Wagons make sense. Most are versatile, equally capable of carting people and cargo. That makes them practical, which should make them attractive in today’s dicey economy.
But “practical” often has an image problem in an automobile industry that thrives on emotion — that honors excess, even when excess has few legal, safe, environmentally respectful avenues to exercise its full potential.
Five hundred horsepower from a fuel-swigging gasoline engine sounds good. Zero to 60 miles per hour in four seconds feels good, although the only place you can legally experience it is on a racetrack — or a test course specifically designed to measure vehicle acceleration and handling capabilities.
“Practical” seems woefully uninteresting in that milieu. But it does not have to be. It can be attractively styled inside and out. It can be comfortable, stately and elegant. “Practical” can be aspirational.
Witness the 2013 Audi Allroad Quattro — a compact, all-wheel-drive, entry-level luxury (starting a bit under $40,000) wagon. “Practical” never looked or felt so good, or served so well.
My wife, Mary Anne, and I used the Allroad Quattro for impromptu, meandering Virginia road trips that, more often than not, wound up at out-of-the-way restaurants with candlelight dinners for “just us.” We also employed it to haul debris from our sometimes jungle of a back yard. And there were the trips to the big-box income depletion stores, alleged home-improvement centers, to bring back equipment to repair things we hired those stores to fix in the first place.
In all of those drives we found ourselves marveling over the Audi Allroad’s all-around pleasing road performance. Steering was feather-light yet precise and controlled. Most drivers have their own definitions of “good handling.” Ours starts with a vehicle’s ability to execute a U-turn on an urban street without hitting curbs or anything else. The Audi Allroad, with a turning circle of 37.7 feet, does U-turns with grace and ease.
There are few places in Virginia or neighboring jurisdictions where a driver can get away with speeding without a traffic citation . . . or worse. Mary Anne and I have long concluded that it makes no sense to try. That being the case, we found joy and excitement enough in the Audi Allroad’s turbocharged, gasoline-direct injection, 2-liter inline four-cylinder engine (211 horsepower, 258 foot-pounds of torque).
We did no measurement of 0-to-60-mile-per-hour times (although Audi’s engineers claim the wagon can cover that span in 6.6 seconds). The traffic in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and, especially, along Interstate 81, was fast enough and crazy enough to justify our faith in the Audi Allroad’s ability to get out of the way and avoid those drivers who apparently were contemplating suicide because posted speed limits were not liberal enough.
Moving is one thing. Stopping is another, especially when in the company of fellow motorists who stop or come to a near-halt for no apparent reason. The Audi Allroad was wonderfully responsive under those circumstances, stopping quickly, reliably without ever hinting a loss of composure.
Of complaints, we have a few. Audi is a luxury nameplate. To us, “luxury” means an expansion of standard equipment, such as onboard navigation with backup camera, commonly found in substantially less expensive cars and wagons. But Audi’s marketing executives seem oblivious to that concept.
There are three versions of the 2013 Audi Allroad, the least expensive of which, the 2.0T Premium Quattro, starts at $39,600. We drove the Allroad Premium-Plus Quattro, which starts in the low $40,000 range with still no onboard navigation or backup camera. Instead, that equipment is installed as “standard” equipment in the top-of-the-line Audi Allroad 2.0T Prestige Quattro, which will have an asking price near $50,000.
This is foolishness. All three versions of the Audi Allroad, a wagon largely based on the platform of the now-discontinued Audi A4 Avant, have the same engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, which also can be operated manually. All have the same sub-frame. The differences, to the extent that they exist, are minor and arguably unnecessary, such as 18-inch-diameter wheels on the premium models and standard 19-inch-diameter wheels on the Prestige version.
It is here where Audi’s marketing gets in the way of common sense. Car buyers can get a $20,000-plus Hyundai Elantra GT with onboard navigation and one of the global car industry’s best backup cameras. But they can’t get that with a $40,000 Audi Allroad Premium Quattro? What’s “Premium” about that?
But Mary Anne and I are willing to forgive that shortcoming. Its virtues, including one of the best-designed, best-executed interiors in the business, easily outweigh its failings. It is a lovely car in which to spend a week, or even longer, if you are willing to pay for it.