As a car person, I consider myself extraordinarily lucky. My daily driver, a 2005 Audi Allroad, is the car I want to hold onto for as long as I possibly can. It’s a passenger car with the heart of an SUV.
I’ve towed my race car as far north as Washington and east to Utah, and all points in between. I’ve lapped Laguna Seca, kept pace with Jeeps at OHV parks, and still routinely hoon it at the Bridgestone Winter Driving track in Steamboat Springs. With the odometer currently sitting at just over 140,000 miles, it’s still as robust as the day I got it.
But as the miles continue to click over, I wonder with increasing frequency just how long my luck will hold out. After 2005, Audi pulled the Allroad from the U.S. market, and there was nothing else on sale that matched its unique personality and quirky yet capable set of features.
(Full Disclosure: Audi provided a fully-fueled 2020 A6 Allroad for a trip to make this writeup happen.)
(Testing Conditions: City driving, highways, and dirt.)
Regardless of how it did in the marketplace the first time around, the original Allroad was a special vehicle for Audi and it inspired a fiercely passionate following. This is familiar ground for the automaker. Halo cars whose influence can be felt for generations. Its reputation was built on massively boosted five-cylinder engines and insanely capable cars that shattered records. While the Q5 crossover might move metal and make money, it’s the swing-for-the-fences outliers like the Allroad which are seared into our memories.
After a 15 year hiatus, the A6 Allroad has returned to U.S. shores, and perhaps I can finally claim a worthy successor. Would this model truly be a return to that level of offbeat greatness? Or would the new Allroad merely pay lip service to its heritage? In short, the answer is a little bit of both.
Viewed from head-on, it certainly looks the part, full of bold angles and contrasting elements. Its immensely wide grille is bisected by meaty strips of chrome. Baleen of a whale on the prowl for krill, threatening to eat you whole. Further brightwork below the outsize face accentuates this visual drama. Aggressive and substantial, it really looks the business.
If only the rest of the design lived up to the promise of the front end. The sides not only lack the same level of drama, they’re missing an identity altogether. It’s almost too clean, too unadorned with muscle.
There’s the Allroad-requisite unpainted body cladding, but the color of the fender flares are almost indistinguishable from the classy Soho Brown Metallic paint. They’re quite literally an afterthought, with an additional small strip of plastic on the rear door to complete the shape.
In my review last year of Audi’s other longroof, the RS6 Avant, I called out portions of its styling for being too extroverted. The Allroad swings a little too far on the opposite end of the pendulum. I can’t help but think that a proper set of beefy fender flares would go a long way in adding a distinct personality without taking way from the timeless sophistication of the overall shape.
But underneath that body lies the A6 Allroad’s defining party trick: At the touch of a button, the standard air suspension can raise the body nearly two inches higher, for a maximum ground clearance of 7.3 inches.
This is perhaps where the contrast to the original Allroad is most profound, which offered an impressive 8.2 inches at its maximum height. An inch lower might not seem that big of a deal, but it can mean the difference between gliding over an obstacle or introducing it noisily to the undercarriage.
In light of this lower ground clearance, I found myself second-guessing the route I’d planned. Could I take the same trails that I’d been driving for years, or would I have to find a different path? As I debated finding another course, I realized that it wasn’t just the height that was different, but also the manner in which I would achieve it.
The original Allroad made this height adjustment easy with two visible switches on the console to raise or lower the suspension. The simplicity of this setup enabled a more impulsive driving style—see a trail, raise the car, keep on driving.
Conversely, the 2020 A6 Allroad encourages a more methodical approach. Pushing either of the Drive Select buttons awakens the menu on the screen above to reveal driving modes such as Comfort, Dynamic, Allroad and Offroad. The various modes alter things like throttle response and steering input in addition to suspension height. Dynamic lowers the suspension to a stance-envying, chin-scraping 4.9 inches while quickening the overall reflexes.
Offroad, as you can imagine, does the opposite, initially raising the suspension to 6.7 inches. Another push of another button adds the final 3/5 of an inch. This mode also changes the stability control to allow more slip, and to automatically detect the type of terrain and adjust power accordingly. A center-locking e-diff can kick in when needed, making the most of the Quattro all-wheel drive setup.
While climbing steep hills and navigating obstacles, I was never wanting for grip or power. The A6 Allroad simply goes where you point it, no questions asked. Yet despite this advanced setup, the sense of spontaneity is gone.
Regardless of height, the A6 Allroad doesn’t stay in Offroad mode after the car is restarted, instead reverting to the Allroad mode. Audi reps say that’s to meet Federal requirements which classify it as a light-duty vehicle, but for those who do intend to take it beyond the pavement, watch out. That obstacle you cleared in Offroad mode the night before might be the rock which punctures your oil pan in Allroad mode.
And therein lies the rub: Despite the name, the heritage, and the terrific traction, the 2020 A6 Allroad doesn’t express the enthusiasm to venture far from the beaten path. The original Allroad had sort of a brash incongruity going for it: A wagon which absolutely had no business getting dirty, yet somehow, it looked very much at home doing so. The same can’t be said of the latest iteration. Even at its highest Offroad setting, the new one is more reluctant to venture into the wilderness.
Avoid getting it dirty, however, and the A6 Allroad excels as a superb road machine. Out on the highway, lower is better, and the air suspension delivers a fantastic ride. Switch it to that aforementioned Dynamic mode and the Allroad hunkers down on its haunches. On Prestige trims, Audi offers all-wheel steering as an option, which sharpens those reflexes even further and enables you to toss this two-ton wagon through the corners with surprising agility.
Getting up to speed isn’t an issue, either. The A6 Allroad features a version of the same 3.0-liter turbo V6 that’s found under the hood of the S4 and SQ5. With 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, it can shove a little bit when you put the hammer down. Audi estimates a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds, and I believe it. If you want a stealth German wagon but abhor the gauche bark of a twin-turbo V8, the A6 Allroad will provide a supremely comfortable and swift journey for five (and all their luggage) from coast to coast.
With its lower ground clearance and subdued personality, the 2020 Audi A6 Allroad is missing that crucial spark which made the name iconic in the first place. However powerful and well-equipped it may be, it’s hard to see this version engendering the same fervency and passion as did the original. But maybe that’s okay.
Perhaps a more refined and thoughtful iteration of this unique concept is just the thing that’s needed to charm a new generation of buyers—and to turn that luck into true staying power.