyres (1,100), Audi's camera-aided advanced parking system which provides a video image of the view aft on the MMI screen (950) and a 330 Watt Bose surround sound system (575).
A full body paint finish (colour-coded wheelarches and bumpers) adds another 550 and folding, auto-dimming door mirrors along with an auto-dimming rear view mirror costs 360.

While the standard specification is pretty comprehensive — all the executive essentials that today's drivers have come to expect — and would be perfectly easy to live with, it's amazingly easy to spend another 10K on personalising your Allroad. Not that you'd regret it for one moment!

While the Allroad comes with premium space, space is not at a pre-mium. The load bay area is large, which means 560 litres seats up and a cavernous 1,660 litres with the seats folded down. A load-through hatch is standard. Accessibility is fine too, thanks to a wide load
bay opening (1.05 metre through-loading width), tall roof and high-lifting tailgate. There's also a customisable load packaging system for securing cargo in just about any configuration you want.

The load floor can also be folded up and locked in a variety of positions to further divide up the load area — handy to prevent heavier objects from sliding around. In addition, there's a lower load area in the boot floor containing a large plastic tray that's perfect for unsociable para-phernalia such as muddy boots. Passenger space is equally generous. Seating — leather, naturally — up front is emphatically first-class. The contoured seats can be adjusted 'any which way' and their pronounced side bolstering offers well-placed support. They also provide manually adjustable thigh support as well as electric lumbar support. And yes, they are very comfortable to travel in. The rear passenger compart-ment is extremely accommodating, and three adults can lounge back there in real comfort — without so much as a whimper on longer trips.

Thanks to the sporty seat and a generous amount of rake and reach adjustment for the four-spoke, multi-function steering wheel, the Allroad's driving position is A1. Easy-to-use shift paddles are mounted on the horizontal bars of the wheel for operating the Tiptronic's manual side — particularly useful for overriding D when a swift down change will provide useful engine braking, or to drop to a lower gear for a quick burst of overtaking. Adding to driver comfort is a highly-effective dual-zone climate/AirCon system and, for chillier times of the year, brilliant 6-setting heated seats that warm you in the places other heated seats never do. Automatic 'drive-off' central locking and Audi's impressively user-friendly Multi-Media Interface ensure time spent behind the wheel is always a pleasure.

There are plenty of places to store oddments in the cabin, including
a case for your glasses in the roof, sizeable door pockets and two
hidden but very handy cubby/drawers in each front seat base. The clear instrumentation is set dead ahead of the driver in two tear-shaped clusters, and added convenience is provided by power-fold door mirrors and four electric windows that all feature automatic one-shot up/down operation. Another neat touch is the centre front arm-rest. The lid can be folded back through 180 degrees to serve as an occasional, if small, table for the rear passengers.

One of the Allroad's strongest qualities is the responsive and refined TDi powerplant fitted under the bonnet. So refined is the diesel sound-track, and so muscular the torque at low to mid revs (450nm between 1,400 and 3,250rpm), that even drivers who usually sit behind a petrol engine will find it hard to justify not switching to an oil-burner.
Audi's slick, six-speed Tiptronic automatic proves to be the perfect partner. It works effortlessly with the liberal torque to deliver thrusting acceleration on demand, seamlessly going about its business in a manner that is not only impressive but which makes for fluid progress whether you're carving through city traffic, cutting across country or coasting along the motorway on the family holiday.

While the Tiptronic can be entrusted with the gear changing, the driver can shift manually simply by pushing the selector lever to the right — 6-5-4-3-2-1 appears on the display, with the currently selected gear highlighted in colour. Up and down shifts are made by nudging the lever forwards or backwards. Alternatively, the steering wheel 'paddles' will do the job and you won't need to take your hand off the wheel.

The dynamic shift programme is self-adapting and adjusts automatically to your current driving style: so, drive hard and it will use a more 'sporty' set of shift programmes with delayed upshifts and downshifts at higher engine speeds to make full use of engine power. Drive smoothly, however, and the DSP will change up early and delay down-shifts for better fuel economy. Whatever your driving style, the system works flawlessly. There's also a dedicated Sport setting for spirited driving.

As for the Allroad's performance, its 143mph top speed and 7.8 second 0-62mph acceleration should be more than enough for most owners. Fuel consumption is an added bonus, with the official figures suggest-ing a best of 40.4mpg for touring and 32.1mpg combined. Some relaxed — and very relaxing — motorway driving saw 36.7 on the trip computer while our test average came out at a creditable 31.7mpg. And you don't have to be a dyed-in-the-wool diesel-lover to appreciate all of that. Definitely worth a mention is the Allroad's accelerator — it's progressive action makes doling out the masses of torque on tap a very smooth business indeed, unlike some diesel units that call for an all-or-nothing technique.

