- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

In the beginning, there were cars and trucks. They begat sport utility vehicles. And now they, in turn, have given birth to crossover vehicles.

Crossovers are neither fish nor fowl, neither car nor truck, nor even SUV. First in the current crop was the Subaru Outback, an all-wheel-drive station wagon that is basically a jacked-up Legacy wagon.

Now comes Audi with its allroad quattro yes, the company prefers lower-case letters which is something more than a jacked-up station wagon, and also quite a bit more expensive.

The intention was to give us a vehicle with all the performance, luxury touches and precision handling of a high-bucks German sedan or wagon, along with all-wheel drive and the capability should you dare to travel off-road. Audi accomplished this with ingenuity.

At the heart of this unusual system is a pneumatic suspension system that can be adjusted manually or automatically to four different ride heights.

At its lowest setting, the allroad quattro has 5.6 inches of clearance between the suspension system and the pavement. That's for on-road driving at high speeds. From there, it can be raised to 6.6 inches, 7.6 inches and, finally, to 8.2 inches for off-roading.

The last setting gives the allroad quattro over an inch more of road clearance than the BMW X5, which is a taller, more mainstream sport utility vehicle.

Theoretically, this means that you can go bouncing around the boondocks in your allroad quattro. The truth is, few people short of the filthy rich would ever do such a thing. That's because, like the BMW X5, the allroad quattro is a substantial investment.

The base price is a hefty $42,475 and, with a few options like a power sunroof, an upgraded stereo system and a memory system for the front seats and outside mirrors, the test allroad quattro topped out at $47,850.

That's not the sort of machine you'd want to get scratched, much less banged up on a rocky trail through the woods. More likely, the allroad quattro will be called upon for runs to Nordstrom or Saks.

But that doesn't detract from its capabilities. Every SUV is a tradeoff. They give up in handling and stability what they gain in off-road prowess. But the allroad quattro mostly bypasses that.

Although it looks like a slightly taller Audi A5 station wagon, styling cues give it the rugged, outdoorsy look so favored by SUV lovers. Despite that, the allroad quattro has the steering and handling feel of a high-buck sports sedan along the lines of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class or the BMW 5-Series.

Power comes from Audi's 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 engine, which delivers a rugged 250 horsepower and plenty of torque, or low-speed pulling power. That translates into a zero-to-60 acceleration time of just over seven seconds with the five-speed automatic transmission, as well as the capability to haul heavy loads.

The five-automatic can be shifted manually, if that is your choice. A six-speed manual gearbox also is available.

But there is a slight tradeoff in using a relatively small engine with a turbo. Unless you get your foot in it right off the line, the allroad quattro has a tendency to hiccup before the power comes on in a rush. It's not a serious problem, but it can be disconcerting at times.

Inside, the allroad quattro displays all of the qualities expected in this class of automobile. Audi has a reputation for classy interiors, and this is no exception. Both aluminum and real walnut wood trim are tastefully incorporated into the dashboard, doors and console.

The upholstery is leather, and there is comfortable seating for four. A fifth person can be squeezed in the middle in back, but it's a hard perch with the feet upraised on the driveline tunnel.

Out back, there's 36 cubic feet of cargo space close to what you get in many truck-based SUVs and more than twice the volume of the BMW X5.

If you can afford it, the allroad quattro offers just about the best of all worlds performance and handling, comfort and luxury, off-road and foul-weather capabilities, and cargo space for vacations or short trips to the home-improvement store.

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