Not long ago, the Allroad was the closest thing Audi had to an SUV. The original wagon, based on the C5-generation Audi A6 of the late 1990s and early 2000s, had wide fender flares, an air suspension and all-terrain tires, and it really could get you quite far off the beaten path. Hell, some European models even came with a low-range gear. It was a charmingly rugged thing, but as Audi worked to fill its lineup with crossover SUVs in recent years, the Allroad name was relegated to little more than a styling package. And for better or worse, the 2020 A6 Allroad goes down that same path.
The A6 Allroad is one of two new wagons Audi is bringing to the US this year, the other being the shut-up-and-take-my-money RS6 Avant. But while the RS6 is festooned with all sorts of go-fast hardware and over-the-top styling to match, the Allroad's upfitting isn't quite so extreme. It shares the majority of its mechanicals with the handsome A6 sedan, and its interior is identical, too.
That means passengers are treated to a comfortable and modern-looking cabin with plenty of space. The Allroad offers 30 cubic feet of volume behind the second-row seats, more than doubling the trunk capacity of the A6 sedan. The rear bench folds flat for added versatility, and all-weather floor- and cargo mats are available if you're the outdoorsy (or messy) type.
Every A6 Allroad comes with Audi's full suite of infotainment tech, starting with the always-a-treat Virtual Cockpit, housed on a 12.3-inch screen right in front of the driver. It's been around for a few years now, but I still think Virtual Cockpit is one of the richest digital gauge clusters around, from its vibrant colors to its Google Earth mapping and bevy of available information. The Allroad could rely on Virtual Cockpit alone and still have a stronger tech game than a whole host of other luxury cars.
But there's more. In the middle of the dash, you'll find Audi's MMI Touch Response setup, with a 10.1-inch screen on top and an 8.6-inch display below. The upper section is where you control the usual infotainment functions -- including standard navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot -- while the lower screen acts as a control panel for things like climate settings, driver-assistance functions and more. The lower display also transforms into a keyboard for easy online search or destination input, or if you prefer, it can function as a tablet, assuming your handwriting isn't horrific.
Again, none of this is different from what you get in a normal A6, and indeed, it's outside where the Allroad has the most obvious changes. This wagon gets a unique front-end treatment, with a pronounced bit of brightwork on the chin and contrasting gray cladding around the wheel wells. (You can ditch the butch look and get a full-body-color Allroad, if you wish, for $1,000.) By the way, it's worth noting the crossbars pictured here are not standard equipment. Audi installed these on my test car because there are a range of hashtag-active-lifestyle accessories available, including bike mounts and ski racks and roof boxes, not unlike the one seen in a few of the accompanying photos.
Only one engine is offered: the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 you get in the A6 sedan, with 335 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque and a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. (The A6's 2.0-liter I4 isn't available in the Allroad.) Audi's 48-volt mild-hybrid technology does a great job of smoothing out the operation of the stop/start system, and it provides supplemental boost for acceleration. Speaking of which, despite a 220-pound weight penalty, the Allroad matches the A6 3.0T sedan's 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 5.1 seconds. On the other hand, the Allroad is slightly less efficient overall, estimated to return 20 miles per gallon city, 22 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined, compared to the sedan's 22/29/24 mpg.
The key element that sets the Allroad apart from other A6 models -- aside from, you know, the whole wagon thing -- is its adaptive air suspension. No matter if you're on city streets or open expanses of highway, the Allroad rides like a dream, even on these decidedly large 20-inch wheels, which come standard. The suspension's Auto and Comfort modes keep the Allroad at 5.5 inches of ground clearance -- which matches the A6 sedan -- but switch over to Dynamic and the wagon lowers itself by 0.6 inches. The steering gets a little heavier in this Dynamic setting and the throttle response and steering are sharper, too.
