If a carmaker named its latest product “All Road,” it would have to be pretty darn confident it can handle hills and dales, freeways and byways, snow and sleet.
Audi (NSU) has chosen instead to call its latest all-wheel-drive wagon the “allroad,” all one word with no capital letters. A sign of modesty perhaps? Or maybe to imply that some types of road need not apply.
I put the $50,170, Prestige-model hatchback to a multi-road test, adding 800 miles to the odometer. (The base starts at $40,495.) I picked the car up in Denver, Colorado, and dropped it off in Albuquerque, New Mexico several days later.
I passed through fiery expanses, crossed over mountain passes and played tag with a biker gang.
When I dropped off the keys at the airport, the white car was dirty and a bit musty smelling, but it left me with a great impression.
The Allroad is basically a beefed-up wagon, like an upmarket version of the $25,000 Subaru Outback. It seats five and has 27-plus cubic feet of storage in the rear.
Compared to other European estate wagons like Audi’s own A4 Avant or the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon, the Allroad gets bigger tires, a loftier ride height and extra travel in the suspension, plus steel skid plates underneath the body.
Still, this is not a hardcore 4X4, and it won’t be rumbling over the sort of rocky roads that Land Rovers and Jeep Grand Cherokees are designed to tread.
Instead it’s aimed at the type of “active lifestyle” folks who are a bit more honest about their outdoor endeavors. Rather than fording the Rubicon Trail, you’ll likely see Allroads dotting ski parking lots in Colorado and Vermont.
This is the second generation of the Allroad, which was first produced for a handful of years in the 2000s. Though not hugely popular, the original is a cult classic among devotees.
The 2013 model is fronted by a jewelry-like, one-piece front grill. The four-ring Audi logo hangs suspended over the shiny vertical lattice.
Otherwise the body is sturdy and attractive, except for the unpainted matte-black wheel arches, which are reminiscent of the body cladding once favored by Pontiac. In all, it’s understated but not wimpy.
My route through Colorado and New Mexico took me westward on I-70 until Grand Junction, where I planned to take secondary roads over mountain passes and through the San Juan National Forest. I was very aware that vast swathes of both Colorado and New Mexico were beset with raging fires.
The day was bright and the sky clear as I drove through Vail and reached the winding section through Glenwood Canyon, a bit of magical engineering where the road hovers over the Colorado River and passes through deep tunnels.
It gave me my first series of sinuous curves, and the ability to test the linear power on the 2.0-liter, turbo engine.
The four-cylinder engine has only a modest 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The wagon hardly explodes out of the gate, but the torque comes on steadily and smoothly. I never felt the lack of power, even on steep mountain grades in thin air.
I came upon a gang of a dozen or so Harley Davidson (HOG) bikers fanned out in front of me. I pulled into the passing lane and swept by. The lead biker revved his engine and tried to catch up as I passed. We drove into a tunnel which rang with the sound of the engines.
He kept up, briefly. The Allroad is no sports car, but Audi’s all-wheel-drive system is one of the best in the business. The car clings to your driving line with tenacity in both wet and dry. The Hog disappeared in my rear-view mirror.
Green mountains gave way to brown, thirsty hills, faraway vistas and 100-degree-plus temperatures. The countryside needed rain.
And then, the fire. I could smell burning wood before I saw it. As I entered a narrow canyon, I spied a pine tree ablaze, high on a bluff. No sirens, no firemen. The canyon was choking in smoke, yet the other cars didn’t even slow down, as if the flames couldn’t touch them.
The canyon walls were high and sections of high-desert vegetation were burning or scorched. It would have been difficult for fire fighters to reach.
The countryside reminded me of the region of northern New Mexico where I grew up, and it was both sad and scary to see orange flames dance through it.
An hour or so later, I turned south at Grand Junction and toward Montrose County, another region with dry conditions and fire warnings. As I neared, I could see a dark haze spreading over the mountains.
The car was equipped with the optional Audi Connect system, which gets a wireless signal from T-Mobile enabling the car to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
I pulled over and connected to my computer. According to local news reports, the roads were open.
Few parts of the world are as beautiful as the mountains around the towns of Ouray and Silverton. Even fewer offer roads so twisty and fun.
So my spirits rose as I reached the foothills and I realized the heavy haze was not from fire and smoke, but what could it be?
I rolled down the windows and opened the panoramic sunroof just as the rain began to fall.
The 2013 Audi Allroad at a Glance
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 211 horsepower and 258
pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 20 city, 27 highway.
Price as tested: $50,170.
Best features: Overall driving capability in a smart
Worst feature: Those ugly wheel arches.
Target buyer: The adventurer who doesn’t want an SUV.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.