Most of the enthusiast cars with a major following are focused, hardcore machines. Sports cars with big wings and hairy drivetrains, or lightweight, minimalists with barely a concession to comfort. Cars built to excel in one narrow realm. We love them because they sacrifice every non-essential trait in pursuit of purity.
But that's not the only way to become an enthusiast darling. Audi's Allroad variants prove that.
Talk about a niche offering: A flared, slightly jacked-up wagon, not a brutal off-roader but tougher than a sedan. You'd figure such a machine would earn sneers—not street enough for the pavement crowd, not burly enough for the adventure set. But ever since Audi set the first Allroad loose in 1999, they've had a cult following, even among Audi's already-fervent superfans.
So back in October, I took the latest A6 Allroad to Avantoberfest, an annual celebration of Audi wagons of all shapes, sizes and vintages. I wanted to get a feel for how the latest flared longroof fits into Audi fandom.
The 2021 A6 Allroad wears its all-terrain upgrades handsomely. This is the first time Audi has brought an A6 Allroad to the U.S. since the C5-generation model, which went out of production in 2005 (the smaller A4 Allroad has been available here since 2013). The signature matte black flares and undercladding add some tactical contrast to the brushed silver accents on the grille and body sides. The new Allroad sits 1.8 inches higher than the standard wagon—which, sadly but not surprisingly, is not sold in the U.S. (Thankfully, the fire-breathing RS 6 Avant does make it here, should your wagoning needs require a 591-hp twin-turbo V-8 and a 190-mph top speed.) The Allroad also gets height-adjustable air suspension and standard "Quattro with Ultra" all-wheel drive, which disconnects the rear axle for better fuel economy when the extra traction isn't needed.
Avantoberfest hosts two get-togethers every fall, one for each coast. My girlfriend and I joined the East Coast event, which consisted of a beautiful country-road drive from Saratoga Springs to Lake Placid, NY. We packed up in Brooklyn and hit the road.
The Allroad promise is compelling: The freeway manners of a svelte European sedan, plus added clearance and traction to get you to the campsite or cabin. Out on the freeway, our black-on-black wagon had all the composure of an A6 sedan. The 3.0-liter single-turbo V-6 offers up its 369 lb-ft of torque in a broad, smooth swell that hits its max at just 1400 rpm and stays high throughout most of the tach's sweep. The 335-hp peak comes at 6100 rpm, ensuring that there's basically no flat spot in the rev range. Our colleagues at Car and Driver measured 0-60 in 5.2 seconds in a nearly identical Allroad. The power makes it quick and playful on the road, though it's still dialed more for comfort. In Sport mode, the steering effort increases, but there's never really much feel through the wheel, and the slightly-louder exhaust is still polite.
The only transmission available is Audi's 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. VW Group has been more dedicated to dual-clutch transmissions than any other automaker, and that long-running expertise shows. Aside from a few slightly clunky moments at parking-lot speeds, the transmission programming is excellent and smooth. Dialing up Sport mode brings higher shift points and holds a gear longer in corners. The car responds to manual-mode paddle shifts with almost zero lag, but after a few minutes, shifting for yourself starts to feel silly—this is a smooth cruiser, not an apex-chaser.
We motored from NYC to Saratoga Springs in hushed, smooth comfort. The flared wagon's interior is basically identical to the A6 sedan, with nearly every dashboard function handled through one of two center-stack touchscreens. There's a bit of a learning curve to the system, especially when you're trying to change HVAC settings on the move. I'd still prefer physical buttons and knobs for setting temperature or airflow—navigating a touchscreen while driving feels unnecessary and attention-sapping. Audi's Virtual Cockpit, which puts a video screen in place of conventional gauges, offers great customization, letting you choose from multiple gauge layouts or offering a highly-detailed map display front-and-center.
My biggest criticism with the Allroad is Audi's suite of driver-assistance systems. In its default setting, the car's lane-keeping setup aggressively intervenes to hold you dead-center between the stripes. Stray too close to either edge, and an invisible hand slowly wrenches the steering wheel to get you back to center. Most of the time, the attentiveness of the system is welcome. But on Avantoberfest's fall foliage drive along beautiful upstate New York roads, it offered some frustrating and mildly scary moments.
Some of the best hiking and mountain-biking trails in this region are accessed by these country roads. Spring through fall, outdoor adventurers are around nearly every bend, gearing up by a car parked on the shoulder or waiting to cross the road. If you try to cheat over to the edge of the lane to give a pedestrian, cyclist or horseback rider some breathing room, the Audi attempts to steer you back to center with surprising force. It's an unsettling sensation, the car desperately trying to counteract you as you try to be polite and safe. A driver who isn't used to the way the system intervenes might not be ready to fight the steadily-increasing pressure of the invisible robot hand trying to steer back to the centerline. That's scary to think about.
And turning off lane-keeping assistance requires you to poke and prod at the upper touchscreen, navigating multiple menus. It's not feasible to turn the system on or off while moving, but left on, it feels like you're wrestling a malevolent machine. I fear most drivers will turn it off once and never re-activate it, which defeats the purpose of a safety system that's phenomenal under highway driving conditions. Avoiding pedestrians on a 45-mph winding road is a bit of an edge case, but given the Allroad's mandate—a luxurious and spacious wagon to help you get off the beaten path—it's likely a good amount of buyers will find themselves in this exact predicament.
Aside from that drawback (which affects all Audi models), the Allroad makes a great argument against the typical crossover or light-duty SUV. And hanging with the Avantoberfest crowd, I quickly came to realize what a fervent following the Allroad badge has earned. Among the dozens of wagons in attendance, a surprising proportion were Allroads, with their matte flared fenders on proud display. Audi enthusiasts are masters of personalization, from subtle, OEM-plus builds to the truly wild full-custom machines, and the Allroad models that came out for this meetup ran the gamut. Some were built for all terrains, with raised ride heights, tall-sidewall tires, and off-road lighting to rival a rally car. Others went the opposite direction, using the flared and widened fenders to hold huge flashy wheels, scraping the pavement on fully-dumped airbags. What other model inspires such broadly varied builds? The Allroad holds a special place even within the world of Audi fans, an enthusiast nameplate with the same sort of following as RS-badged fire-breathers.
That makes sense. Subaru may have been the first to offer a flared-and-lifted wagon to the masses, but Audi (along with Volvo) gave the segment European luxury flair. The Allroad has the perfect mix of traits to make it a gearhead darling: It's a wagon that does SUV stuff without the dynamic sacrifice of a utility vehicle, and its blistered fenders speak the language of tuners and off-roaders alike. No wonder they're a favorite platform for Avantoberfest's fanatics. And no wonder so many of the wagons on sale in the U.S. today have followed the recipe. If you want a new European wagon today, you're likely to end up in an Allroad-like vehicle, whether it's from Audi, Mercedes, Volvo, or even Porsche.
We're glad for that. In a world of ubiquitous SUVs and purpose-built speed machines, the Allroad is the rare segment-blender that offers something for enthusiasts. Even if you're not going to slam it to the ground.
Special thanks to Avantoberfest for letting us join the festivities!
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