As you'd expect from an Audi, the Allroad's driver-assistance tech roster is impressive, though all of the good stuff costs extra. Full-speed adaptive cruise control with Traffic Jam Assist, lane-keeping assist and traffic-sign recognition are part of a $1,750 package on the base Premium Plus model, while opting for the more expensive Prestige trim unlocks a head-up display, rear cross-traffic alert, vehicle exit warning and Audi's Predictive Efficiency Assistant, which can see upcoming speed limit changes or downhill grades and will advise you when to lift off the throttle.
All of these things make the Allroad a champ for road trips. On a weekday escape from Los Angeles out to Joshua Tree National Park, the Allroad is nothing short of serene. The pillow-top ride quality is hands-down the Allroad's best attribute, making that hellish slog down the 10 freeway a non-event. In every other regard, the Allroad drives exactly like the base A6 -- a compliment in and of itself. The steering is light but accurate, the dual-clutch transmission shifts with smooth imperceptibility and the brakes are powerful but easy to modulate.
Torque thrust is ample in the low end of the rev range, so there's never a lack of power when you roll onto the throttle for passing at highway speeds. It's helpful as heck for uphill climbs; after a meander through Joshua Tree and the surrounding weirdo desert towns, I head up the mountains to Big Bear Lake, climbing some 7,000 feet above sea level. Turbo torque is a huge help at higher altitudes, and powering out of tight mountain-road hairpins is no sweat. And while the air suspension allows for slightly more body roll than the A6 sedan's steel-spring setup, I don't think that's inappropriate in the Allroad, a model inherently designed to be softer.
While the original Allroad's air suspension gave it legit off-road chops, I'm sorry to say the new one isn't exactly built for adventure. Put the suspension in Allroad mode and you get an extra 1.2 inches of ground clearance, which is helpful for rutted dirt roads or the occasional sandy trail. An additional Offroad setting further adds 0.6 inches of suspension lift, for a maximum ride height of 7.3 inches, but only below 22 mph.
The standard hill-descent control is a nice bit of tech to have on steep grades, but it's not like the Allroad really inspires the confidence necessary to take a big, heavy luxury cruiser up a dirty mountain pass. Admittedly, no one is buying a new Allroad with serious off-roading in mind, but other go-anywhere wagons are better set up to handle rough terrain. Even at its highest setting, the Allroad sits an inch lower to the ground than a Volvo V90 Cross Country, or 1.4 inches lower than a Subaru Outback. Those cars don't lose any capability above 22 mph, either.
Another point that works against the Allroad? It's expensive: $66,895 to start, including $995 for destination, which rises to $71,395 if you opt for the loaded Prestige. The V90 Cross Country comes in at $56,190 including destination, but while I much prefer the look of the Swede compared to this Audi, I don't think Volvo's in-car tech roster is nearly as robust. The Outback is another solid choice, and a fully loaded turbocharged model starts at just $40,705. Sure, the Audi comes from a bona-fide luxury brand packing a premium interior, better infotainment and nicer on-road manners, but I also think the truly outdoorsy types will care more about overall durability than fancy accoutrements. To wit: While driving through the real-life REI catalog that is Big Bear Lake, California, I didn't see a single Audi Allroad of any type, old or new, yet Subarus were thick on the ground.
Let's also not forget that the A6 Allroad's biggest competitor will be sitting next to it in Audi showrooms: the Q7 SUV, or perhaps the smaller Q5. The Q7 is priced right on top of the Allroad, while offering all the same luxury and tech amenities with lots more room for people and cargo. Buying a station wagon over an SUV is generally a choice made more out of emotion than rationality, but aside from the cooler appearance, it's hard to make the case for an A6 Allroad as an alternative to one of Audi's excellent SUVs.
Should that detract you from buying an A6 Allroad? Absolutely not. The A6 sedan is a fantastic car, and the Allroad loses none of those positive attributes while adding some useful functionality and rough-and-ready style. It's perfect for daily-driving duties and weekend getaways alike. It might be an Allroad in name only, but it's nevertheless a great Audi A6.