The idea is enticing: Escape to an island and forget about the world's troubles for a moment. But as we board a ferry to just such a place—Beaver Island in Lake Michigan—we start to wonder if the escape is worth the trouble of getting there. We've already driven four hours north to Charlevoix, and now we'll spend another two on a 32-mile boat ride that costs $32.50 per person. Should've brought a book.
We paid $105 to have the good people of Beaver Island Boat Company load our 2020 Audi A6 Allroad onto the ferry, too. This car is a sort of fantasy come to life. It's an example of the rare European station wagon that has made the leap from forbidden fruit to fully realized and federalized vehicle for sale at U.S. dealerships. But that doesn't mean it'll be a commodity.
Indeed, this Allroad is the only wagon among the vehicles in the hull (we're definitely not counting the Dodge Journey). And it'll be an uncommon sight in the U.S., as we don't expect Audi will sell more than a few thousand per year here. But curiously enough, the Allroad is part of a trend—albeit one with niche appeal.
Posh wagons like this are experiencing a small resurgence in America. Some of them are festooned with bits of plastic body cladding and adjustable-height suspensions cribbed from SUVs, but we know a true wagon when we see one. Volvo has the V60 and V90; Mercedes, the E-class; Jaguar, the XF Sportbrake; and Porsche—yes, even Porsche—has the Panamera Sport Turismo. But Audi outdoes them all, offering two sizes of wagon (the A4 and A6) like Volvo as well as a high-performance variant (the 591-hp RS6 Avant) like Mercedes and Porsche. American wagon shoppers—at least those with disposable income—now find themselves in the unlikely position of being spoiled for choice.
Beaver Island is home to about 600 year-round residents, and even when tourism picks up in the summer, the only time you'll see anything resembling a crowd is when the ferry docks and lets off passengers. Waiting to disembark, we're transfixed by the seemingly choreographed movements of the ferry's personnel as they unload all manner of vehicles—bicycles, construction equipment, massive box trucks. Finally, our Soho Brown Allroad departs the vessel, and we set out to see what this small rock in the middle of a lake has to offer.
Beaver Island, which occupies 55 square miles of the lake, has about 100 miles of road. But few of these routes look anything like what we regularly drive on back home, and some of them stretch the definition of "road." For instance, on the map, Gull Harbor Drive appears to be a beautiful waterfront byway on the northeast tip of the island. It is not, as we find out when we stubbornly press past "Road Closed" signs only to realize that this narrow dirt path simply disappears into the crystal-clear water of the lake. So we head toward the other end of the island on King's Highway—one of the few paved roads—and hit dirt as we begin along East Side Drive. We select the car's Allroad driving mode, which raises the body 1.2 inches via the standard air springs. (There's also an additional 0.6-inch lift available below 22 mph.)
Truthfully, we could probably traverse any of the island's well-maintained dirt roads just fine in an A6 sedan. But isn't it more fitting to go exploring in this subtly rugged wagon? This is the sort of light adventuring that Allroads are intended for, and the A6's brown paint and gray wheel-arch cladding blend beautifully with the vivid-green trees, bright-blue water, and rich-tan sand that make up the Beaver Island landscape. The air-spring setup provides a gloriously smooth ride, keeping passengers comfortable over washboard sections of road.
The Allroad's elevated ride height, revised suspension setup, and long-roof bodywork aft of the B-pillar are the only meaningful differences from the A6 sedan. The two are otherwise mechanically identical and powered by the same turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6, which makes 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque and utilizes an unobtrusive 48-volt hybrid system. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is standard, as is Audi's Quattro with Ultra all-wheel-drive system, which features a rear-axle decoupling function to improve fuel economy. It seems to do the trick. Back on paved interstate, the Allroad achieves a remarkable 34 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop.
At the test track, the A6 wagon runs to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and completes the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 102 mph. That makes it a half-second slower in both metrics than the 2019 A6 sedan that's 155 pounds lighter. On the northern end of the island, prominent 25-mph speed-limit signs have us moving at a slower pace, although we see no posted limits in the more remote areas to the south. There the V-6 propels the Allroad with an easy sensation of power, but the engine note is so flat and distant, we find ourselves missing the cabin-filling character of Audi's old supercharged V-6. The dual-clutch transmission shifts quickly and smoothly but exhibits just enough clumsiness at low speeds to make us wonder why Audi doesn't use ZF's peerless eight-speed automatic here, as it does in the Q7 SUV with this engine.
Audi's dual-touchscreen infotainment setup is another questionable decision. We aren't overly concerned with the diversion of operating the touch-sensitive climate controls on quiet Beaver Island, where the roads are mostly empty. But back in the hustle and bustle of normal life, we prefer Audi's old, less distracting MMI setup, which used satisfyingly tactile buttons and knobs on the dash and an intuitive rotary controller on the console.
We're a bit disappointed to find that we have cell service on much of the island. Connecting to the Allroad's in-car Wi-Fi network feels wrong in a place like this, but there's a certain level of connectivity you expect in a vehicle starting at $66,895. Our nicely optioned Prestige model—which has such luxuries as heated and ventilated front seats, a head-up display, and soft-close doors—stickers for $72,910. That's enough to net you a nice plot of land on Beaver Island, if not a small rustic cabin.
Most people won't ever consider either of these peculiar purchases, though. Just because you know the island exists doesn't mean you'll go there, and just because station wagons like the A6 Allroad are available in the U.S. doesn't mean people will buy them. But maybe that's the point. An A6 Allroad wouldn't seem nearly as desirable if you saw one on every corner, and Beaver Island wouldn't feel so fantastically secluded if it were overrun with tourists. These sorts of hidden gems are undeniably special, but don't spread the word too widely. And if you do take a trip to Beaver Island, remember to bring along a good book for the ferry ride.
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