The new Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is a fully-loaded Swiss Army Knife of a car. But is ‘doing it all’ enough for a family car? James gets behind the wheel to find out.
“It’s really big back here. I can’t even kick your seat," said Miss Seven of the rear seat room in the 2016 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack.
She was right, too. It is, and she couldn’t. Everyone wins.
The $49,290 (before options and on-road costs) Alltrack is the ‘snow trips’ version of the impressive new Volkswagen Passat wagon. With almost 28mm of extra ground clearance, grey over-fender wheel arch cladding and constant all-wheel drive, the Alltrack is pure crossover. Sensible station wagon usability and SUV capability all wrapped up into one sizeably practical package.
And it’s the size that is one of the most crucial call outs here.
Where the large crossover wagon gets the ‘ah’ moment is when measured against its own SUV stablemate, the Volkswagen Touareg. Plenty of buyers opt for the SUV over the wagon and cite size as the primary decision.
And while pure size is in the Touareg’s favour, space is not. The extra 24mm length, 108mm width and 113mm wheelbase of the T-reg translates into a whopping 127-litres LESS cargo volume (with all seats folded) and 88mm less rear leg room.
Numbers; numbers; numbers you say – bottom line, the Alltrack is a very spacious car.
It’s a sharp looking car too. The edgy lines and distinct angles of the eighth-generation Passat translate particularly well into the wagon. Our test car is finished in Night Blue metallic paint ($700 option) and is one of the classier of the eight colour choices available.
There’s only one option on the Alltrack, a $3500 Luxury Package which adds a giant panoramic sunroof, cornering LED headlamps and an automatic parking function.
The big roof enhances the Alltrack’s upmarket appeal and the light-signature from the LED running lamps is really cool.
Inside too, the Alltrack is smartly appointed and well equipped. You want for nothing in this car, with even all the modern driver assist technology included.
The thing is, despite everything being present and the layout clean and usable, the Passat suffers from a very Volkswagen trait of being almost too clean. It’s clinical and measured and quite cold. This is a car that does what it does very well, but won’t win any awards for being particularly special.
Yes, the textured temperature dials are pleasant to touch, and the fish-scale type trim on the dashboard is a nice inclusion, but it just doesn’t have any character. There’s no ‘wow’ moment.
Some of the elements feel light to touch, too. The steering wheel, which offers a huge amount of ergonomic functional access, feels thin. It’s as if a computer calculated the optimal diameter to intersect price with comfort on some theoretical graph. Not bad by any stretch, but not great either.
Ahead of the driver is the typical VW multi-function display which seems to be adding more detail to every new vehicle that features it. The steering wheel buttons to control the information display are easy to use and for the most part, work well to cycle through the data you need on the move.
But there is so much info there, it can be quite easy to get lost and like a Rubik’s Cube, a few miscalculated inputs left and right, can have your digital speed or average consumption lost amongst the multitude of screens.
Central to the dashboard is an eight-inch colour touch screen that also offers a staggering amount of information, not to mention ‘infotainment’.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions are mostly well integrated (providing you can find them – tip: hit the menu button), but the native package also provides a comprehensive list of features, although there is no DAB digital radio.
Just on CarPlay too, the interface is simple to use, and worked well for the seven-year old DJ riding up front, but the swipe up and down interaction with the screen, say when picking a song that is NOT performed by Taylor Swift can be a bit clumsy and a swipe becomes a click and bam, more TayTay.
That said, the standard eight-speaker stereo system is pretty good, should you want to ‘shake it off’ on the morning commute.
Within the CAR menu on the infotainment system though, is a huge range of information screens and settings to play with. You can check fuel consumption between refills (handy for us anyway), and switch driving modes from Sport (with cool boost and g-force gauges) to an Off-Road mode with an inclinometer and ability to engage the hill descent control system.
The downside to all this information is the ease of accessing it, and the system isn’t the most intuitive to use. It can get quite confusing. It took me a while to ‘re-find’ the Think Blue Trainer economy screen and some of the text can be hard to read while on the move.
Plus, the TRAFFIC button gives you access to a screen that never displays any data. Do it right or don’t do it at all please VW.
Navigation offers a predictive proximity sensor for your hand, so that the map isn’t cluttered with overlays and buttons until you want to interact with it. It’s a handy touch – pardon the pun.
One thing is for sure; between the functions of both of the display screens, there is enough to keep owners busy for a while!
Powertrain choices are simple. You can have a 140kW/400Nm four-cylinder turbo diesel and a six-speed DSG gearbox, and that’s it.
It’s a mix that prioritises smoothness and economy over whiz-bang performance, but is ultimately a very capable combination. The 1671kg Passat still offers a 2200kg towing capacity, which is impressive given the relatively small size of the engine.
Around town, in the standard drive mode, the Passat’s performance could best be described as relaxed. That elastic engagement you naturally feel from the DSG gives the Passat a bit of a lethargic feeling off the mark. The start-stop system helps your fuel bills but as in other VAG products, the reaction time when the engine is off won't set your world on fire.
On the move, the DSG will shift smoothly at low revs, most often below 1500rpm, resulting in some pretty impressive fuel consumption. The trade-off is a very sedate pace. Quite simply, this is not the car to dash about town in.
You can reduce this lag by running the car in sport mode, which turns the start-stop function off and increases your fuel use – but that’s not really a permanent solution if yours is a more hurried way of life.
Running about town on family errands, the Passat is consistently helpful with its convenient packaging. From the remote 40:20:40 rear seat releases, storage cubbies and shopping bag hooks in the boot, to the central armrest and temperature controls in the back – sensibility and usability are at the forefront.
It’s a big car, but never unmanageable, even in tighter urban streets. Driving it feels like a return to the realm of the old-school station wagon. Sure there’s a big footprint but it just seems to work.
Ride comfort is good, even over cobbles and speed-humps. That extra suspension travel again makes the Alltrack a very liveable proposition, even with its 18-inch wheels.
The long-list of safety and assistance features are always active which means the parking sensors will often activate when you are in stop-start traffic or manoeuvring close to obstacles. It does stop you from running into things, but can be a little annoying.
Get the Alltrack out on the open road though, and the smooth gear changes from the DSG and relaxed response work in the car’s favour. This is an effortless tourer.
We saw fuel consumption regularly below the 4L/100km mark (VW claims 4.9L/100km for highway use) when touring and had an average combined use of just 6.8L/100km (against a claimed 5.4L).
The ride on the highway is very comfortable and in concert with the supportive leather seats, you can eat up long miles with little fatigue. Setting the cruise control speed in 5km/h increments, particularly in Victoria where 1km/h makes a difference to your wallet, can be a little fiddly but it’s a small gripe.
Crossing over (see what I did there?) from urban to touring duties is what makes the Alltrack an exceptional family car. The space, packaging, equipment and overall ease of use are what really makes this a true jack of all trades.
Yes, it is a bit clinical in its execution and yes, despite the smart design, it is a bit invisible in the crowd (although you could opt for the snazzy Habanero Orange hero colour to address this), but the Alltrack is a complete vehicle that ticks all the important family boxes.
The crossover title suits the Alltrack so much more than the ‘throw it at everything’ SUV moniker as it isn’t a sporting car, and it offers much more than just utility.
The 2016 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is a bit like a display house. Full of function and promise, and laid out in a postcard perfect way – but lacking in character and warmth because of it.
It’s not a bad thing, no one buys a fridge ‘with character’, we all just want them to work perfectly all the time. As a four-wheeled appliance, the Alltrack will do that every day of its life, but in the same way a display house is not a home, the Passat Alltrack is just a car. A very good car, but one which will help you live your life, not be part of it.
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