2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Introduction

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Introduction

What is it about a station wagon that douses American automotive enthusiasm like a pitcher of ice water spilled into the lap of a paramour? From the 1950s to the 1980s, the station wagon was the family vehicle of choice, offering practicality, prodigious cargo space, and yes, plenty of wood siding to parody. Wagon Queen Family Truckster, anyone?

But that was then. This is now. It’s been 23 years since the Ford Explorer made people think they needed a taller-riding, less efficient conveyance in which to cart around their offspring, and yet automakers can’t seem to sell station wagons unless they’re dressed up in an SUV costume. The latest example is the new 2013 Audi allroad, which, as you may recall, was known as the A4 Avant before its transformation into a crossover.

This isn’t the first time Audi has sold a vehicle wearing the Allroad nameplate. Previously, Audi dipped the larger A6 Avant into the rugged-looking-parts bin, creating the original Allroad. That car had an adjustable suspension, providing a modicum of actual off-road capability. The new Allroad doesn’t have one of those, but it does supply 7.1 inches of ground clearance, 1.5 inches more than the A4 Avant it replaces but 1.6 inches fewer than a Subaru Outback, itself a jacked-up station wagon masquerading as something else.

With a base price starting almost $4,000 higher than a loaded Outback 3.6R Limited, the Audi doesn’t compete directly against the model it mimics in terms of approach and philosophy. Rather, Audi pitches the Allroad against entry-luxury crossover suvs, and is already positioned as an alternative to the upcoming 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo well before the Bimmer goes on sale.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Audi Allroad is sold in Premium ($40,495, including the $895 destination charge), Premium Plus ($43,795), and Prestige ($49,695) trim levels. My test car was the Premium Plus model, with Ice Silver Metallic paint ($495), the Audi MMI Navigation Plus Package ($3,050), and Audi Advanced Key ($550), for a total of $47,870.

Highlights from the Allroad’s standard equipment list include power heated exterior mirrors, heated washer nozzles, aluminum roof rails, and stainless steel underbody protection. Additionally, the car is equipped with automatic climate control, leather, a panoramic power sunroof, and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD player and satellite radio.

Add Premium Plus trim, and the Allroad is equipped with several items that really ought to be standard on a $40,000 luxury car, like Bluetooth, a Homelink universal garage door opener, a driver information system, and an iPod connection. Additionally, the Premium Plus model has Xenon headlights, LED running lights, LED taillights, power folding side mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, a power liftgate, a triple-zone automatic climate control system, and heated front seats.

Prestige models include an Audi Multi-Media Interface (MMI) Navigation Plus Package including a hard-drive navigation system, a reversing camera, HD Radio, and Audi Connect with mobile Wi-Fi services. Additionally, the Allroad Prestige is equipped with a Bang & Olufsen audio system, an Audi Advanced Key passive entry system with push-button starting, adaptive headlights and Audi Side Assist blind spot monitoring.

Each model is offered with options that bring it closer to the next trim package in terms of content, as well as exclusive items that cannot be added to other models. Any Allroad can be upgraded with metallic paint, wood inlays, rear-sear side-impact airbags, and, with selected colors, a full paint finish that removed the gray exterior trim.

Premium Plus and Prestige models can be optioned with 19-inch aluminum wheels and a Sport Interior Package adding 12-way power front sport seats and a 3-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles. Options exclusive to the Allroad Prestige include rear side window sunshades and a Driver Assist Package with an adaptive cruise control system, Audi Drive Select technology, and dynamic steering.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Design

What’s New:

Unique grille with vertical chrome struts
Stainless steel skid plates and side sills
Aluminum raised roof rails
Matte Gray body trim
Circular dual exhaust outlets
Standard 18-inch aluminum wheels
Standard panoramic sunroof
Optional full paint treatment in white, silver, and black
Additional Alu-Optic cabin trim

The Audi A4 Avant was already a handsome vehicle, and the decorations designed to give the Allroad an off-roading personality make it more appealing. In fact, I think the Allroad possesses better-balanced proportions than the stubby Audi Q5 crossover, and the Allroad’s gray cladding lends a level of functionality appropriate for city life. I’m not the only person who likes the look of this car. During a week of tooling around Los Angeles suburbs, plenty of people took notice of the Allroad.

