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If you wanted to buy a Subaru Outback, but found the price too low, you might want to consider the 2013 Audi Allroad. Or, if you wanted a new A4 wagon and missed out on the 2012s, the Allroad would be your only choice.
The new Allroad takes the idea of an A4 wagon and butches it up just a little. The 18-inch wheels and a slightly lifted suspension achieve 7.1 inches of ground clearance, while steel underbody pans give the car some extra protection. But Allroad does not mean off-road, as this Audi lacks a few basics for serious wilderness work.
Although Audi's Quattro system comes standard, giving it advanced all-wheel drive, you won't be able to lock the differential to maintain power at all wheels. And while the traction control includes an off-road setting, the Allroad does not have descent control, forcing the driver to rely on the manual gear selection mode from the eight-speed automatic transmission.
While I was trying to coax it up a rocky slope, the all-season tires lost grip and no amount of Quattro could overcome the Allroad's predicament until I had reset its position, finding a more stable track.
Despite it not being equipped to tackle a cross-Sahara trek, the Allroad is an excellent all-purpose car. The wagon design gives it plenty of room for passengers and cargo. It shines as a suburban grocery getter, daily commuter, and weekend ski transport.
Built-in Street View
What really sets the Audi Allroad apart from the Subaru Outback is the near-perfect cabin tech, made up of the same navigation, stereo, and hands-free phone system I recently enjoyed in the Audi S5.
The Premium Plus trim Allroad I tested came equipped with Audi's most recent MMI, which stands for Multimedia Interface. Its most astonishing feature is the Google Earth-integrated navigation system, which relies on an always-on data connection to download satellite imagery of the car's current surroundings, or anywhere you want to browse on the map.
One relatively recent feature of this system is the ability to get a Street View of destinations. After entering a destination, or simply browsing the map, I could zoom all the way in so that the Allroad's LCD filled with Street View imagery of that location. This feature lets you get a photographic view of your actual destination, making it easy to recognize when you arrive.
When the car was in a cellular dead spot, such as a parking garage, the map reverted to a stored representation, which is quite impressive in itself. The maps show in either 2D or perspective views, with the latter including 3D-rendered buildings for some downtown areas. Both Google Earth and stored maps also show traffic, both flow data and incidents. When I drove into areas without a data connection, the Google Earth maps lost detail, but still showed a blurry approximation of the territory. I assume prolonged driving in a dataless land would have caused the system to revert to its stored maps automatically.
The MMI controller requires use of a dial to enter alphanumeric characters, which makes entering addresses or searching the points-of-interest database really tedious. However, the car's voice command let me enter street addresses as a single string, without having to say the street name, city, and state separately. And this system did an excellent job of recognizing even difficult names, such as "Tehama," an alley next to CNET's San Francisco offices.
However, I really came to rely on using voice command to access Google Search when I wanted to find a business. Naming a business, such as Home Depot, caused the system to churn for a few moments as it processed my command and then used the car's data connection to retrieve nearby results. This feature worked so well that other automakers would be foolish not to offer an equivalent.
The car's hard drive, primarily used to store maps, reserves space for music, which you can copy over to it. The stereo also supports Bluetooth-streaming audio and features two SD card slots just below the CD player. For iPod and USB, the Allroad features a proprietary port able to accept different adapter cables. This port is inconveniently placed in the glove box, though, which meant that I left my iPhone in the car a couple of times, and had to go back down to the garage to retrieve it.
Audi offers some limited voice command for selecting music with the Allroad's stereo, such as requesting artists by name when playing music from an iPod or iPhone. Using the MMI dial to drill down through lists of albums or artists is easy enough, even when sailing down the freeway at 65 mph.
The Allroad's stereo can be upgraded to a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen system that, from my tests in other Audi models, should deliver real audiophile sound. However, this car came equipped with the base system, using only 10 speakers, and I had few complaints. The system delivered good tonal separation and gave music reproduction a lot of depth. High notes were occasionally too piercing, and sustained listening became uncomfortable.
Audi offers some excellent driver assistance tech on its other models, but the Allroad is oddly limited. This car came equipped with the rearview camera, always a strong feature for Audi, as it shows trajectory line and shaded distance areas. Adaptive cruise control is available on the Allroad, but was not optioned on CNET's car. For some reason, Audi's blind-spot detection system is not offered for U.S. Allroads, although it is available in other markets. Also not offered is a surround-view camera system, which could enhance the Allroad's off-road credentials a bit.
The Drive Select system, which I used in the Audi S5, can be had on the highest-trim Allroad, but was not present in the car I tested. This system lets you dial in comfort and sport settings for the engine, steering, and suspension. The fixed suspension in the car I tested tended to wallow a bit in hard cornering, although the Quattro all-wheel-drive system gave a good assist to get the car turned properly at speed.
While traveling down a road that was last paved when Eisenhower was president, the Allroad's suspension softened the jolts from the potholes very nicely. The tuning for the electric power steering made the wheel very easy to turn at low speeds, but added a good sensation of weight as the speedometer needle went round.
For a car marketed to tackle any road in the world, a 2-liter four-cylinder engine may sound inadequate. However, Audi has been using direct injection and turbocharging longer than most automakers, and this experience results in specifications of 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, that latter figure giving the Allroad enough acceleration to easily make quick freeway merges or pass on two-lane highways.
If you step hard on the gas from a stop, the Allroad takes a moment to spool up its power, a combination of turbo lag and electronic systems keeping the wheels from slipping. But it is a very short moment before the Allroad is running quickly and smoothly. Audi rates the acceleration at a comfortable 6.5 seconds to 60 mph.
Lacking shift paddles, I had to use the shifter to manually select gears from the eight-speed automatic transmission, but there was little need for this intervention. The transmission programming generally kept the car in the right gear, with an obvious bias toward higher gears to keep the engine speed low and improve fuel economy. I was impressed that, while following a slow truck up a steep hill, the Allroad did not show any tendency to lunge, sticking to a single gear.
The manual gear selection could come in handy for long descents if you prefer engine braking over friction brakes. I was impressed that, while going down a hill with cruise control on, the system actually applied the brakes to keep from going over the system's set speed.
As for fuel economy, the EPA rating is only 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. And while the average for this car ended up being only 23.6 mpg, the trip computer showed averages approaching 30 mpg for some extended freeway driving.
At well over 40 grand when optioned up, the 2013 Audi Allroad sits solidly in the premium car segment. But Audi is at the top of its game when it comes to both performance and cabin technology, so that few cars can really compete. And, of course, wagons are about as rare today as cassette players, making competition limited.
|Model||2013 Audi Allroad|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct-injection 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/27 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based with traffic and Google Earth integration|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional with contact list integration|
|Digital audio sources||Bluetooth streaming, onboard hard drive, SD card, USB drive, iPod, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$47,870|