Yet another invaluable feature is the automatic/manually-adjustable air suspension system that offers five ride-height modes with the highest (Lift) providing 185 millimetres of ground clearance for difficult terrain where less talented estates wisely fear to tread. At speeds above 22mph the Lift setting automatically lowers the vehicle by 10mm and switches to the Allroad mode, intended for unsurfaced roads and dirt tracks.

The three 'civilised' ride settings do all that their names imply: Comfort provides comfort. Dynamic is the equivalent of sports suspension. It lowers the car for a fluent, composed ride that, allied to real grip and handling feedback, makes for a more dynamic driving experience. Trying to decide between Automatic and Comfort is not easy: both are ideal for everyday driving, coping fluently with just about all everyday road surfaces and serving up a very good low-speed ride.

The only difference is that in the Auto setting the Allroad's ride height is lowered when 75mph is exceeded, whereas this doesn't happen in Comfort which also keeps the damper settings relatively soft to maxim-ise comfort. The ride, even with the larger optional 18-rims (which on many cars, but not the Allroad, come at the expense of compromised ride comfort) is fine.

Selecting the ride mode is as simple as pressing the large MMI control knob, and is made via the 'Car' menu of the Multi-Media Interface
that centrally controls many of the car's functions, sited just behind the selector lever. Due to the place for a traditional handbrake being occupied by the MMI control panel, an electro-mechanical parking brake is fitted on the centre console operated by a simple pull/push switch.

Left to its own devices in the Automatic suspension mode, the road-focused Allroad is a smooth operator and it takes a pretty big pothole to make itself known in the cabin. In either Automatic or Comfort mode the ride is more than good enough to indulge in some energetic driving — although obviously Dynamic is even better — and the Allroad will hang in there securely, demonstrating just how well the quattro system sharpens up the handling.

Overall, the Allroad's blend of on- and off-road abilities give it a serious advantage over most of its rivals in a variety of adverse conditions including snow, sticky mud and rutted tracks. And even some light-hearted rock-hopping. Enhancing its ability to venture beyond the con-fines of normal tarmac are generous approach and departure angles (18.3 and 21.5 degrees) and a maximum fording depth of 30 centi-metres (12 inches). In fact, it can pretty well handle all the off-road challenges the majority of drivers will ever encounter.

The Allroad's steering uses a hydraulic rack-and-pinion system with speed-sensitive Servotronic power assistance. While it doesn't deliver 'sports car' feel, it weights up nicely and steers accurately — enough to generate satisfaction when you're pressing on. Whatever you ask
of it, the Allroad really does feel 'planted' even in really evil weather conditions. The brakes — discs all round; ventilated at the front —
are utterly reassuring if a bit sharp on the take-up on first acquaint-ance. As you'd expect, they are backed up by ABS with Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution and high-tech traction and stability control systems.

Safety is equally well covered and includes the quattro permanent four-wheel drive, which doubles as a self-levelling device enabling a high payload of 630kg as well as a useful 2.1 tonne braked towing ability. The Allroad's ESP also features a special trailer function.
Other safety features include active front head restraints, two-stage driver and front passenger airbags, Isofix child-seat mountings (front passenger and outer rear seats), front passenger seat airbag de-activation, side airbags for driver and front passenger and a head airbag system to protect the front and rear outer passengers.

This latest-generation Allroad has a lot going for it. It's an accom-plished all-rounder for all roads and wears an undeniably desirable badge, one that's equally as coveted as Mercedes and BMW. Viewed from both the inside and out, it's a high quality piece of kit. The fact that it's only available in limited numbers can only boosts its cachet.

Better still, its blend of on- and off-road performance enables it to offer the best of both worlds; well-bred workhorse and luxury estate. Beyond that, it's satisfying to drive; cosseting, quiet and quick. Having driven one critically for a week, it's hard to think of any reason why you wouldn't want to own one. Which is why 'For' is a long list and 'Against' we have to answer "Not a thing". And it's not often you can say that about any vehicle.

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Audi A6 Allroad quattro 3.0 TDi | 34,980
Maximum speed: 143mph | 0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 31.7mpg | Power: 230bhp | Torque: 332lb ft

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