GENEVA — Audi AG celebrates 20 years of its quattro (all-wheel-drive) technology with the launch of its '01 Allroad, a beefy luxury car-based crossover vehicle.

“Twenty years ago, 4-wheel drive was a technical curiosity on normal roads,” says Audi Chairman Franz-Josef Paefgen. “We are moving successfully into the third millennium technically. We will see fewer and fewer automotive competitors but less uniformity. Customers are demanding a broader model range.”

The Allroad goes on sale in Europe in May and in the U.S. this fall. Although based on the A6 Avant station wagon, Allroad has a wider track, a slight increase in body height and design nuances, such as boldly shaped bumpers, flared wheel arches and a roof painted in contrasting colors. It will be marketed as a separate model, officials say.

Allroad's Geneva's introduction comes exactly 20 years after the first Audi quattro premier at the Geneva auto show. Since then, Audi has produced 800,000 quattro vehicles, with quattro models this year expected to account for 30% of Audi sales.

The Allroad, which Audi insists is not a sport/utility vehicle (SUV), features a four-level air suspension system that adjusts the ride height automatically depending on the vehicle's speed. Officials say the multi-suspension feature is what sets Allroad apart from typical SUVs.

Both axles have air-spring struts controlled by separate height sensors. These vary the ride height at each wheel to ensure ample ground clearance in off-road situations and optimum aerodynamics at highway speeds. The pneumatic system provides optimum ground clearance of 8.2 ins. (21 cm), besting its closest competitor, the newly released BMW X5 (see WEVTU — Nov. 15, '99, p.1). The body then is lowered in three steps between the maximum 8.2 ins. of ground clearance and the lowest 5.6 ins. (14 cm).

The system employs a complex variety of parameters to dictate which of the ride height settings is used when set in the “automatic” mode. The driver also can select the mode manually from the lowest setting (high-speed, on-road); normal firm-surface driving and raised levels 1 and 2; the driver also can at any time move to the next-lower mode immediately. The Allroad's standard electronic stability program (ESP) stability control system automatically engages in the raised suspension modes, which Audi says assures that handling behavior isn't affected by the vehicle's temporarily raised center of gravity.

The U.S, which not surprisingly is expected to be the largest market for the Allroad, will get Audi's 2.7L twin-turbo DOHC V-6 as the sole engine fitment. The 2.7L engine — a Ward's Ten Best Engines winner for 2000 — develops 250 hp at 5,800 rpm and 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) of torque, peaking in the Audi-typical flat, broad range of 1,800 rpm to 4,500 rpm. Audi says the principal modification to the 2.7L V-6 differentiating it from its use in the S4 and A6 models is change in boost pressure and modified engine-management mapping.

The European version comes equipped with Audi's advanced 2.5L TDI V-6 turbodiesel producing 180 hp at 4,000 rpm and 273 lb.-ft. (370 Nm) of torque between 1,500 and 2,500 rpm; Audi says this turbodiesel is the world's production-car leader in specific output of 72 hp/L.

Either engine can be coupled with a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic with Tiptronic self-shifting function.

Manual-transmission models, however, offer an advantage atypical of crossover-type vehicles: a low-range transmission function selected with a button near the gear lever. Audi says the low-range reduces the overall gearbox ratios by a factor of 1.54. Low-range can be engaged “on the fly” at any speed up to 19 mph (30 km/h) and can be used freely up to 31 mph (50 km/h). Between 31 mph and 43 mph (70 km/h), low-range will operate with a warning indicator; low-range operation at speeds above 43 mph is precluded by an electronic speed governor.

Len Hunt, president of Audi of America, says the Allroad also is expected to appeal to former SUV owners looking for features of a car. “It's got a lot of advantages,” he says, noting the Audi brand is particularly attractive to young buyers.

“Advanced technology is an essential of Audi,” Mr. Hunt says, adding that Allroad has tires and wheels developed specifically for the vehicle by Goodyear and Pirelli. “Because the car is capable of high speed and rough stuff, it needs a more aggressive sidewall that doesn't collapse when you are climbing boulders,” he says. “It's useful as well in the Northeast snow belts with their rough roads.” Optional is a tire-pressure monitoring system.

2001 Audi Allroad 2.7T

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
Engine: 2.7L (2,671 cc) DOHC V-6; Iron block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net): 250 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) @ 1,800 to 4,500 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.3:1
Bore x Stroke (mm): 81 × 86.4
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 108.7 ins. (276 cm)
Overall length: 189.4 ins. (481 cm)
Overall width: 72.8 ins. (1,185 cm)
Overall height: 61 ins. (155 cm)
Curb weight: 3,957 lbs. (1,795 kg)
Market competition: BMW X5, Lexus RX300