AVON, Colo. - Audi of America Inc. is launching its first crossover vehicle - the 2001 Audi allroad quattro - well aware of the heightened public scrutiny of sport-utilities and their tendency to roll over because of high centers of gravity.
With its height-adjustable air suspension, the allroad quattro provides ground clearance for off-road driving and a lower carlike ride height for driving at highway speeds.
The four-level air suspension is the heart of the vehicle, introduced to Audi dealers here the week of Oct. 29.
Audi believes it has the vehicle that will dispel any concerns that drivers may have about the center of gravity on sport-utilities and other crossover vehicles.
'People have this kind of comfort level with an SUV because they sit in a high driving position with a lot of metal around,' said Len Hunt, vice president of Audi of America. 'It's a big vehicle, and it has a high feeling of safety. However, they are becoming increasingly aware that there may be drawbacks to the high center of gravity.'
Audi feels fortunate that it is launching the allroad quattro when the American public is concerned about rollover tendencies, Hunt said.
'But it's been by luck, not management, because the development of this vehicle began three years ago,' he said.
Deliveries to Audi dealers began Oct. 23. Audi expects to sell at least 6,000 allroad quattros annually in the United States and another 600 a year in Canada.
Audi wants to use the allroad quattro to retain owners who consider leaving the brand for sport-utilities and crossover vehicles. Audi expects the allroad quattro to compete with sport-utilities, crossovers and wagons. Models include the Mercedes-Benz M class, Lexus RX 300, BMW X5, Volvo Cross Country, Land Rover Range Rover and BMW 5-series wagons.
The allroad quattro is Audi's first crack at this crossover segment but not the last.
'You can be sure you will see more hybrid-type vehicles from us in the future,' said Marc Trahan, product management leader at Audi of America.
It took 21/2 years to develop the allroad quattro's adjustable suspension. The system varies the vehicle's ground clearance by 2.6 inches using four distinct ride heights - 5.6 inches at the lowest level to 8.2 inches at the highest.
At 8.2 inches, the allroad quattro exceeds the 7.1 inches of ground clearance of a BMW X5 and the 7.7 inches of a Lexus RX 300. A Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utility, in comparison, has more ground clearance - 9.3 inches at the front axle and 8.3 inches at the rear.
With the adjustable suspension, the allroad quattro provides on-road performance akin to that of a German high-performance touring sedan and an off-road capability of a sport-utility, Trahan said.
Ride height can be controlled automatically or manually via a control panel at the top of the center console. The control unit selects ground clearance according to road speed.
But an electronic interlock prevents the driver from accidentally choosing too high a ride height when the vehicle is going fast.
'We will not allow them to be going at a speed with a center of gravity that could destabilize the car,' Hunt said.
The suggested base price of the allroad quattro with standard six-speed manual transmission is $42,450 in the United States, including the $550 destination charge. With an optional five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic - which allows the driver to be in automatic or shift gears manually but without a clutch - the base price is $43,450.