The ability to travel off the beaten track is important to an awful lot of drivers, even if most refuse to acknowledge that they’ll never do anything more adventurous than exploring a muddy field now and then. The result is an explosion of SUVs, off-roaders, and crossovers all of which are heavier, taller, thirstier, and less stable than they need be. This is a Bad Thing for the driver, the environment (if one accepts that global warming is a man-made phenomenon rather than a naturally-occurring event) and other road users unfortunate enough to be travelling in anything less substantial. (The need to strike an editorial balance means that I must point out that car manufacturers welcome the egregious nature of the car-buying male as few fashions, if any, have bolstered profitability quite so handsomely…)
This is my long-winded way of telling you that I have been driving the new Audi A6 allroad this week, and very nice it is too. We stayed in Bovey Castle, which has the distinction of being the best hotel I have ever stayed in, and drove the wonderful roads that cross Dartmoor. That most are subject to a 40mph limit needn’t deter the enthusiastic reviewer as tight bends, rough surfaces, sundry livestock, and foul weather meant that a relatively pedestrian pace was often fast enough to highlight any shortcomings with the chassis. And anyway, there are plenty of places where the speed limit is higher and when I tell you that I have never driven faster on public roads you will have some idea of how accomplished the A6 allroad is.
The wonderful quattro four-wheel-drive might not offer the spurious ‘sporting’ characteristics associated with rear-wheel-drive but it does offer sure-footed travel in all conditions, whether meteorological or operator-induced. I indulged in imprudent acceleration in circumstances that would have led to histrionics in a lesser car and didn’t ever feel unsafe or even ruffled; I just pressed the throttle pedal and we accelerated. Never before has a car inspired so much confidence so quickly.
It’s no dull-but-worthy chassis, though. I didn’t only drive faster than ever before but I had more fun than I’ve had for a while too, mainly because the chassis is tamed only when absolutely necessary with none of the nanny-state interference that blights cars such as the Mitsubishi Evo. The result is fast, agile, and fun.
Well, it is as long as you choose your car with care. The 201bhp TDI engine might have an output that is almost identical to that of the original (or ur) quattro but the result is sprightly rather than decently quick. Audi expects to sell only a few of these because the 242bhp version, which is identical in capacity, is much more satisfying and likely to be the best £1,500 you’ll ever spend.
Until, that is, you realise that for a measly five grand more you can have the fulsome 309bhp twin turbo TDI, which provides all the propulsive effort any sane driver will ever need – and a distinctly undiesel-like exhaust note, courtesy of an in-pipe speaker. This is, without doubt, the pick-of-the-bunch and a savvy car buyer will resist the urge to specify optional extras and spend the money here instead.
When you are ready for some rough stuff you simple raise the suspension and off you go. Up to 18.5cms of underbody clearance is available via five stages of adjustment and this should, in conjunction with four-wheel-drive and traction control, be more than enough for the majority of off-road conditions that the average driver will encounter. I didn’t get the opportunity to indulge to any great degree but previous allroad models have been decently competent, and it’s unlikely that the new version will have had its abilities diminished.
The Audi is, of course, beautifully finished inside. Everything fitted very well indeed and the choice of materials was exemplary; I was rather taken with the yacht-inspired veneer but then I liked the brown paint too, so I will understand if you find my taste alien to your own. The choice of leather and veneer available is bewildering but the standard fare will be good enough for all but the most fastidious. (Remember; spend your money on the engine…)
Gadgets abound, of course, with the best sat-nav – incorporating Google mapping – I have ever used complemented by some very good parking cameras that can be configured to give a bird’s eye view of the car. Not necessarily desperately useful but great fun, and if one can’t have fun then what hope is there?
So, by a somewhat tortuous (and some would say tedious) route we return to my original proposition, that the growing demand for cars with the ability to travel off road is stifling the design and production of cars that are satisfying to drive. This is an (almost) absolute rule and one of the exceptions is the Audi A6 allroad, a car that is remarkable for many things, not least the fact that it demonstrates that a good off-road car can also be a very good road car.
The only question is, are you confident enough to admit that you really don’t need a fully-fledged SUV?
Statistics – TDI diesel-only
Price: from £43,150 OTR
Maximum power: between 201 and 309bhp depending on model
Peak torque: between 332 and 479lb ft depending on model
0-62mph: between 5.4 and 7.3 seconds depending on model
Top speed: between 139 and 155mph (limited) depending on model
Fuel consumption: official: between 42.2 and 46.3mpg depending on model
CO2 emissions: between 159 and 176g/km depending on model
Images: ©2012 Carlton Boyce