Car reviews - Volkswagen - Passat - Alltrack
Strong engine, decent fit and finish, good interior storage, quality ride and handling
Room for improvement
DSG transmission still difficult to use at low speeds, limited off-road clearance even by class standards
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9 May 2013
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
At $47,790 before on-road costs, the all-wheel-drive, diesel-only Passat Alltrack is a $1800 premium over the equivalent mid-range Passat wagon.
You’ll pick it instantly from the city-bred version by the long, low black strip that runs over the wheel arches and along the rocker cover under the doors. It’s an old car-maker’s trick to give the impression it sits higher off the ground.
At that price, too, it is somewhat north of the diesel Outback’s $42,490 heartland. By comparison, though, the lowest-cost, automatic transmission, oil-burning all-paws from rivals include the CX-5 Maxx ($39,470) and the RAV4 GX at $37,990. There’s no oil-burning CR-V for now, and for Nissan its diesel-engined all-wheel-drive X-Trail TL starts from $45,540.
Where the Passat Alltrack does well compared with its rivals, though, is on its list of standard equipment.
For the money you get a rich list of gear including multi-function steering wheel, dual-zone climate control with centre console-mounted air vents for the rear-seat passengers, eight-speaker audio with Bluetooth phone connection (which struggles with Apple iPhone5 compatibility), DVD compatibility and a USB/auxiliary input, a 30GB hard disc for storing music, parking sensors with a reversing camera, satellite navigation, trip computer, electric-lift tailgate, an old-school clock on the dash, rear seats that tumble forward at the pull of a lever, boot space cover and luggage net, and 17-inch alloy wheels, although with an off-road unfriendly 16-inch space-saver spare.
To encourage you to take a break, a fatigue monitoring system will remind you if it is time to pull over for a bit.
The seats, sitting under a big sunroof, are all clad in leather. The front ones both have electric adjustment and in-built heaters, and for an extra $1500 the front pews even get 12-way adjustment with memory settings. On the floor there are mud-hating carpet floor mats, and not the easy-to-clean rubber ones you’d expect in a outdoors-honed model.
The Passat Alltrack also has a 30mm boost to ride height over the model it replaces, sitting at 165mm – although still well shy of the Subaru Outback’s 213mm.
There’s even an off-road button on the centre console between the two front seats, and a bash plate under the engine and gearbox to protect them from the rough stuff. More about that later.
Surprisingly for such an urban escapee, the Alltrack includes a $2000 package that will automatically jump on the brakes for you if it thinks you’re likely to run into the vehicle ahead. It was fitted to our test car, but we didn’t get to test this off-road, or on-road for that matter.
The Passat’s interior is renowned for its clean, well-laid-out workspace, and the Alltrack is no exception. It fits its premium image well, with surfaces that are soft to touch where the hands mostly fall, and an exceptional level of fit and finish.
Flip through the rivals, and some look plasticky and hard-wearing by comparison.
The presentation in our test car was restrained but opulent, featuring a strip of brushed aluminium-look trim sweeping across the dashboard. The USB jack is hidden away in the deep centre console bin, which has a sliding armrest as a lid.
The sat-nav screen sits low on the centre console, but a turn-by-turn system that pops up in the centre of the instrument cluster between the white-lit speedo and tacho dials makes it less distracting.
Interior storage is good, with a drop-down drawer in front of the driver’s right knee, room enough for a drink bottle in the front door pockets, and generously sized, lidded drink holders in the centre console helped by an electrically operated park brake that frees up a lot of space.
Front-seat comfort is good, with a decent driving position behind the wheel available to a range of shapes and sizes.
Rear seat space is good, too, and there’s even nice touches such as the separate reading lights for the outboard rear-seat passengers.
The rear seats tumble forward at the flip of a button, increasing boot space from 588 to 1716 litres.
The boot is a good-sized space with a low load height and easy access thanks to an electrically assisted system that works off the key fob.
The boot space cover has a handy double-tap retracting system – tap the cover once and it retracts part way, tap it again and it retracts fully. The divider screen is a separate unit, and you need to remove the boot space cover to fit it. It also means you need to store one or the other somewhere in the garage when not in use.
There is one criticism, though. Our test car had an annoying and constant dash rattle in behind the instrument cluster that stayed with us all week.
Engine and transmission
Australians are quite accepting of diesel engines in vehicles that promise a life outside the city fringes, and Volkswagen knows this.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing a healthy 130kW of power, and more importantly a chunky 380Nm not far off idle. These impressive figures are thanks to an engine update introduced last month that added 5kW and 30Nm to outputs.
The engine tweaks also improved fuel economy.
The all-wheel-drive Alltrack will now officially sip 6.3 litres of diesel fuel per 100 kilometres, an almost achievable figure in the real world thanks in part to an idle-stop system that switches off the Alltrack’s engine while it is stopped in traffic (the off-road button disables this system, handy for when you’re stopped on a steep, slippery hill).
That compares with just 5.4L/100km for the $1300 cheaper front-drive Passat wagon featuring the same engine.
