The fourth generation Audi A6 allroad shows that compromise is far from a dirty word. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
It's hard to think of a better 'one car fits all' solution than Audi's A6 allroad quattro. It's presentable in any situation and as at home in the city as it is blasting across continents or slogging its way along dirt tracks. What's more, it'll do all this in any weather, in total comfort and with some style. That much we already knew about this model. This fourth generation version though, improves the concept further, with sleeker style, extra space, high-tech cleverness and greater efficiency from a mighty range of six cylinder engines that now feature the brand's latest mild hybrid technology. It is, in short, a smarter choice for those who need occasional off road traction and all-weather capability.
Back in the year 2000, the original A6 allroad was introduced merely as a stop-gap until Audi could introduce its Q7 large SUV. Back then, that original A6 allroad was then - and basically is now - an Audi A6 Avant estate with clever air suspension for limited off road ability and a little more styling attitude. A simple enough idea you might think, except that at the time of this brilliantly executed model's launch, no one else had thought of it. Even so, fast-forward a decade or so and you might wonder why this car is still with us - three further generations having made the British market, the MK2 model of 2006, the MK3 model of 2012 and this MK4 design, introduced in 2019. Audi has, after all, long since properly plugged the SUV-shaped gap in its line-up with its various Q-series crossover models.
But almost any brand can sell you an SUV these days. This A6 allroad, in contrast, remains a largely unique proposition, copied in concept by other premium rivals (principally the Volvo V90 Cross Country and the Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain) but never bettered in execution. While other SUV-style all-wheel drive estates - including Audi's own smaller A4 allroad - offer nothing more than plastic body cladding and a marginally higher ride height, this one does the job properly, with an air suspension system able to raise the car height enough to give it real off road ability. Such has always been the A6 allroad's appeal, the car of choice for the clever few who realise they don't need a hulking great off roader for the style of sensible SUV-ness. And in fourth generation guise? Well, the recipe's been further refined, with a more powerful range of more efficient 3.0-litre V6 engines and enough high technology to satisfy the most committed technophobe. So much is different. Yet the reasons you might want one of these remain just the same.
One thing this latest A6 allroad isn't short of is power - and these days it's delivered with a bit of eco responsibility thanks to Audi's latest MHEV 48-volt mild hybrid electrified engine technology. Even the entry level 45 TDI variant fronts up with 231PS, plus a huge torque figure of 500Nm from its 3.0-litre diesel engine. Alternatively, there's an even more powerful 50 TDI version of this powerplant with 286PS and 620Nm. The small percentage of customers who want a petrol-powered engine are catered for in the shape of the 55 TFSI model's 340PS 3.0-litre TFSI unit. The two diesels use an 8-speed tiptronic auto transmission; the petrol powerplant has a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto gearbox. Either way, there's obviously quattro permanent four-wheel drive, but these days you can no longer have it with an optional low range gearbox, as was possible with early generation A6 allroad models.
The adaptive air suspension system is this A6 allroad model's signature feature, combining air suspension with controlled damping. It adjusts the ride height depending on the road speed and the mode you've set in the Audi drive select driving modes system. For ordinary tarmac use in 'auto' and 'comfort' modes, this go-almost-anywhere 4WD estate will set off at the standard ride height, giving you a ground clearance of 139mm, which is then actively adjusted according to speed. At motorway speeds of above 74mph, the ride height is lowered by 15mm.
For light off road surfaces in your A6 allroad quattro, you'd set off in the 'select' system's dedicated 'offroad' mode, which covers speeds up to 49mph, at which point the body will be set 30mm higher than the normal ride height. But let's say you've then a stretch of quite gnarly off road track to cover - the kind of thing that would damage a conventional A6 Avant, or any similar large executive estate model. For that, you'd activate the adaptive air suspension system's 'lift' setting, which you can implement at speeds of up to 22mph and which adds another 15mm to the ride height, raising the ground clearance 45mm above the normal position. Hill Descent Control and 'Tilt Angle Assist' systems are also included - and mean that you can get surprisingly far in this car off the beaten track. A display on the centre-dash MMI monitor shows the terrain you've covering and the car's current tilt angle in longitudinal and transverse directions. And the car can tow up to 2.5-tonnes.
Audi has tried to make the fourth generation version of this A6 allroad model look a little more striking. It's certainly quite a large piece of Teutonic automotive real estate, measuring in at 4.95 metres long, 1.90 metres wide and 1.50 metres high. And pretty imposing in terms of its pavement presence too. The wide, low Singleframe grille with its vertical aluminium struts signals intent at the front end and, as with other A6 variants, is flanked by piercing LED headlamps.
