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First drive: Alltrack to attack Outback

Pumped up: The new Volkswagen Passat Alltrack will attack the Subaru Outback in Australia from late this year.

Passat-based VW off-roader takes a leaf out of successful Subaru crossover strategy

6 Mar 2012


VOLKSWAGEN’S Passat Alltrack is expected to attract a premium of between 10 to 15 per cent – or approximately $5000 – over the price of the $45,990 Passat 125TDI Highline wagon it is based on when it arrives late this year.

The Subaru Outback-styled Passat Alltrack will initially arrive as a single well-specified high-output turbo-diesel 125TDI model.

It will offer a raised body with minor grille, bumper and wheel alterations, a 4Motion part-time all-wheel-drive system, improved ground clearance, revised electronic driver-aid software, and an uprated towing capacity compared to the regular front-wheel-drive wagon.

The anticipated low-$50,000 price tag would make the Volkswagen about $10,000 more expensive than the Outback 2.0D diesel, though Subaru’s well-equipped 2.0D Premium equivalent starts from $46,990 and is a manual-only proposition.

The cheapest Outback model, the petrol-powered 2.5i, kicks off from $37,490, or $2000 more for the CVT automatic.

VW also builds petrol-powered Alltrack models, in 118TSI and 155TSI power output guises, but Volkswagen Group Australia will wait to see how the diesel is received first.

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“Petrol variations may follow later if the demand is there,” said a VGA spokesman.

The front-wheel-drive Alltrack variation, however, is not earmarked for Australia.

Jacked up and finished in rugged plastic cladded trim, the Alltrack follows the path pioneered by the Outback in the mid-1990s and – ironically enough – quickly picked up by VW stablemates Audi and Skoda for the A6 Allroad (1998) and Octavia Scout (2006).

Volkswagen admits it has been slow on the uptake, but is now committed to the Alltrack as a permanent member of the range.

Ground clearance is increased by 30mm to 165mm, while the front, ramp and departure angles also rise – from 13.5 to 16 degrees, 9.5 to 12.8 degrees, and 11.9 to 13.6 degrees.

A steel-plated underbody guard also protects the engine, gearbox, oil sump and the front part of the exhaust system.

The Haldex AWD system directs only 10 per cent of engine power to the rear wheels in normal conditions – via an electro-hydraulic clutch – but can increase that to 100 per cent if necessary.

Key electronic assist systems are tuned for off-road driving – similar to the Tiguan and Touareg 4Motion software programming – with a console-mounted button that switches the anti-lock brakes to a higher threshold to compensate for loose gravel and other surface anomalies, the hill-descent and electronic diff lock systems react differently, the accelerator pedal’s response is blunted, the standard six-speed dual-clutch gearbox changes up at higher speeds, and will hold onto the selected gear when in manual mode.

These off-road features work at up to 30km/h.

Driven over a variety of snow and mud-covered slush on a specially prepared course in the Tyrolean alps of Austria, the Alltrack showed off its crawling ability while maintaining traction and control.

But the German Volkswagen staff discouraged anything beyond walking pace in the rougher sections, limiting exposure to the Alltrack’s insufficient 165mm ground clearance (the Outback’s is 213mm).

On the open road, the Alltrack is just like the regular Passat 125TDI, with progressive and responsive steering, if a little light on feedback and feel, predictable handling and reassuring grip, offering the driver a comfortable and rewarding grand tourer.

Our test vehicle featured adaptive dampers that kept the ride from being fidgety in Comfort mode while providing enough cornering attitude and control in Normal for the harder Sport setting to be unnecessary.

Better still, the Alltrack’s drivetrain and chassis – from the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension to the electro-mechanical rack-and-pinion steering system – feels exactly the same as the regular Passat and that means fairly quiet, refined and sufficiently punchy.

Subjectively, the official 8.9-second 0-100km/h time seems pessimistic. With 125kW of power at 4200rpm and 350Nm of torque available from 1750 to 2500rpm, the 2.0-litre direct-injection common-rail four-cylinder turbo-diesel easily overcomes the hefty 1725kg of weight (against the regular Passat wagon’s 1554kg) for strong acceleration.

Speedy overtaking did require a bit of forward planning, but the engine would happily rev beyond 4000rpm, aided by a DSG that always seems to be in the correct ratio.

In European spec, the 125TDI 4Motion returns 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle with 155g/km of emissions, compared to the equivalent front-drive Passat’s 5.7L/100km and 151g/km (on the different Australian cycle).

After an extended 120km/h highway drive, the trip computer indicated an impressive 6.7L/100km, highlighting the diesel’s efficiency.

Apart from the higher seating position and the model name emblazoned rather cheaply in the lower console area, the luxuriously presented – if slightly dated – interior was standard up-spec Passat, which meant firm but supportive heated leather front seats with power adjustment, a two-tone beige-on-black dashboard finished in metallic trim inserts, an effective sound system and large-screen satellite-navigation display with a handy rear-view camera.

The German car scores over the Outback for cabin space with up to 1730 litres of cargo capacity, further underlining its capacity as a light-duty off-road family hauler.

It remains to be seen whether the Alltrack will be made available with the raft of driver warning systems on our test car, including Side Assist and Lane Assist that can actually nudge the steering wheel in the correct direction to alert the driver that the car is straying. VW’s Adaptive Cruise Control and City Emergency Braking options are expected to be made available, although the traffic sign detection technology will not.

The Alltrack 125TDI’s 2000kg (braked) payload is 500kg up on the regular Passat’s, though the 750kg unbraked rating remains.

In Europe, the Alltrack is expected to account for about 15 per cent of total Passat sales.

Its local wagon-crossover rivals, aside from the Outback, will be the Skoda Octavia Scout 103TDI (from $39,990) and Volvo XC70 D5 (from $63,450).

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