While the crossover-SUV market is continuing to attract an ever increasing number of entrants, witness the recent announcements from Bentley and Lamborghini that they both intend to offer soft-roaders, all-wheel drive estate cars are still something of a rarity.
Subaru is there along with Volvo with its XC70 and so is Audi, the Gerrman marque having offered a faux off-roader variant of its Avant station wagon for the past decade, this model being the third generation.
Audi says the car is designed for those with high-end lifestyles who do not aspire to the bigger, and some might say more overtly aggressive, nature of a full-blown SUV. And while that may be true, the Allroad doesn't offer the same cross-country ability of those products despite its quattro drivetrain and air suspension which can increase ground clearance to just over seven inches. Of course, neither does it offer the command driving position that a genuine 4×4 does.
Still, on the side its road manners, thanks to its car-like center of gravity, is more sporting with none of thepronounced body roll that high CofG SUVs can display when pushed hard.
While the 309 bhp three-liter TDI with 479 lbs.-ft. torque from 1450 to 2800 rpm combined with its eight-speed Tiptronic delivers stunning performance, with 62 mph arriving in 5.6 seconds before hitting its governed 155 mph top speed it will still return an admirable 42.2 mpg over the combined driving cycle; that's equivalent to 35.1 in US gallons.
The nearest gasoline engine model is the three-liter TFSI with its seven speed S tronic; with 306 bhp at 5500-6500 rpm and an impressive 324 lbs.-ft. of torque from 2900 to 4500 rpm, it's no slouch with 62 mph arriving in 5.9 seconds before hitting the 155 mph buffer. But with combined fuel economy of 31.7mpg (26.4 US) it isn't likely to prove that popular in markets where diesel holds sway.
Across the mist shrouded troughs and brows of the Dartmoor National Park, in the south west of the UK, the Allroad proved an adept performer. Although the driver can opt for any one of a number of settings, that relax or firm up the suspension, add weight to the steering or provide sharper throttle response, I kept reverting to the default Automatic setting which delivers all the driving parameters Mr & Mrs Average would need. Admittedly I could see the Eco setting coming to the fore on long highway cruises to eke out the fuel consumption, but I think the other settings would remain unused once the driver's initial intrigue in them had been sated.
On this occasion there was no opportunity to flex the car's ability off-road, so it would be unfair to comment further, but I have little doubt that it could deal with shallow mud and gravel although wet grass, that bane of all four-wheel drive vehicles, might prove tiresome in cars equipped with 18-inch 8J rims and 235/55 R18 road tires.
With manufacturers looking for increasingly narrow niches, the Allroad virtually dominates this sector but one has to wonder for how long before BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar edge in on its potential.