It is a smooth, powerful unit with V6 petrol-like acceleration that makes it easily capable of winning most traffic light contests when asked.
There’s still a little bit of diesel rattle under low revs, and a small amount of vibration through the steering wheel and pedals, but otherwise it is an engine that gets on with the job, and does it well.
Its Achilles heel is its six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The technology has advanced to the point where it can produce lightning-fast changes by pre-selecting the next gear up and down the range, but its downfall is still its awkwardness when trying to make small, precise movements.
Backing in particular, both on- and off-road, is a tricky, imprecise process as the unit first snatches, and then lets go in response to small throttle inputs. A hill hold function that stops the Alltrack rolling back on slopes is a big help at times.
Ride and handling
Despite a bumped-up ride height, the Passat Alltrack loses none of the classy road-holding ability of the more urbane wagon on which it is based.
That means the Alltrack is a smooth, comfortable companion around town, ably soaking up lumps and bumps with ease and confidence. The all-paw system, too, gives a more planted feel to the car, allowing you to fling it out of corners with maybe a little more enthusiasm than you otherwise would.
Our car included a three-stage automatic suspension setting that allowed a choice between comfort, normal and sport settings. On the high-riding Alltrack, even on the sport setting the ride was still comfortable, if not a little jiggy over the bigger bumps.
Alas, similar to the road-going car, road noise in the cabin is an issue. On coarse chip surfaces and at highway speeds, the Continental rubber generates a dull roar as a constant companion.
We threw the Alltrack at a steep stretch of washout-laced off-road track that would test any normal road-going car. Placing the wheels became an issue, because even with its taller stance compared with the previous model, the odd scrape from below showed the wagon up as more soft- than off-roader.
However, the all-wheel-drive grip from the 4Motion system easily tackled the uphill challenge – even if it was marred by the transmission’s low-speed imprecision – and a hill descent control system limited our run back down to a manageable speed without even having to touch the brakes.
The off-road button, we discovered, remaps the Alltrack’s electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. On a gravel road, it will allow the Alltrack to slough ever-so-slightly sideways around corners, flicking the tail out a bit before stepping in to bring everything back within a safe margin.
Safety and servicing
The Alltrack picks up the Passat’s strong safety lineage, including a top five-star crash rating and a suite of eight airbags. Sifting through the options list shows even more safety gear available, such as the crash mitigation system we mentioned earlier, blind-spot and lane departure warning, and one that is probably not a safety issue but interesting all the same – semi-automated parking that will self-steer the long wagon into an open spot.
Volkswagen has shifted its entire passenger car and commercial vehicle range over to a capped price servicing scheme. For the Alltrack, prices run from as cheap as $357 for 15,000km service up to $885 for a major 60,000km work-over.
Volkswagen passenger vehicles are covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. The German car-maker recently upped the warranty on its transmissions to five years to fight what it says are misguided perceptions that its transmissions are a source of trouble for owners.
Our week behind the wheel of the Alltrack showed it up to be an extremely likeable lifestyle vehicle.
Although a bit expensive compared with others, and displaying a bit less off-road ability than its looks suggest, the Alltrack carries everything that’s likeable about the somewhat undervalued Passat and lifts it up a level.
The all-paw system carries a bit of a fuel-use penalty compared with the regular, more mainstream Passat, but not much. And even though it lacks the same off-road ride height, as rivals, it does have the real-world off-road ability that the taller competitors may lack.
To me, the Alltrack a happy compromise and I’m even prepared to overlook that graunching gearbox. If only that dash didn’t rattle, it would be at the top of my shortlist.
Subaru Outback Premium (from $42,990 before on-roads).
, Boxer 2.0-litre four-cylinder layout is unusual, but so too is a continuously variable transmission sending drive to all four wheels. However, cheap interior, a bit dull to drive and low-down torque could be better.
Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring 2.2 (from $46,680 before on-roads).
, Stonking performance figures from 2.2-litre oil burner fitted to an old-school six-speed automatic feeding drive to each corner. Big nine-speaker audio system and plush drive dynamics offset a less-than-stellar fuel use rate.
Toyota RAV4 Cruiser diesel (from $46,490 before on-roads).
, A big improvement over the previous generation soft-roader, with a bit of real-world off-road ability thrown in.
Surprisingly for a Toyota, too, it drives well. A 2.0-litre diesel feeds to a six-speed auto, but no tow rating just yet.
MAKE/MODEL: Volkswagen Passat Alltrack
, ENGINE: 2.0L 4-cyl turbo diesel
, LAYOUT: Transverse
, POWER: 130kW @ 4200rpm
, TORQUE: 380Nm@ 1750-2500rpm
, TRANSMISSION: 6-sp dual-clutch auto, AWD
, 0-100km/h: 8.7secs
, TOP SPEED: N/A
, FUEL: 6.3L/100km
, EMISSIONS: 166g/km CO2
, WEIGHT: 1703kg
, SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/Four-link coil (r)
, STEERING: Electrically assisted rack and pinion
, BRAKES: Vented discs (f)/solid discs (r)
, PRICE: From $47,790 before on-roads
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