Like other Audi models, the Allroad’s interior looks upscale and, for the most part, it feels that way. The test car’s leather felt durable rather than soft, dried out instead of plush. I also noticed that the center console exhibited hollowness when thumped upon, something I don’t recall from other Audi models. My test car’s interior also rattled when the car was driven over rough pavement.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo

What’s New:

Raised suspension improves ingress and egress

One of the best things about the Audi Allroad’s raised suspension is that, compared to the old A4 Avant, it is much easier to get into and out of this car. Taller people still need to get their butts around the central door pillar when the driver’s seat is adjusted for people with 32-inch inseams or greater, but the extra vehicle height is really helpful when entering and exiting the Allroad.

The driver’s seat is quite comfortable, despite the stiff leather upholstery. Forward visibility is excellent, the tilt/telescopic steering wheel is good to grip, and the center console armrest slides forward and ratchets up for added comfort. It would be easy to spend all day behind the wheel of this car. All that’s missing are a ventilated seat option and, given that the Allroad is likely appealing to cold-climate dwellers, a heated steering wheel.

Rear seat legroom is snug, and the hard plastic seatbacks with attached storage nets don’t help matters. The seat itself sits high with plenty of thigh support, but with kids aboard, you can expect lots of kicking by little feet. Speaking of carrying kids, the Allroad’s upper child seat tether anchor is located very close to the back of an installed child seat, and this made it harder for me to secure the upper tether for proper safety.

A power liftgate is included for Premium Plus and Prestige models, opening to reveal a beautifully trimmed rectangular cargo area. Loaded to the ceiling, the Allroad carries 27.6 cu.-ft. of cargo with the rear seats in place, and 50.5 cu.-ft. of cargo with the rear seats folded down. Because the Allroad is not really an SUV, however, it is not offered with dark tinted rear privacy glass.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Features and Controls

What’s New:

New Audi Connect technology

Am I the only person who thinks it is dangerous to have so many frequently used controls arrayed on the center console, where visual reference requires the driver to completely remove his or her eyes from the road?

Granted, over time, it becomes easier to operate the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system’s 11 different hard keys and two knobs that are arrayed around the gear selector, but I would still prefer to have these located on the dashboard itself. Plus, I know from experience that all it takes is one spilled beverage from the immediately adjacent cupholders to render the MMI buttons useless. Audi, it is time to go touch screen, and I recommend looking to Chrysler for guidance. Otherwise, the Allroad’s control layout is reasonably easy to understand and use, though I think the trip computer could be simplified and clarified.

My test car was equipped with Audi Connect technology, which includes mobile Wi-Fi service for up to eight different devices, Google Voice Local Search, and Google Earth imagery for the navigation system. Zoom in on your house, and a view from 30 yards up is displayed on the MMI screen. Hope you don’t have anything “hidden” in the backyard.

If you can afford the 14-speaker, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system, buy it. It’s optional for the Premium Plus model, and standard on the Prestige model. My test car did not have this – and honestly, to my aging eardrums, the standard Audi Concert sound system was just fine – but previous experience with this componentry has me sold. It’s worth the cost of the upgrade.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings

What’s New:

No changes from A4 Avant

I understand that an adaptive cruise control system, and even adaptive headlights, might be optional on a car that costs more than $40,000 in basic specification. What I don’t understand is that a reversing camera is optional, and only if buyers upgrade to the Premium Plus trim level. Worse, the camera doesn’t offer any kind of rear cross-traffic alert technology. Audi does provide a blind-spot information system for the Allroad, but it is available only on the most expensive Prestige model. And Audi doesn’t offer a lane departure warning system of any kind on the Allroad, no matter how much you’re willing to spend.

These types of safety features are available on vehicles wearing price tags much lower than the Audi Allroad’s, and unlike some of the newer safety-related technologies, they’re actually useful. Reserving them for higher trim levels, or failing to offer them at all, is not acceptable at this price point.

2013 Audi Allroad Crash-Test Ratings:

According to the NHTSA, the 2013 Audi Allroad receives a 5-star rating for its ability to protect passengers in frontal-impact and side-impact collisions. The NHTSA has not rated the Allroad’s ability to resist a rollover accident, and so an overall score is unavailable. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not performed crash tests on the Audi Allroad.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

What’s New:

Electric steering

The 2013 Audi Allroad is equipped with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 211 horsepower at 4,300 rpm and 258 lb.-ft. of torque starting at just 1,500 rpm.

