Car reviews - Volkswagen - Passat - Alltrack
Cabin space, refinement, fuel economy, performance, handling
Room for improvement
Tyre roar on coarse chip, paddles for the wheel, pricing needs to be sharper to threaten the Outback
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24 Feb 2016
THERE is much to be said about the usefulness of wagons such as the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and its main rivals, the Subaru Outback and the related Skoda Octavia Scout.
Wagon-based SUVs offer space and practicality but unencumbered by the truck-like manners of a full-on 4WD – families who want to look like explorers can still do so without the sacrifices of exorbitant size.
The new Passat Alltrack is a prime example of such versatility. Volkswagen staffers even referred to it as the brand's Swiss Army Knife.
Based on the civilised and spacious eighth-generation Passat wagon, the workhorse of the range is no less refined in its bush-walking guise.
An introductory drive through the byways and back-roads of the Blue Mountains showed the wagon has a quiet cabin, refined drivetrain and ample outputs for swift progress when required.
The 2.0-litre 140kW/400Nm turbo-diesel is quiet and its upgraded outputs deliver a linear surge, although drive out of slower corners could be a little tardy, but once spinning the acceleration is decent.
The steering is a touch on the light side but it points accurately, directing a chassis that is composed and compliant while still leaning towards the handling side of the equation.
A switch to an unsealed surface did little to deter the pace of proceedings as the all-wheel drive and stability control systems dealt with loose surfaces easily, if almost playfully.
Off-road mode felt as though it gave a little more leeway, eventually intervening if the driver didn't deal with understeer or oversteer but not jumping the gun, however lurid tail-out driving was not within the Alltrack's parameters.
Ride quality is firm and it did crash through some larger ruts and holes, but not to the point of wishing we were in an Outback, which previous experience suggests is better suited to the rougher end of the spectrum.
Part of that may be due to the self-sealing 245/45 Continental tyres – the only rubber on offer – on the Alltrack, which did well in the bends but less so in absorbing the jittery road imperfections.
The brisk launch drive – which included some unsealed back roads and country towns – gave us a fuel economy figure in the region of 8.0 litres per 100km, although an extended highway cruise saw that number fall close to 6.0L/100km.
Cargo space is cavernous and the occupant space for four adults impressive – both in leg and head room – but the three adults across the rear bench will not want to be protective of their personal space.
Passenger-car based wagons have long made more sense than SUVs for the bulk of driving duties and the Passat Alltrack does plenty to build a case against bigger all-terrain wagons as a family car.
With enough clearance to cope with what most families are likely to traverse, without destroying the dynamics for the road trip that gets the family to its destination.
Subaru's Outback roundly outsells the Passat Alltrack by a significant margin (Subaru sold nearly 11,000 Outbacks last year and Volkswagen sold 249 Alltracks) and while the Volkswagen is capable and comfortable wagon, the price difference and firm ride won't drag hordes out of the Subaru dealerships.
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