February 5, 2001

Sort of Utes: Audi allroad vs. Volvo Cross Country
Article and Photos by George Achorn and Paul Grimes

The sport-utility craze over the last several years seems as if it may be seeing the beginnings of a slowdown. Like many dot-com companies who'd burnt through all their cash only to wake up in the real world, potential SUV owners have begun to see the light, or at least the lightness of their wallet after a visit to the neighborhood gas station. Is it no surprise then that carmakers wanting to capitalize on the SUV chic are beginning to focus on this new hybrid class of crossover utility vehicle or CUV as it is now being called.

There are many approaches to the making of a hybrid. Many have chosen to take a car chassis and build a more sport-ute inspired design on top as seen with offerings such as the Lexus RX300 (Toyota Camry platform), Subaru Forrester (Impreza platform), and the Ford Escape which is a derivative of the Mazda 626. General Motors seems alone in their effort to use minivan genes as a base for their new offerings from Pontiac and Buick. Finally, there are those who simply use a car, generally in the form of a station wagon, and dress it up with a raised suspension and some differentiated body cladding. Subaru pioneered this segment with the Outback range based on their Legacy stationwagon. Having been wildly successful and a rebirth for Subaru in North America no less, companies known for station wagons such as Volvo and Audi sat up and took notice, deciding to capitalize upon their up-market status.

Volvo originally brought an offering to market several years ago in the form of the previous generation V70. The Volvo V70 XC, a.k.a. Cross Country, was released as the only up market alternative to the Subaru with an all-wheel-drive system, beefier body cladding and a slightly raised suspension. This particular car took the already popular V70 class wagon to a new level of status in the market and caused others to take a sharper look at working with SUV-inspired design. Now in its second generation of production, the Cross Country has continued to maintain its position with an even higher degree of differentiation from its V70 siblings.

While not having packaged their cars previously with SUV-inspired fittings, Audi is no new kid on the block when it comes to all-wheel-drive station wagons. While the Volvo all-wheel-drive system was recently introduced with the first XCs, Audi pioneered all-wheel-drive with its quattro system since the late 1970's. For Audi, it was just a matter of time before they decided to capitalize on their position as the all-wheel-drive pioneer in the lucrative SUV and SUV hybrid niche. However, with Subaru and Volvo deeply entrenched, Audi chose to slot the new allroad into the market slightly above either, with a whole host of technological wizardry to create what they view as the ultimate hybrid that is about as close as one can get to a non-SUV while still maintaining the capabilities of most SUVs.

Since the hybrid market is rather thin on the sport-utility-stationwagon end, these cars have few competitors. Though there is a gap in pricing and accoutrements, the Volvo Cross Country and Audi allroad are still fairly close. Both are mid-sized, all-wheel-drive stationwagons built by European luxury brands. Considering both Audi and Volvo partsbin availability for production, sales success of these two vehicles could easily spawn a wider range of equipment offerings for the two models that could easily result in much more direct competition between the two. This would be all the better for consumers.

For many of these reasons, comparing the Cross Country with the new allroad quattro seemed to make a lot of sense. Just how the newcomer allroad compares to the recently-revamped XC is a big question in the minds of many potential owners.

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