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First drive: High hopes for new VW Passat Alltrack

Jacked up: Volkswagen is expected to continue with a single-spec diesel variant for the new Passat Alltrack due here next year.

Rugged new-generation VW Passat Alltrack wagon bound for Australia in 2016


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14 Sep 2015


VOLKSWAGEN has launched the off-road-oriented Alltrack variant of its new-generation B8-series Passat wagon in Europe, just weeks before the main range debuts in Australia.

The high-riding all-wheel-drive wagon has been a niche but popular part of the local Passat line-up, and is likely to continue in much same specification – and at much the same price – when it lobs here next year.

Volkswagen Group Australia public relations manager Kurt McGuiness told GoAuto at the international launch in Germany this week that local details were still to be finalised, but said the strategy with the current model – which is sold as a single-spec diesel variant, starting below $50,000 – was working well and likely to continue with the redesigned model.

He said the current Passat Alltrack makes up 40 per cent of all Passat wagon sales, and that the new version will bolster the burgeoning ‘Alltrack’ stable which from next month will include the smaller Golf Alltrack.

“We see the Alltrack as a sub-brand across the group,” Mr McGuiness said.

“Look at where the current one sits in terms of spec and pricing for an indication of where this will be positioned.” The Alltrack mimics the basic architecture of the regular B8 Passat wagon, but adds ride height – an extra 27.5mm, for a total of 147mm ground clearance – as well as underbody protection and all-wheel-drive capability.

Also setting it apart are new bumpers, trapezoidal exhaust trims, bespoke rims, black plastic wheelarch overfenders and sills, roof rails and a set of unique exterior colours.

Slight variations to the interior include different coloured trim inserts and a set of suede and leather seats with ‘Alltrack’ embroidery on the headrests.

The Alltrack is currently the only all-wheel-drive variant in the latest Passat family, and uses a fifth-generation Haldex coupling to connect the active front wheels to the passive rears.

A six-speed DSG gearbox augments electronic front and rear differentials, while longer springs and retuned dampers give the Alltrack its taller stance.

The outgoing B7 Passat Alltrack uses a 130kW version of VW’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, and the B8 will likely ship Down Under with an all-new, similarly sized, all-aluminium Euro 6-compliant turbo-diesel that develops 140kW from 3000-4000rpm and 400Nm from 1950-3000rpm in European trim.

The new engine can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 8.0 seconds, topping out at 220km/h. It returns a claimed 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined fuel economy cycle and emits 135 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

Volkswagen claims it has saved up to 80kg in weight over the B7, mainly via the new and lighter engine, more high-strength steel in the body and the use of a lighter one-piece plastic composite sump guard.

The Drive Mode system is augmented for the Alltrack with additional off-road modes, including hill hold and descent modes, which complement the Sport, Comfort, Eco and Individual functions.

Available only as a wagon, the B8 Alltrack has 639 litres of storage space with the rear seats in position, and 1769 litres with the seatbacks folded down. A flexible architecture includes a cargo floor that can be lowered, alloy cargo rails and an adjustable netting divider.

While a sophisticated trailer control mode is available on European-spec cars that allows the Alltrack to steer itself to park a trailer while reversing, this feature may not make it to the Australian market due to stricter rules concerning trailer chain retainers.

Volkswagen AG’s claims of a 2200kg (braked) towing capacity are also unlikely to be realised for Australia most states stipulate that the mass of a towed trailer must not exceed that of the tow vehicles. Current Alltracks are limited to 1800kg.

While definitive specifications are yet to be announced for the local car, expect a high level of equipment including powered and heated front seats (with a massage function for the driver), heated and cooled rear seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Apple Play and Android Auto connectivity via a bespoke Alltrack infotainment system, LED headlights and tail-lamps, a TFT dash, satellite navigation, Drive Mode Select, a rearview camera and radar cruise with city emergency stop.

Outside, alloy roof rails, 17-inch rims and black body panels, along with unique colours, will set the Alltrack apart.

Options are likely to include a sunroof, VW’s XDS+ torque-vectoring diffs and larger rims.

Over a limited test run on largely unchallenging terrain, the Alltrack presents as an excellent alternative to a larger, taller, heavier SUV.

This is GoAuto’s first drive of a Passat since the international launch in August 2014, and it is instantly clear that the high-level DNA has carried over to the Alltrack. Despite sitting some 27mm higher on taller and softer springs, the Alltrack’s ride and composure is exemplary.

Multiple drive modes do little to alter the fundamental character of the car, but do allow for a bit of flexibility and personalisation, especially using the Individual mode.

Adding weight to the steering and sharpening engine response adds a bit of character, but really, the Passat is not meant to have its neck wrung around every corner.

Instead, it is a very quiet, incredibly surefooted and amazingly flexible wagon with a hint of machismo about it.

The 2.0-litre diesel engine is quiet even under load and offers great flexibility across the torque and rev ranges. The six-speed DSG is at odds with a family that offers both seven and eight gears in the roster, but the diesel is flexible enough to leave in a gear and coast along.

The fifth-generation Haldex all-wheel-drive system will, for 99 per cent of its life, operate as a front-wheel-drive, with the system sending power out where it is needed only when required.

While top variants in Europe will have the option of torque-vectoring diffs front and rear, it is not yet clear if Australia will get that choice. Electronic LSDs do reside front and rear, though.

VW engineers assured us that the Alltrack is quite capable off the beaten track, and able to climb wet and slippery 40 per cent gradients with ease. Its 147mm of ground clearance is adequate for many Aussie dirt tracks, but it is long and wide, which counts against it in the really rough stuff.

In reality, the Alltrack will only ever be used on graded gravel and dirt roads, snow and beach access tracks – and it will do the job with aplomb.

Inside, the VW Group feel is obvious, but that is no bad thing. Controls fall easily to hand, there is comfortable seating for five large adults, and the storage and flexibility of the cargo area is a match for any mid-size SUV – and even some larger ones.

A gently sloped roof does not compromise load space, while rear hatch levers that flip the rear seats down complement the droppable floor and alloy cargo rails. Even the cargo blind can be adjusted in multiple ways to divide the load space.

The Passat Alltrack is a sales success within its family, though its volumes are not high. It will be a while before we see it land Down Under, but when it does, it’ll most likely become the volume-selling wagon in the Passat family.

It offers more ability and flexibility, carries a genuine air of prestige about it and looks great to boot.

If VW can hold its price under $50,000 – and it says it can – it should do very well.

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