An 8-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to all four of the Allroad’s wheels through a Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and models equipped with the Sport Interior Package have paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel. For models without this option, manual gear changes are executed using the gear selector, which provides an intuitive pattern: tap up for an upshift, tap down for a rev-matched downshift.

Under normal driving conditions, the Allroad’s Quattro AWD splits motive force 40% to the front wheels and 60% to the rear wheels to help ensure a rear-drive bias in terms of driving dynamics. Audi claims the Allroad can sprint to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.

According to the EPA, the 2013 Audi Allroad is rated to get 20 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg in combined driving. I effortlessly averaged 23.7 mpg with an emphasis on highway driving.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions

At 3,891 pounds, the Audi Allroad feels heavier than I recall the A4 Avant feeling, but it tips the scales within 100 lbs. of the previous model. My Allroad lacked Audi Drive Select, so I couldn’t adjust the suspension, steering, and powertrain tuning to my preference; perhaps this is simply my reaction to the standard state of tune. Still, like other Audis, and German cars in general, the harder and faster you drive the Allroad, the more competent and capable it seems.

The turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is fantastic, providing plenty of torque across a broad rev range. Better yet, turbocharged engines are largely impervious to altitude, meaning the Audi Allroad feels just as strong at the ski resort as it does the beach.

The Allroad proved fuel efficient, too, thanks in part to an automatic transmission that upshifts rapidly and is hesitant to downshift unless the driver steps harder than normal on the accelerator pedal. A Sport driving mode makes the Allroad more responsive, and includes a manual shift program with downshift rev matching. Shifting is intuitive: Tap up for an upshift, tap down for a downshift. Shift paddles are included in the Sport Interior Package.

Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, featuring a 40:60 front-to-rear power split. When the car is driven aggressively, it’s easy to feel the rear-end dig in and power out of corners. In dirt, the Allroad leaps forward from a standstill, and actually supplies enough ground clearance and wheel articulation that it can go places a regular car can’t.

The Allroad’s extra ground clearance is just as useful in cities, where the suspension battles deteriorating concrete, the inset 18-inch wheels are less susceptible to curb rash, the front end is less susceptible to damage on parking blocks, and the gray body cladding protects against door dings. In these respects, the Allroad is a great choice for urban dwellers.

Standard suspension tuning provides a good mix of comfort and control. The car doesn’t lean excessively when tossed into a turn, but it does lean. Vertical and lateral body motion is nicely controlled, and the underpinnings do a decent job of communicating information from the road surface, providing the only communication the driver receives, come to think of it.

I say that because the Allroad’s speed-sensitive electric steering almost always feels artificial, light and twirly at low speed and heavy and firm at high speed, without an ounce of road feel. Pitch the car around a high-speed bend in the road, like one of the freeway flyover ramps where I live, and the system exhibits an unnatural stiffness off-center.

The Audi’s brake pedal is disappointing, too, grabby, often supplying poor modulation when driving around town. On an 80-degree testing day, the brakes perceptibly faded toward the end of a long, demanding downhill stretch.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts

Remember how I mentioned that a Subaru Outback 3.6R with every option costs thousands of dollars less than a base Audi Allroad? While I realize that the Audi is a “luxury” car and the Subaru is not, there’s nevertheless a difficult value proposition here, one underscored by the Allroad’s lack of standard and optional features. While I think the Allroad is a stylish, capable, and fun-to-drive alternative to the ubiquitous crossover SUV, it is also in desperate need of a technology upgrade to convince buyers that they’re paying a premium for more than just a set of shiny chrome rings on the grille.

2013 Audi Allroad Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons

Pros:

Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
Quattro all-wheel drive
Impressive fuel economy
Raised suspension
Driving position and seat comfort
Audi Connect technology

Cons:

Questionable value proposition
Controls should be on dashboard, not center console
Lacks modern safety technologies
Disappointing steering and brakes
Cabin rattles and hints of cost reductions
Unlike a real crossover, Allroad lacks rear privacy glass

Audi supplied the vehicle for this review

2013 Audi allroad photos by Christian Wardlaw

By Christian Wardlaw