The Audi A6 Allroad is something of a strange car. Not strange in terms of looks, because it has a prettiness to it's toughened design, but strange in terms of it's positioning as a car.
It's something of a rare breed, combining the practicality of a conventional estate design, with the addition of drive-anywhere extras. It has a lower bodyline than an SUV, so it's not as dominating on the road. But you'll also find four-wheel drive, descent control and variable height suspension, which sets it apart from the vast majority of estates on the road.
At the same time, it maintains a level of luxury and premium sophistication that makes it as comfortable on the road as it is off. You should expect a premium experience too, as the Audi A6 Allroad starts at £43,450, and the model we tested, stuffed full of extras, will cost you £64,740. That's a lot of money, starting the Audi off at around £10k more than its cousin the VW Alltrack.
But it also falls into the price bracket that could see you contemplating premium estates from the likes of BWM or Mercedes, or SUVs across the range such as the Discovery.
Solid design, inside and out
There's something eye-catching about the Audi A6 Allroad. Estates typically lack the sleek lines of saloon cousins, and miss out on the sporty coupe looks that Audi does so well, but this is still a good looking car. With sharper lines running down the side, things are more angular than on previous A6 models.
The Allroad adds an extra level of trim to the A6. The most noticeable is the plastic finish that swells the wheel arches a touch. Then there's the stainless steel under-body guard, that's rather elegant, along with sills to beef things up, including illuminated Allroad detailing leaving no one in doubt about what they're getting into.
It's also capacious. Sit yourself in the back and there's plenty of legroom and headroom. Sure, it doesn't have the cabin space of big offroaders, but adults will be happy and comfortable in the rear and that tantruming 2-year-old in the backseat won't quite be able to reach the driver's seat to kick you in the back.
That runs into the boot too, with ample space for your luggage, and a nod to where this car might find itself driving, kitted out with the optional ski bag (that's a £210 option), which can be posted through the centre of the rear seats for convenience, rather than having to strap them to the roof.
The boot gives you 565 litres of space, a touch smaller than the Passat Alltrack, but large enough for most needs, and our test model featured the powered tailgate, an added convenience when struggling with luggage. It simply takes a press of the keyfob button, or the driver's door button, and the boot will open. Once loaded, a press of the button on the tailgate will see it close again.
On and off the road
The model we had on test was the A6 Allroad 3.0 TDI Quattro 245PS S tronic. That's the middle engine option for the Allroad, with the S tronic 7-speed gearbox. There's a lot of power on offer, taking this beast up to 62mph in 6.6 seconds.
That's only part of the equation, because it's paired with the auto gearbox and Audi's drive modes that change the way the car behaves fairly substantially. We suspect that many will stick to the Auto option most of the time, although you can choose from Allroad, Comfort, Efficiency and Dynamic, too.
These drive modes change the way the power is handled as well as the ride height, which is one of the key points about the A6 Allroad. Select that Allroad mode and the adaptive air suspension lifts the car, giving you greater ground clearance and more travel to soak up bumps and keep the wheels in contact with the ground, when tackling uneven ground.
Although we couldn't test it extensively offroad, we found that the raised body gives a comfortable ride on lumps and bumps and saves you from bone-crunching drops into holes.
Switch over to Dynamic and the car behaves differently. The ride is lowered and the gearbox switches later, giving you greater access to the full rev range. The car then behaves much more like you're driving a manual aggressively. It's great fun when you need that boost of power to accelerate quickly, but in normal town driving it's a little too frantic.
There's also a manual mode which allows you to change gears at will using the paddles behind the steering wheel. This is more likely to appeal to anyone who wants more precise and quick changes, perhaps on a winding mountain road.
Additionally, you can use the paddles to skip up and down the gears when in normal auto driving modes should you temporarily want to get more power - when overtaking, for example.
It all handles very nicely, with the flexibility to cater to your driving needs and that seems to be the point of the Audi A6 Allroad: you're not compromising on power or handling in getting a versatile vehicle. It doesn't wallow in the corners or give you a harsh ride either, because you can constantly change it to suit your requirements.
