PREMIUM brands are dragging the wagon back into vogue.
The big three, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all have representation in the uber-plush load-lugging class, but yet the Aussie obsession with sport utility vehicles shows no sign of abating.
But what if you cross the wagon with an SUV. Audi did, and came up with an "allroad".
The four rings have made an artform of developing niches within niches and this latest is an interesting mix of a high-riding offering with car-like handling and the internal flexibility of an SUV.
Not only are they luxurious and well specced, the A4 and A6 allroads are also exclusive. Audi calls them limited editions, and only 150 of each model will arrive Down Under.
Based on the same architecture as their sedan counterparts, the interiors of both allroads are trademark Audi - well designed, plush and inviting.
Leather trim, quality fit and finish of the dash, buttons and operations, it's a blueprint that works.
Once you get the hang of Audi's main computer system which controls things like the stereo, sat nav and various car settings, everything is straight forward.
You can pay extra for some various trinkets to individualise the interior, like inlays for the doors and dash, but standard form would be more than satisfactory for most.
The A4 has three-zone climate controlled air-con, while the A6 has four with additional vents in the B-pillar.
Both offerings have reasonable leg and head room front and back. The larger A6 would be the pick for those carrying adults regularly as the A4's knee and leg room can quickly reduce with tall front passengers.
On the road
Primarily designed for the bitumen, the allroads can handle some rough stuff courtesy of improved ride height and greater underbody protection.
The standout is the A6 with its air suspension which rises and lowers depending on speed and conditions. All the driver needs do is select allroad via the car menu (there are also automatic, efficient comfort, individual and dynamic options) and the suspension does the rest.
Over some testing of gravel surfaces the wagon was nothing short of outstanding.
You can feel the car's technological wizardry assisting you through every turn which delivers a brilliant surefooted and balanced feel.
Under the A6's skin is creamy 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel which is a mighty strong unit. With a massive 580Nm of torque on tap you can overtake in a flash and hammer out of corners with ease.
The A4's smaller 2.0-litre unit is more subdued in its abilities yet still musters some handy power. There is some turbo lag on occasions if you are pushing the performance boundaries although in most circumstances it does the job willingly.
Both are impressive in the handling stakes, and still typically Audi-light in the steering, they remain engaging drives.
What do you get?
Standard specification is strong in both models, which unusually means you don't have to visit the options list to get a car with ample bells and whistles.
Both get alloy wheels, leather trim, sat nav, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise, parking sensors front and rear, keyless entry with push button start, paddle shifters on the steering wheel as well as electric adjustment of the front seats plus the maximum safety rating.
As an added bonus, allroad buyers also get a travel bag and a cooler bag that can be plugged into the 12-volt ports.
Finding direct competitors in this premium realm is difficult, there is always the Volvo XC70 D5 $63,990 and Subaru Outback 3.6 R Premium ($57,490), but buyers will probably be also considering an SUV including the likes of Audi's own Q5 (from $62,200) or the BMW X3 (from $59,030).
Both of these turbo-diesels are miserly units. While the 2.0-litre is impressive at 6.0 litres/100km, the 3.0-litre V6 only sips on average 0.3 more.
Servicing costs would be worth investigating to avoid major shocks come maintenance time.
Boot space in the A4 is thin, enough for a pram and a bag or a couple of sets of golf clubs, while the A6 is slightly larger. The back seats of both models fold to improve the carrying abilities.
Child seat points are just behind the head rests and you get a range of good storage spots.
Both cars also have reasonable braked towing capacity, with the A4 boasting 1700kg while the A6 manages 2500kg.
You can easily spot the allroads… platinum vertical slats in the grille, flared wheel arches, contrasting bumper colours as well as stainless steel along the back and on the side skirts highlight this is more than just a high-riding wagon. They're sharp offerings which look athletic.
One drive of the allroads and the concept quickly makes sense.
Most SUV buyers never leave the bitumen, and if they do the toughest terrain is a gravel road. Audis allroads can handle this and more.
You get the internal space found in an SUV without excessive ride height or the expensive replacement rubber.
For those with deeper pockets, the A6 allroad is the weapon of choice. It's burly 3.0-litre engine and air suspension is outstanding and is ultra impressive off the black stuff.
The writer was Audi's guest at Montville.
Model: Audi A4 allroad quattro.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive compact luxury wagon.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 130kW @ 4200rpm and peak torque of 380Nm @ 1750-2500rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic.
Consumption: 6.0 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 8.1 seconds; top speed 210kmh.
Bottom line: $69,900.
Model: Audi A6 allroad quattro.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive mid-size luxury wagon.
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 180kW @ 4000-4500rpm and peak torque of 580Nm @ 1750-2500rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic.
Consumption: 6.3 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 6.6 seconds; top speed 236kmh.
Bottom line: $117,900.