In profile, you notice the raised ride height - and the special body attachments that emphasise this rugged Avant model's extended capabilities. Aluminium-look underbody cladding provides additional protection, plus there are wheel arch trims finished in contrasting 'scandium grey' and allroad-specific roof rails to emphasise this car's leisure-orientated remit. At the rear, there's a skidplate-style panel for the lower bumper to hint at this car's surprising off road capability; this - and the band between the LED rear tail lamps - will be finished in aluminium-look in the Sport model - or in black in the top Vorsprung-trimmed version.
Inside up front, the cabin is as well appointed as you'd expect from a range-topping A6 model, with leather-and-alcantara-combination upholstery and impeccable fit and finish, plus most buyers will want this Audi Virtual Cockpit instrument binnacle digital display. Media features are taken care of by the usual black panel MMI twin-screen system on the centre stack that now features in all top-line Audis, with a 10.1-inch screen for infotainment functions up top and a smaller 8.6-inch display (mainly for climate features) just below.
Thanks to this car's long 2.93-metre wheelbase, the back seat offers reasonable space for three adults, but much more comfortable room for two and you get a fold down centre armrest with storage and cup holders. Out back in this estate model there's a 565-litre boot; if that's not enough, the 40:20:40-split rear bench can be flattened using cargo area levers to reveal a 1,680-litre space.
Prices for the A6 allroad sit in the £53,000 to £73,000 bracket and there's a choice of either 'Sport' or 'Vorsprung' trim levels. Either way, this allroad model commands quite a premium over an equivalently-trimmed and engined model in the conventional A6 Avant range - around £7,500. As before, these figures pitch this car roughly in-between its only two direct market competitors. It's slightly pricier than a Volvo V90 Cross Country. But a fraction more affordable than a rival Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain. For the money Audi's asking, you do of course get a lot of intricate engineering, including of course quattro all wheel drive and this car's signature touch, its adaptive air suspension system. And a lot of luxury kit too - basically all the executive features you'd expect to find on a large estate at this price point.
The interior is available in three colours - black, pearl beige and okapi brown. The seats are upholstered as standard in leather and Alcantara. Alternatively beige and brown tones as well as the stylish perforated Valcona leather grade are also available. As an alternative to the standard inlays in 'aluminium dyade' and 'Jangal silver', there are two wood variants. And there's a paint range with eleven colours, including an allroad-specific shade of 'gavial green', which takes its cue from the specific colour of the first model in 1999.
The engines and running gear have benefited from Audi's latest raft of technical mild hybrid improvements. The 48-volt MHEV set-up comprises a 'BAS' belt alternator starter and a lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 10Ah housed in the vehicle floor beneath the luggage compartment. The BAS is connected to the crankshaft. During deceleration it can recover up to 8kW of power, which it then stores in the lithium-ion battery. When the driver accelerates again, the BAS reacts instantly by restarting the engine. MHEV technology allows for start/stop operation from a speed as low as 13mph. Thanks in part to the integration of the mild-hybrid system and the vehicle sensors, the S models realize a fuel saving of up to 0.4 litres in real driving conditions and can coast for up to 40 seconds with the combustion engine deactivated.
So how much difference does all of this make? Well, Audi claims a WLTP-rated combined economy figure of 37.7mpg for both diesel A6 allroad variants, the entry-level 45 TDI and the top 50 TDI, with WLTP-rated emissions in each case pegged at a respectable best of 195g/km of CO2. Even the muscular 55 TFSI petrol model will see a combined WLTP fuel figure of 31.4mpg which, to put it into some sort of perspective, is better than that returned by the original 2.5 TDI diesel A6 allroad. Given that you've got almost double the power under your right foot, it speaks volumes about how far efficiency has improved in the space of a decade. The 55 TFSI variant's WLTP-rated CO2 figure is up to 204g/km. What else? Well the last A6 allroad model's residual values were always very encouraging and there's no reason to see why this current car shouldn't follow suit. As we've hinted at, it's important to keep your options spend in check in order for the car's pence per mile running costs to remain reasonable.
British roads are routinely rated as the worst in Western Europe and made worse by an average of 184 wet days every year, mostly throughout winters that climatologists claim are set to get more unpredictable, with higher likelihoods of snowfall. High fuel prices and spiralling taxation rates make that a difficult challenge to meet in an SUV. So an all-wheel drive estate car with elevated ride height that's right for the rough, efficient to operate and beautiful to ride in seems to be the perfect car for well-heeled British families.
A6 allroad buyers are apparently the most affluent of any of Audi's customers, so it makes sense perhaps that they're also amongst the cleverest, amongst the few choosing a car with four-wheel drive for what they actually need it to do, rather than buying into vague perceptions of safety and social standing. There are other biggish, plush estates that offer limited off road ability of course, but without the clever air suspension that really makes this car work in that respect, these can seem very pretentious and contrived.
No, if you want the occasional benefits of better ground clearance and off road traction without the usual clunky dynamic downsides. If you can do without the image, expense and bulk of a fully-fledged SUV. And if, in summary, you want to make a sensible lifestyle statement, then we can't think of a much better way to do it.