► Fourth-generation dirt-friendly estate
► Based on latest A6 Avant with extra capability
► Choice of two V6 diesel engines
Now in its fourth generation, the Audi A6 Allroad sticks very closely to the original idea: roomy estate car with some extra off-road ability and (largely cosmetic) ruggedness. It’s generally worked a treat, and been one of the best Audis to own.
The idea hasn’t changed, but the world around it has. As well as facing more direct competition from other jacked-up estate cars, the Allroad has been literally overshadowed by the influx of SUVs, crossovers and high-rise coupes.
So, there are two big questions: does a dirt-capable estate like the A6 Allroad still make sense, and is this latest A6 Allroad still one of the best Audis?
Isn’t this just an image thing?
Not at all. In fact, this Allroad is the least ostentaiously different version ever. On its air suspension, it sits quite low to the ground when it’s parked. It has barely any of the plastic side cladding that traditionally draws a lot of flak from doubters. And the nose and tail have only the most rudimentary, easy-to-ignore traces of underbody protection. There are neat roof rails, and bespoke door sills and… that’s it. Compared to an SUV like the Q5, this all looks extremely modest and low-key. If you wanted to send out urban-cowboy signals, this wouldn’t be how you’d do it.
Similarly, inside there are few changes from any other A6. Same high-quality materials, same layout, same switches. The changes only become apparent in use, when there are extra modes to scroll through and extra features to help keep you in control off-road.
The changes from the regular A6 Avant are largely under the sleek skin. The quattro all-wheel-drive system has been tuned specially for the Allroad. It works in conjunction with sophisticated traction control to direct the right amount of torque to the wheels that will most benefit from it, depending on how you’re driving and the state of the surface.
Crucial to the new Allroad is the standard air suspension. As well as being exceptionally good at providing good ride quality on all sorts of surfaces, it also allows the car to be raised and lowered, manually or automatically, to give that crucial bit of ground clearance when needed, or take the car down closer to the road when you up the pace. It can go up to 45mm higher than an Avant. Rear-wheel steering is available as an option on the Sport version, or is standard with Vorsprung spec.
At the moment you get to choose between two engines, both 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 diesels mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The more powerful version, which we tested, makes 282bhp and 457lb ft of torque; the 45 version makes a still robust 228bhp and 369lb ft.
On the road
If you’ve driven a recent diesel A6, A7 or A8, you’ve already experienced the A6 Allroad driving experience. It’s smooth, refined, rapid and – like so many Audis – not terribly involving. The steering is easy and precise, rather than particularly engaging. The eight-speed automatic is slow in ‘Comfort’ mode to the point of being obstinate at times, too.
It’s calm, comfortable, grown-up and roomy front and rear, with a good boot space. We could have done without our test car’s optional 20-inch wheels, which we blame for the high-ish level of road noise.
The cabin is dominated by big infotainment screens, with physical buttons reduced to something like the viable minimum; it’s certainly too minimal for many tastes.
The engines both incorporate a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Seamlessly, with no extra input required from the driver, it captures surplus energy from braking and deceleration, stores it in a lithium-ion battery and deploys it to help out the diesel engine when needed, whether that’s when starting from a standstill or coasting at speed.
Off the road
We didn’t venture far off road, but far enough to establish that Allroad and Offroad modes, and the Hill Descent Control feature, work a treat at adjusting the suspension and power delivery to help keep you going where you’re pointing.
The ground clearance, when needed, is more than a match for many SUVs – and like them the Allroad’s on road-orientated tyres, so your off-roading will generally be pub and rugby club car parks, and the odd forest fire road, maybe a beach, rather than river crossings.
Audi A6 Allroad: verdict
There’s an argument that the A6 Avant has, over the years, been the heart and soul of the Audi line-up. And within that argument, there’s been a sub-argument that the Allroad is the best A6 Avant. Best in that it’s the most versatile, most comfortable, most relaxed, toughest and most distinctive looking.
Is that still a line worth pursuing? Maybe. It certainly still ticks those boxes. The doubt comes from two directions – one internal, one external.
The cabin is now so very, very slick and techy that it feels too smart and urban for the Allroad to make sense as a car to throw the muddy kids, filthy dog and leaking shopping into. And if you’re not going to carry on like that, why get an Allroad rather than a regular Avant?
The other challenge is the increased competition. Not so much from SUVs – they look, feel and behave quite differently. But look at all the other gritty estates: Cross Country versions of the V60 and V90 from Volvo, plus the Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain, Audi’s own smaller A4 Allroad, the eternal Subaru Outback, plus a couple of recently departed options, the VW Golf Alltrack and Skoda Octavia Scout. They’re none of them perfect, but they do all have great strengths and, in some cases, offer better value.