The Audi Allroad has become a running joke as possibly the least reliable car ever made, and for pretty damn good reason. Between the notoriously finicky 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 engine (same as in the vaunted B5 S4) and the early 2000s air suspension (read: terrible), there is just way too much crap to go wrong —Often to the point where most owners just can’t keep up with the maintenance and sell them off for cheap once the repair bills start piling up. Here’s where I come in.

I bought the car in September after seeing it sit on Craigslist for about a month. The timing belt had snapped on the previous owner, and being an interference motor, it was pretty safe to say that the engine was toast. Since the guy was a rational human being, it was his best bet to just cut his losses and just sell it.

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Note: I am not a rational human being.

After a few weeks of negotiating with the guy, the day finally came when I showed up with a truck and trailer (with a winch, praise Science), and took it over to my buddy’s house where I would be working on it for the foreseeable future. I won’t go into too much detail on the swap here, as it was a very long and detailed process, so if you want to get into the nitty gritty, you can check out my build thread on Expedition Portal.

Is it just me or does it look like a sad little frog here?

I already had a low mileage replacement engine lined up from a friend of a friend from a B5 S4. I brought a hoist and picked it up from him along with some gaskets and other misc. parts thrown on top:

First things first, we had to do a full timing belt job on the replacement engine, and it’s way easier to do on an engine stand than in the car. There was also a whole laundry list of other stuff I needed for the new engine, so I took my time and made sure everything on the S4 motor was solid before tearing into the Audi.

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Doing the timing belt (cam lock bar engaged):

Ze Germans: “Five valves per cylinder, guys! What could possibly go wrong with that?”

Everyone else: *Nervous laughter*

And finally it was time to rip the poor Audi apart and relieve her of her broken heart. First order of business was to shuffle it around a bit in order to get access to both sides of the car to remove the front axles, which is necessary in order to pull the engine and trans out together. To do this, we threw on some spare wheels my buddy had lying around that had better clearance so we could move it...

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Aaaaawwww yeeeaaaahhh! Allroad? More like SLAMROAD:

Protip: If you ever see a stock looking Allroad slammed down like this, nine times out of 10 it’s due to a broken and/or leaky air suspension.

Actually, I’ll make this simpler:

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Protip: Nine out of 10 Allroads have broken and/or leaky air suspension.

Heart surgery time! It’s as easy as 1-2-3!

And voila, the engine is out! No biggie. Just a little bit of a mess:

From here we needed to separate the old engine from the transmission I was keeping, throw on the new clutch, mount and plumb the turbos, mate the new engine and trans, talk in nothing but terrible Italian accents the whole time for some reason, and badaboom badabing, the new engine was ready to drop in the Allroad.

Got the turbos mounted, transmission a-go-go, and hooked up the stock downpipes. Yeah, yeah, I know, I should have upgraded everything while it was out, blah blah. That’s a slippery slope to go down, and I’m on a budget here. Also, I really just wanted to get everything running as a baseline first before doing anything too crazy.

With a sprinkle of internet magic that completely diminishes the 10+ hours spent working on it that day, the engine was in:

Then, on Jan. 22—nearly four months to the day after taking it home—the Expedition Allroad came alive!

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Don’t let my brevity here undersell you on how much work this all was. These are complicated fucking cars, and there were a lot of headaches along the way. I have a solid five pages of detail in my build thread before I even get the damn thing running.

The sun is at a good angle here to really show how much clearance it has

So what did this cost?

I figured it would be interesting to track how much this whole thing cost to get the car and get it running (excluding accessories and upgrades after the fact). I feel like you rarely get a good idea of what these builds you find online actually cost, so here you go:

  • 2002 Audi Allroad, 6-speed manual(!), grenaded 2.7 bi-turbo, and brand new 225/75/16 BFG KO2 All-Terrains: $1,500
  • S4 engine W/ ~75k miles + gaskets and harness: $550
  • Timing belt kit: $174.95
  • Luk Clutch kit: $160.78
  • Turbo mounting hardware + gaskets: $14.50
  • Camshaft seals: $13.54
  • Motor mounts: $59.90
  • Aluminum thermostat housing: $78.32
  • All the needed fluids: $97.16
  • Low mileage K03 turbos: Free (thanks Jay)
  • Misc. crap (estimated): $50

Total investment: $2,679.15

If I were to flip this thing right now, I would be doing pretty well, but I got lucky with a lot of things, and was able to do the work myself (with help). If a shop had done this much, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was over $10,000 just in labor.

