The new 2012 Audi A6 Allroad is an unusual brew of contradictions and adaptations. On the one hand, this model, now in its third iteration, is a darling of the Middle England red-trousered brigade, that most conservative of social sets.
Yet it is effectively a blinged-up A6 Avant, with chrome plastered everywhere (hardly the best material for off-road work), hung with plastic bumpers and guards redolent of desperate marketing departments tying to flog a few more units of dead horses (Altea Freetrack, Scenic RX4, City Rover Streetwise anyone?).
So why then, do the shooting set lust after an Audi A6 Allroad like a Yorskhire grouse moor on the Glorious Twelfth?
Well, for a start, it’s not one of those awful black-windowed SUVs new-moneyed people block market town streets with, while it has useful off-road ability, a spot of extra ride height and space for the dogs as well. And with a useful smear of mud, the sparkly chrome grille can be toned down a bit too.
The will be four engines on sale: two variants of the 3.0 TDI producing 201bhp and 241bhp, and the new BiTDI 397bhp diesel, as well as an utterly pointless 3.0-litre petrol engine, no doubt bound mainly for overseas markets. In the UK from next month priced from £43,145, the Allroad will reach customers here in the spring.
So is the new A6 Allroad just a trendily Barboured A6 Avant or something more usefully workmanlike?
There’s a lot more to the Allroad than a spot of cladding. All models will come with air suspension, which means it can be adjusted according to the mood of the driver and the speed of the car, hoicking up its girdle to give extra ground clearance of 45 millimetres for off-road driving, while squatting down at high speeds for a more slippery profile.
Underside stainless steel guards front and rear protect from damage, while there’s hill descent control and a system that tells you how steep the slope is you’re on, although if you have to ask, you perhaps ought not be there in the first place.
The permanent quattro four-wheel drive uses a mechanically self-locking centre differential and distributes torque to whichever axle can use it best. So it should be decently handy off road, but I’m afraid to report there was no chance during our drive in Germany to give it a go.
Generally, the 500 or so buyers a year of Alllroads have got a few quid and so the car comes with all sorts of bells and whistle options that could make this a very expensive car including head-up display, all the Googled internetty wi-fi things (including Google Earth sat-nav which looks cool but actually slows the system up to pre Gulf War accuracy), night vision for avoiding those pesky deer and some rather nice car mats which appear to have been made from sisal and can be found on Edwardian stair cases through the land.
And, although the Allroad perches 60 millimetres higher than the standard Avant, it actually looks much slinkier: the bumpers and side sills reduce the depth of those slabby metal sides. In fact, it looks very cool and oddly sexy, like one of those country girls in tweed miniskirt and Dubarry boots. Mmmm.
So how does the new Audi A6 Allroad drive?
In any way you like, it seems. The air suspensions system has a wide set of parameters: in Comfort and set up high it’s a horribly pendulous thing with no feel whatsoever through the wheel, but in Dynamic mode the body drops, hunkering down, and it will corner with more keenness than the standard A6. The steering remains defiantly indolent, but body control is decent, without the ride suffering terribly.
But the prize bull in this country show is the bi-turbo diesel, paired with an eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox. We’ve driven it before and been hugely impressed, and the same applies here. It pulls like a cidered-up young famer at a barn dance, and make the most extraordinary noise, thanks to its sound actuator - a speaker that exhaust gases pass through to create a bark like a performance petrol engine.
The lesser 241bhp diesel is likely to be the best seller (the lowest power wasn’t available to test) and is perfectly adequate too, but driving it had a rather after the Lord’s Mayors show feel to it.
It might be a bit flashier than the previous two generations, but the Allroad is a superb all-rounder for those rich country types, and less gauche than an SUV. Classy, adaptable, chunky and handsome, with a brilliant engine and some decent other ones. Time to buy some red trousers and Labrador, I think.