The cost though, comes in terms of fuel economy. On a 5-hour drive in Auto mode, that took in suburban driving and a swing through central London, we got 30mpg average. Taken to more regular driving in mixed conditions and we saw this rising into the mid-30s, motorway driving in Efficiency mode will see a better return, naturally.
A luxury tech bubble
Slip into the leather interior of the A6 Allroad - our review model had sports seats with Valcona leather in "titanium grey" - and it's every inch a luxury experience. The adjustable heated seats are wonderfully confortable and with the added memory function, you can have the car remember your preferred settings for the seat positions, climate control, mirrors and so on.
Heated seats keep your posterior warm, with the option of having heating in the back. Equally, not only can the front passengers enjoy individual climate control settings, but there's a four-zone option too.
With everyone perfectly comfortable, there's no shortage of other interior technology on offer. Audi's MMI system brings you connectivity, entertainment and navigation, at a cost, and when paired with the Bose sound system, you'll appreciate the audio quality whatever the source.
We say source, because there are plenty of options here too. There's a connector for your iPhone or iPod, Bluetooth, as well as options for CD or DVD drives. That's right, the central display can be used to play movies, but only when the vehicle is stationary. There are two SD card slots to add your own content, making the A6 Allroad something of a multimedia wizard, if you pay for the privilege.
Bluetooth will hook in your mobile phone for calling and music, but if you're using a telephone in the car a lot, you might consider putting your SIM into the slot in the centre console. You can then also turn your A6 into a mobile hotspot with the WLAN option, so you can share your data connection with others in the car - perhaps to surf on an iPad in the back while you drive.
Taking things further there's the option for a Bluetooth phone handset, so your passengers can make calls as you drive. Of course these options will cost you, but you can at least get what you want and it all works very well. The layout of controls is well thought out and the interface is intuitive and easy to negotiate.
The navigation system is pretty good, taking into account things like traffic, although we still prefer the experience that TomTom offers with its HD Traffic and smart IQ Routes. That said, navigation was clear, with the directions displaying in the centre of the driver's display, meaning you never really need to glance at the map in the middle of the car.
Watch those corners
Visibility from the driving seat is good, the seating position, like most estates, gives you good front visibility, but there's a proper blindspot on the driver's nearside. Glance over your shoulder before you change lanes and you'll see headrest, pillars and almost nothing of the road.
The wing mirrors are pretty large however so it's not too bad, but the additional side assist means the car can alert you to passing or nearby vehicles. This is conveyed via an orange light on the inside of the mirror housing, so as you look in the mirror before changing lanes, you'll see it's detected something. It's a system that seems to work, although it feels like the last line of defence. We're reluctant to change from using our own eyes when it comes to manoeuvring.
But it's difficult when Audi make it incredibly easy for you. We love the integrated audio options, we love the automatic wipers and lights, but that's familiar technology. The parking systems, however, feel a little more like some sort of witchcraft.
Front a rear parking sensors will give you the normal audible warning when trying to slot the car into a space, but the top down view is something else. This clever system will map the area all around the car, so you can see yourself on the road. It's not a representation, it’s a live image, so as you reverse into a space, you can see how close you are to the neighbouring vehicles, as well as how well spaced you are between the lines.
But you can change the view too, so you can have front and rear cameras, with guidelines as you turn the wheel, or you can view the front or rear corners. It's difficult not to be impressed, but it's an option that will cost you £530 extra.
There's no doubt that the Audi A6 Allroad is an impressive car but we get the feeling that you have to really want that Allroad ability to part with the cash, as you can spec-up a regular A6 Quattro and adaptive air suspension as well. But once you've done so, the prices aren't too dissimilar.
Certainly, if you want a 4WD vehicle, there are cheaper ways to go about it. But what you're paying for in the A6 Allroad is a premium on-road experience and a capable and comfortable off-road experience too. On the road it doesn't feel compromised. Off the road it's not going to have the reassurance of a higher, shorter 4WD vehicle, but then this isn't designed to dominate green lanes; we can't help feeling it's going be spotted on the verges of muddy rugby pitches, or parked on a drive next to a Land Rover Defender.
But then the A6 Allroad is also different. It's something of a statement, setting you aside from the other A6's on the road. The question is whether you can detach yourself from the mysterious status symbol of the premium SUV and opt for an estate that will do it all.