If you wanted to buy a Subaru Outback, but found the price too low, you might want to consider the 2013 Audi Allroad. Or, if you wanted a new A4 wagon and missed out on the 2012s, the Allroad would be your only choice.
The new Allroad takes the idea of an A4 wagon and butches it up just a little. The 18-inch wheels and a slightly lifted suspension achieve 7.1 inches of ground clearance, while steel underbody pans give the car some extra protection. But Allroad does not mean off-road, as this Audi lacks a few basics for serious wilderness work.
Although Audi's Quattro system comes standard, giving it advanced all-wheel drive, you won't be able to lock the differential to maintain power at all wheels. And while the traction control includes an off-road setting, the Allroad does not have descent control, forcing the driver to rely on the manual gear selection mode from the eight-speed automatic transmission.
While I was trying to coax it up a rocky slope, the all-season tires lost grip and no amount of Quattro could overcome the Allroad's predicament until I had reset its position, finding a more stable track.
Despite it not being equipped to tackle a cross-Sahara trek, the Allroad is an excellent all-purpose car. The wagon design gives it plenty of room for passengers and cargo. It shines as a suburban grocery getter, daily commuter, and weekend ski transport.
Built-in Street View
What really sets the Audi Allroad apart from the Subaru Outback is the near-perfect cabin tech, made up of the same navigation, stereo, and hands-free phone system I recently enjoyed in the Audi S5.
The Premium Plus trim Allroad I tested came equipped with Audi's most recent MMI, which stands for Multimedia Interface. Its most astonishing feature is the Google Earth-integrated navigation system, which relies on an always-on data connection to download satellite imagery of the car's current surroundings, or anywhere you want to browse on the map.
One relatively recent feature of this system is the ability to get a Street View of destinations. After entering a destination, or simply browsing the map, I could zoom all the way in so that the Allroad's LCD filled with Street View imagery of that location. This feature lets you get a photographic view of your actual destination, making it easy to recognize when you arrive.
When the car was in a cellular dead spot, such as a parking garage, the map reverted to a stored representation, which is quite impressive in itself. The maps show in either 2D or perspective views, with the latter including 3D-rendered buildings for some downtown areas. Both Google Earth and stored maps also show traffic, both flow data and incidents. When I drove into areas without a data connection, the Google Earth maps lost detail, but still showed a blurry approximation of the territory. I assume prolonged driving in a dataless land would have caused the system to revert to its stored maps automatically.
The MMI controller requires use of a dial to enter alphanumeric characters, which makes entering addresses or searching the points-of-interest database really tedious. However, the car's voice command let me enter street addresses as a single string, without having to say the street name, city, and state separately. And this system did an excellent job of recognizing even difficult names, such as "Tehama," an alley next to CNET's San Francisco offices.
However, I really came to rely on using voice command to access Google Search when I wanted to find a business. Naming a business, such as Home Depot, caused the system to churn for a few moments as it processed my command and then used the car's data connection to retrieve nearby results. This feature worked so well that other automakers would be foolish not to offer an equivalent.
The car's hard drive, primarily used to store maps, reserves space for music, which you can copy over to it. The stereo also supports Bluetooth-streaming audio and features two SD card slots just below the CD player. For iPod and USB, the Allroad features a proprietary port able to accept different adapter cables. This port is inconveniently placed in the glove box, though, which meant that I left my iPhone in the car a couple of times, and had to go back down to the garage to retrieve it.