What It Is
Luxury, utility wagon seeking anti-SUV converts
Fantastic quattro performance and driving balance
Cluttered un-intuitive center stack needs simplistic redesign
Perfectly dreamy, and it's not even Audi's best wagon
The problem with an automotive journalist loving his personal car is that he inevitably compares every ride to that which he is emotionally attached. In my case, I love wagons, and more so if it has all-wheel drive and turbocharged motivation. It's a practical decision, but one rooted in automotive enthusiasm: I like cars; I don't like trucks; but I need more space than what a traditional sedan can provide. The obvious conclusion, to me at least, is wagon. What you probably didn't know is that, despite its endangered species status in the United States, the station wagon actually has a huge cult following.
But whence this fascination with #Wagonation? According to Merriam-Webster online, the first known use of "station wagon" appeared in 1904, but it wasn't until the 1930s that some automakers adopted the trunkless, extended-passenger compartment and liftback door. It was a design heralded for its utility and cargo-carrying capacity, but because it also drove more like a car than a truck. The wagon design in America was most popular during the 1950s, though it continued in various derivations from mostly European automakers into the 1990s. Today, the station wagon is the proverbial golden egg, and just as rare and beautiful to behold, if done right.
So what happens when a wagon-loving autojourno test-drives the 2013 Audi Allroad 2.0T quattro, a brand new station wagon with all-wheel drive and turbocharged motivation?
If you guessed, "fits of confusion, jealousy, despair, and rage," then yeah, I mean, that really happened. But how well does the "tall A4 Avant" stack up as a wagon, and should you consider it over a comparably equipped SUV?
What We DroveOur 2013 Audi Allroad Prestige 2.0T quattro has a base price of $39,600, though the $895 destination charge puts it over the psychologically important $40,000 threshold. That's a steep price to pay for a premium wagon, especially when you consider the many premium features from less premium SUV alternatives at lower prices. When you factor in the $10,175 in options on our test car, you're looking at a $50,670 station wagon. What comes with that extra ten grand?
The Prestige model equips the Allroad with a premium Bang and Olufsen audio system (one of this audio snob's two favorite audio systems of any brand for any car), the best navigation system on the market, which uses Google's 3D maps, and includes LED xenon headlights, a three-zone climate control system, a power tailgate, and more. The Sport interior package adds a sporty steering wheel and paddle shifters, and a four-way lumbar support system in the front seats. The pearl in the black paint? That's an extra, too.
But, there is a four-year/50,000-mile warranty, a 12-year limited warranty against corrosion, free first-scheduled maintenance (at either the 12-month or 5,000-mile mark), and an included four-year roadside assistance plan, should the need arise. Hopefully it won't be needed, but the Allroad is equipped with the usual sort of canopy airbags in front, side, and rear, and it has achieved between four and five stars in government crash tests.
The CommuteThere are three "off road capable" station wagons on the market today. One wants to be premium, one is kind of premium, and then there's the allroad. Guess which one my wife drives?
When I pulled into the driveway the weekend I brought it home, she was waiting for me and the first words out of her mouth were, "Whoa," and "sexy."
As I stepped out, she gave it a once over and felt with her fingers the contours of the hood and the rear hatch. "What's the mileage like?" she asked. Four better than ours, I replied. "And the trunk space?" Larger than my mine, but smaller than yours. "So, big enough?" Definitely.
But then she sat down in the driver's seat. "Ohhhh," she groaned. "It's got all that… all those buttons. I don't need that." And that's the problem. The Allroad is a fantastic highway cruiser and commuter if you never have to use any of the buttons your right hand can reach. The Bang and Olufsen audio system is an audiophile treasure, and the Google 3D maps in the navigation screen are so richly detailed, you begin to think that it may be possible to zoom in on your vehicle while driving in real time (you can't). But despite these class-leading features, actually using them is a nightmare.
The center stack area features a selector knob, three buttons beneath it, four more buttons around that, then two additional buttons on each side of that. Then there's a smaller knob above that for volume. The large selector knob is also a push button, and the small volume knob also skips/tunes. Next to that is the shifter, and left of the shifter is the engine start and electric emergency-brake buttons. Good luck finding the right button while keeping your eyes on the road.
Oh, and that doesn't even account for the climate controls. Want air, or heat, on just the feet? Recirculated? At blower speed of "3," and a specific temperature on the driver side, and a different setting for the passenger? Find and then push the button with a four-blade fan on it, then individually adjust each climate control knob for temperature. Then find the other button that brings up a window on the navigation screen and select through a half-dozen illustrations of airflow. While you're at it, don't forget to actually push the button that says A/C, since most of the buttons are hidden behind the shifter and hard to see while driving. You might as well pull over--lest an officer think you were using a handheld device and cite you for having divided attention.
Thankfully, the steering wheel contains the best volume knob or button of any vehicle in the industry. It's a spinning knob--scroll it up or down--and it's placed perfectly at your right thumb. Sadly, it's the easiest to use and most intuitive feature inside the cabin. That's a shame, because the Allroad 2.0T quattro, like the Audi A4 sedan it's based on, performed admirably around town and on long highway commutes. It has that unmistakably German suspension tuning that absolutely swallows every imperfection in the road. The turbocharged engine response was somewhat buzzy sounding, but not annoyingly so, and it was appropriately throaty when passing slower traffic. The brakes, too, felt firm and competent under hard braking--like when the car in front of the car in front of you slams on his brakes after getting cut off by another motorist. It's no "family truckster," thankfully, but the Allroad is, minus the infotainment foibles, one of the most comfortable, easy-going road trip vehicles we've yet tested.
