Winter weather makes a lot of consumers wonder whether it's time to get a new vehicle -- something hardier, able to glide above the snow, better able to handle these cold, blustery months.
Audi is now among the brands with a bona-fide, cold-weather sport utility vehicle.
The 2001 Audi allroad doesn't look like other high-riding SUVs, but that's its beauty. It has Audi's unmistakable European styling and long-running quattro all-wheel-drive system. It's easy to get into and out of. Yet it can provide an SUV-like 8.2 inches of ground clearance when circumstances warrant.
The allroad's maximum 73.2 cubic feet of cargo room -- with back seats folded down -- is also close to the 75 cubic feet of cargo space in the Lexus RX 300 and is bigger than the 54.4 cubic feet of the BMW X5.
Best of all, none of the usual Audi amenities, for luxury and safety, is lost or compromised.
The allroad comes standard with two-zone climate control for front-seat riders, front and rear fog lights, three-point shoulder belts and head restraints for all five seats, front-seat side airbags and inflatable side curtain airbags.
It also can be equipped with optional heated front and rear seats and even a heated steering wheel to create a very toasty riding environment.
But before you warm up too fast to this new winter-weather entrant, let's get to the price.
The V6-powered allroad has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge of $42,450 for a manual transmission model. An allroad with automatic transmission starts at $43,450.
This is $2,730 more than the starting price for a six-cylinder-powered BMW X5, $4,000 more than the top-of-the-line Acura MDX with touring suspension and $7,300 more than the starting price for an RX 300.
The price also is $5,550 more than the starting price for an A6 Avant quattro on which the allroad is based.
Why the big price difference?
Though the allroad looks basically like an A6 Avant quattro on steroids, it's a very sophisticated vehicle designed for handling like an SUV in bad weather and on bad terrain as well as like a nimble sport sedan on clear pavement.
The allroad's V6, for example, isn't the naturally aspirated, 200-horsepower, 2.8-liter six cylinder found in the A6 Avant. Instead, it has the high-performance, 250-horsepower, 2.7-liter, double overhead cam, bi-turbo V6 that's in Audi's performance S4.
The powerplant gets the 4,100-plus-pound allroad up to 60 mph in just 6.8 seconds with a manual transmission. It takes 7.3 seconds to hit 60 with an automatic. This is faster than a Jaguar S-Type with V6.
It sure felt quick in the test Audi. The allroad moved quickly, almost aggressively forward, when pressed. The power was there, even on steep mountain roads.
But it took a few days to learn how to modulate that power. I'd get very little power when I pressed the allroad's accelerator subtly; then, as I pressed harder, the allroad would surge forward. Practice helped me drive more smoothly.
The allroad's suspension is another sophisticated, high-tech element.
Up front, there's a four-link independent suspension with anti-roll bar. In back, there are double wishbones and another anti-roll bar.
The ride is quiet and firm. The stiffness of the allroad body and chassis is such you don't feel timid about taking curves with gusto.
But the real key is the air suspension spring struts front and rear. Each wheel has a ride-height sensor that detects ground clearance and adjusts the air spring strut appropriately, and separately, until the correct ride height is achieved.
Normal height is 6.6 inches, but if the allroad gets up over 60 mph for more than 30 seconds, the system automatically seeks the lowest setting of 5.6 inches to provide a low center of gravity and maximize handling.
If you go off road and drive slower than 40 mph, you can press a button on the dashboard and raise the height to 7.6 inches. If you get below 20 mph, you can raise the vehicle again, to 8.2 inches.
Note this 8.2 inches of ground clearance compares with 7.1 inches in the X5, 7.7 inches in the RX 300, 7.8 inches in the Ford Escape SUV and 8.4 inches in the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.
Audi justifiably proclaims that "no competing model has anything comparable to offer."
So maybe the allroad price isn't so off base, after all.
The quattro system is at work all the time and requires no input from the driver. But I did noticed a binding feeling at the wheels when I made tight turns in the test allroad.
Seats are leather and firm in the usual Audi way, but they could do without the sewn, horizontal seams that run under your legs. And tall people need to watch that they don't bump their heads on the tailgate when it's open.
Rear legroom of 37.3 inches in the allroad is better than the 35.4 inches of the X5 and the 36.4 inches of the RX 300. But the middle person in back has to contend with a large hump in the floor.
Audi expects 12,500 allroad sales in the vehicle's first year on the U.S. market.
Buyers are expected to have median age of 45 and household income of $175,000.
Ninety percent will be married, 60 percent of the buyers will be men and 85 percent will be college graduates, the company said. Forty-five percent will have children at home.
Because the allroad is a new model, Consumer Reports does not list reliability reports.
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