Made a GIF to show the 4 air suspension levels.

While it was running and driving great, there were still some issues that I had to sort out:

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  1. The 2.7 Allroads came with secondary air injection (SAI) on all models, while the S4 did not. This meant I had a check engine light until I could get a tune that would set the expected airflow value to zero. Luckily for me, there are plenty of Stage 1 tunes out there that do just that, with the added benefit of jacking up the power from 250 horsepower to ~315-ish at the crank. Can’t complain about that.
  2. The tire rub was atrocious with the big tires. I managed to trim and pound out some more room to make it drivable, but it still rubs on full lock. I’m already running beefy spacers with these wheels (off of a B6 A4), but I’ll need new wheels to fully eliminate all rubbing.
  3. No skidplate! The oil pan and filter on these are pretty much the first thing to touch down over rough terrain. Luckily I was able to find a beefy Evolution Imports aluminum skidplate on an Audi forum.

Now it has been my daily driver for the past three months or so, and somehow, against all odds, I haven’t really had any issues since the swap. No check engine lights (besides the one eliminated by the tune), no bad sensors or wiring, just a few little tweaks that needed to be made and that was it.

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To quote the lovely lady in my life when she road in it for the first time:

“I... I can’t believe it works.”

That’s true love right there. Thanks for the confidence.

Now it’s time for the fun stuff!

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As you can see from the pictures, I added some lights and a roof rack, and coming in the next few months will be some Method NV 16-inch wheels in order to get the correct offset and get rid of that horrible tire rub. The more serious trails and trips will have to wait until I get everything fully dialed in, but I can’t help but take it out for some exploring anyway. This leads to the most important question:

So what can it do?

We all know how legendary Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is, but it does have its limitations. For one, there are essentially zero options for locking differentials, and the only LSD that I can find is ridiculously expensive to the point of not even being worth it. Think of it as being roughly equivalent of a Subaru Outback in terms of AWD prowess.

With a combination the IPP air suspension sensor arms and some software adjustments, it sits up about an inch to 1.5 inches higher than stock, which is barely enough for clearing the nearly 30-inch tires. This gives it more ground clearance than I think any stock SUV or truck in production today, even if it doesn’t look like it from some angles. From the factory it had 8.2 inches of ground clearance, and I should be sitting at 11-12 inches right now.

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Let’s be honest here. This is not and will never be a Jeep. I have built several Jeeps over the years and done more than my fair share of rock crawling. That is not what this project is for. This is for exploring trails and camping where any normal car would have to turn back. Oh, and it looks cool.

OK, so why not just buy a Subaru?

Because it’s fun to do something unique, even if that means using what is probably an overall worse tool for the job. Sure, while the Allroad is working, it will go toe to toe and then some with any Subaru out there... But let’s face it, between the needlessly complicated engine and the ridiculous air suspension, this thing is gonna break. That’s a fact.

The comparison I like to make is with sleeper drag cars. What fun would it all anyone built was a Mustang or a Camaro? It’s always awesome to see someone take something completely impractical and unique and make it work out there, even if they would have had better results just sticking with the typical Mustang.

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But above all else, it’s because I like it. Simple as that. By no means is this project done, but I felt I finally was at a solid enough spot to write something up on it. If you want to follow the build from here, you can check out my build thread or follow me on Instagram at ExpeditionAllroad because I’m shameless.

I’d like to make a special shout-out to my buddy Jay. Without his Audi expertise and generosity, I never would have been able to tackle this project. I’d also like to thank the smart ass at Audi who thought these ridiculously terrible cup holders were a good choice. Great job, Hans, you made us Americans suffer for having the audacity to want a cup of coffee on our morning commute.

Garrett Davis is the only documented human in history to keep an Audi Allroad running. A version of this post originally appeared on his Kinja blog. Got a story you’d like to submit to Jalopnik? Email us.