The Grocery RunDespite being a wagon, the Audi Allroad 2.0T quattro has less-than-satisfying seats-up cargo-carrying capacity. In our own tests, we found the rear hatch could hold 15 total grocery bags, or nine with our Britax stroller. Those numbers are less than what we got with the 2013 Honda Accord. Which is a sedan. With a closed trunk. But what those numbers hide is the height above the bags is greater than in a sedan, or the fact that, with the rear seats down, the Allroad is a more capable IKEA furniture getter than anything else its size, save perhaps its competition from the Subaru Outback and Volvo XC70.
Nevertheless, the Allroad proved a willing and capable family hauler. In the back seat, I found the LATCH points among the easiest ever to secure and unlatch my child's seat--no fishing beneath the cushions for the buckle or button. The cabin was pleasantly isolated from road noise such that I could actually hear my children talking (rarely the case in my own noisy wagon), and thanks to the Allroad's rearview cameras, mild-mannered electrical steering and all-wheel drive, the wagon maneuvered into and out of narrow parking lots easier than other front-wheel drive cars we've recently tested.
The Weekend FunNothing screams "grocery getter" like a big, sexy wagon, except that the 2013 Audi Allroad 2.0T Quattro isn't a typical grocery getter. Sure, it's got wagon attributes (look at that back!), but look closer. See the chrome skid plates beneath the front grille, and surrounding the exhaust tail pipes? There's more underneath, too. Those are functional. What does it mean? It means this wagon ain't afraid to get dirty.
That's exactly what Associate Editor, Trevor Dorchies, and I did for the accompanying photo shoot. Dorchies is our staff "truck guy," and he had no problem rolling up the Allroad's tailored cuffs for a jaunt on the dirt fields around a local produce stand. Though the Allroad has Audi's quattro all-wheel drive, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a capable four-wheeler over rugged, mountainous terrain. It just means that, with a beefened suspension and raised ride height, the Allroad is more capable than standard cars and two-wheel drive SUVs.
Thanks to the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and the eight-speed automatic transmission, the Allroad makes plenty of low-end power, enough to motivate it to freeway speeds in just 6.5 seconds. Though that isn't overly quick, with meaty 18-inch wheels, a firmly tuned suspension, and that standard quattro all-wheel drive, the Allroad was a blast on every road I encountered.
But the real fun began on the roads in and around north San Diego County's Mt. Palomar. I expected the Allroad to be enjoyable, at least, better than the taller, heavier SUVs of the same price range (but not as fun as my own modified wagons). What I didn't expect was this nearly-3900 pound wagon to drive like a much lighter, all-wheel drive sports sedan, and a great one at that. In sharp turns, on the uphill and downhill, whether cruising or driving spiritedly, the Allroad felt composed and smooth, maybe too smooth, in my hands. On bumps in midcorner, the Allroad's suspension ate the shock and left the wheels positioned precisely where I pointed them. Thank the electronic nannies for this, too, the Allroad never felt loose, jarred, or unwilling. That's more than what similarly priced SUVs can say.
SummaryThe problem with an expectation for #wagonlove done right is merely accepting when #longroof is done pretty okay. That's the case here with the 2013 Audi Allroad 2.0T quattro. But are the compromises inherent in a wagon more livable than the driving compromise of a less-expensive SUV? In this enthusiasts mind, yes, because, say it with me, "wagons drive like cars," and that means no driving quality compromise for needing more space than a sedan can offer.
In the 2013 Audi Allroad 2.0T quattro, we loved the driveline, road manners, power, fit and finish, and perception of quality. And it looks great, too. For a wagon, it has more character than the sedan it's based on, but its cargo capacity and fuel economy is merely darn good, not great. While we could rave about the audio system and Google maps all day, few of us would actually choose to deal with the hassle of its right-handed mess at the interior's center stack.
For our money, $50,000 for a station wagon is purely asinine, unless it has 556 horsepower. So, instead of the Allroad Prestige model, we'd opt for the base Premium at $39,600 and add heated front seats ($450) and rear side airbags ($350). With destination, that puts the Allroad to a more palatable $41,295--or about the same price as its closest competition, the more rugged but also much older Volvo XC70 3.2 AWD.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $50,670
EPA City: 20mpg
EPA Highway: 27 mpg
EPA Combined: 23 mpg
Cargo Space: 15 (9 with Britax stroller)
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent
Estimated Combined Range: 435 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average
Notebook Quotes"The 2.0-liter turbo and eight-speed transmission are a harmonious pairing. Handling and cornering were shockingly precise and confidence-inspiring, thanks in part to the quattro all-wheel-drive system. If you're in the market for a wagon, the Allroad is a must consider." -Matt Askari, Associate Editor
"It's quiet, comfortable, luxurious, feature-filled, and it rides incredibly well…I'd gladly drive an Allroad... consider me pleasantly surprised." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor
"I plugged in my radar detector, and it immediately starts going bananas, indicating a medium-strong signal behind me in my driveway. A little research shows that all Audis with the company's Side Assist blind spot detection do this. It's silly, because NO OTHER CAR I'VE DRIVEN DOES THIS, even those with blind spot detection. It's not like I'm a speed demon everywhere I go, but I don't want to be the guy to get singled out of a 10-over with-the-flow traffic." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director