By Charles Krome
Yep, that lowercase “a” is correct. I guess it’s sort of like “quattro” or, on the other hand, LEAF or JUKE. But the car I saw while out making a doughnut run over the weekend is notable for being more than just an early entry in the goofy capitalization sweepstakes. This is actually Audi’s first crossover.
The 2001 Audi allroad 2.7T reached our shores in the second half of the year 2000 to fill a huge hole in the automaker’s lineup. And by “huge,” I mean about the size of a Ford Explorer. Although this was the same year that the Blue Oval’s SUV would find itself mired in a controversy over rollover accidents, it also marked the vehicle’s high-water mark in sales, with 445,157. Needless to say, sport-utility sales had taken over the U.S. marketplace.
That put Audi in an especially tough position, because not only was it sans SUVs, but it was still working its long way up the comeback trail following the infamous 60 Minutes report, in which the television program had rigged Audi’s to look as if they suffered from a Toyota-esque problem with unintended acceleration issues. Obviously, with consumer demand for SUVs soaring and Audi putting an intense focus on gaining volume, the company didn’t want to lose out completely on this golden opportunity.
So it took the A6 Avant, dropped in a more powerful engine and a complex air suspension that could deliver added ground clearance, and the allroad was born. This being Audi, of course, the result was more than just a stopgap quick-fix measure.
The allroad was packed with all the latest technologies that the year 2000 had to offer, and leading the way was its air suspension system. Although you can find this kind of setup on a number of vehicles today—Jeep makes a big deal out of the available system on the new Grand Cherokee—10 years ago it was a flat-out breakthrough.
Just by pressing a button on the dash, driver’s could choose from four different ride heights and raise the vehicle’s ground clearance from 5.6 inches to 8.2 inches. The settings started at Level 2, where drivers got 6.6 inches of ground clearance for daily driving. At highway speeds, the allroad’s suspension would automatically lower the ride height for improved aerodynamics. Level 3 (7.6 inches of clearance) was the choice for dirt roads and the like, while Level 4 (8.2 inches) delivered the same ground clearance as a Land Rover Discovery II and 1.1 inches more than on a BMW X5. Today’s Jeep Liberty, for what it’s worth, offers 7.8 inches of ride height.
The result was a fair amount of off-road capability, even despite the relatively long front and back overhangs on the allroad. In addition, thanks to its 2.7-liter V6 turbocharged engine, the car could tow a not-inconsiderable 3,500 lbs.
That twin-turbo powerplant was the same one being used in the A6 sedan and S4, and was able to make 250 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. And again, here we have to recalibrate our expectations a bit, because a decade ago that was decent power. Contemporary reviews noted 0-60 times a few ticks north of 7.5 seconds when outfitted with Audi’s available Tipronic six-speed automatic, and remember, this Audi tips the scales at 4,233 lbs., in a package roughly an inch smaller than the Ford Fusion.
Unsurprisingly, the allroad wasn’t all that popular here in the U.S. For one thing, it had to fight against the usual U.S. prejudice against station wagons, and for another, it was saddled with a very steep MSRP. The car started at $42,450 at a time when the A6 Avant—with quattro—began at $37,350. That no doubt seemed like an awful lot of money for an SUV-lite that could only really compete with the big boys in one area: fuel economy. The allroad got shockingly low EPA ratings of 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway/16 mpg combined; the ’01 Explorer, with four-wheel drive, a 5.0-liter V8 and four-speed automatic, went 13/18/15.
And while the concept of an off-road-capable station wagon never caught on here—except in the disguised form of the Subaru Outback—you can still get an “A6 allroad quattro” across the pond, where it leverages one of Audi’s 3.0-liter TDI engines to net 39.2 mpg in the combined European cycle.