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In an age where car manufacturers are creating more niches than there are markets, comes the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack – only this one has legs.
Based on the regular Volkswagen Passat wagon the Alltrack raises ride height by 30mm to 165mm, providing semi-SUV-status and the principal rationale behind this new edition to the Passat family.
With the Passat Alltrack, Volkswagen is aiming to bridge the gap between the family station wagon and the traditional SUV (sports utility vehicle).
The target market for the Alltrack are those drivers requiring either greater towing capability than a conventional car, or light off-road capability, but don’t have the need or desire for a full-blown SUV.
To cope with these increased demands the Passat Alltrack is equipped with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, as well modifications to the chassis that provides an 1800kg towing limit (up 200kg over the Passat Wagon).
The extra ride height also increases the vehicle’s approach, departure and all-important breakover angles for safer travel when venturing off the bitumen.
In addition, the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack gains a number of specialised body parts that not only change the visual appearance of the car, but also offer a higher level of protection in off-road environments than the standard Passat Wagon.
Those features include SUV-style bumpers with protective cladding that encompasses the wheel arches and side sills, as well as a solid underbody engine guard made from 5mm steel plate that protects key components such as the gearbox, sump, exhaust system and various hoses.
The Volkswagen Passat Alltrack’s appearance is further boosted with visible metallic-look underbody protection panels on the front and rear of the vehicle.
Volkswagen has launched the Passat Alltrack into Australia as a one variant model powered by a robust 2.0-litre 125kW TDI engine generating a maximum 350Nm of torque between 1750 – 2500rpm.
It’s mated to a six-speed DSG transmission with a fuel-saving coasting function that works in concert with the Alltrack’s stop/start system.
It’s noticeably effective, too. When you lift your foot off the accelerator pedal the engine is declutched, thereby freeing the vehicle from engine braking and allowing it to coast with significantly more momentum.
Volkswagen claims a combined fuel-consumption of just 6.3L/100km and CO2 emissions of 166g/km.
The Passat Alltrack is the first Volkswagen passenger car to be equipped with the same off-road driving program seen on Volkswagen’s Touareg and Tiguan SUV models.
It’s a highly effective piece of electronic nanny-ing that re-maps the ABS; throttle response, electronic differential lock and shift points for maximum traction across unstable surfaces.
The technology proved invaluable on the slippery dirt tracks, riddled with loose stones and tricky bends that made up part of our South Australian test drive route.
With the ‘off road’ system activated, the Alltrack was able to maintain a confident composure with excellent stability, grip and a surprisingly high degree of comfort.
In standard-spec, the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is equipped with 17-inch alloys shod with high-quality Continental tyres. While they do offer more a slightly more compliant ride than the optional 18-inch rims both on-road and off-road, the larger wheels provided better traction on the pavement.
Despite the higher than usual ride height the Passat Alltrack is dynamically sound, handling the undulating and windy Adelaide countryside with similar levels of competence to the regular Passat Wagon.
The Alltrack sits relatively flat through S-bends and is rock solid during quick changes of direction at the 100km/h speed limit in these parts.
Things get even better in this regard by choosing the optional adaptive chassis control. The electronically controlled dampers mean that drivers can switch between three damper settings – comfort, normal and sport.
On windy roads the sport setting ensures dead flat cornering and heavier steering, but with a decidedly firmer ride. Switching to comfort provided an immediate shift to a noticeably softer ride, but with only minor compromise to body control.
The Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is equipped with electro-mechanical power steering and while it’s comfortably weighted and reasonably responsive, there isn’t a whole lot of feedback through the steering wheel.
The turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel pulls strongly and while there’s plenty of punch for high-speed overtaking, there’s no hiding the habitual turbo lag when accelerating from rest.
However, this is a smooth diesel powertrain that still offers loads of versatility without ever seemingly working that hard.
It’s remarkably quiet inside the cabin; too, a result of the Passat Alltrack’s benchmark level of noise insulation, no matter how hard you push this thing.
The Alltrack’s six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) transmission provides super-fast gearshifts and does so, seamlessly. There’s a sport function and sequential shift mode, but it’s more fun with the optional paddle shifters (as part of the sport package).
For all it’s new found capability off the beaten track the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack also offers all the creature comforts and space versatility common to the Passat range.
It’s hard not to think of the Passat Alltrack as a first-class luxury offering given the level of comfort and gadgetry on board this vehicle.
The inventory of standard features is extensive, commencing with the electrically operated tailgate, daytime driving lights, electric parking brake, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, leather seats, 6.5-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and 30GB hard drive, heated front seats, electric windows with one-touch up-down function and auto lights and wipers.
The standard leather seats are superbly comfortable making long stints behind the wheel a pleasure. There’s also a tonne of room with oodles of storage spaces inside the cabin.
The boot area is exceptionally generous. With both seat rows upright, there’s no less than 588-litres of cargo space with a conveniently wide aperture for easy loading. Fold the rear seats flat and the load space increases to a capacious 1716-litres.
Safety kit on board the Passat Alltrack is equally extensive with eight airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution with brake assist, electronic stability program with electronic differential lock and anti-slip regulation.
Additional driver assist technology that’s also standard on the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is the driver fatigue detection system, tyre pressure monitor and hill decent assist.
Driver fatigue detection uses both an audible signal and visual message to warn drivers of reduced concentration by continually analysing driver characteristics such as steering wheel movements at speeds in excess of 65km/h.
At $47,790 (before on-road costs) the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack represents a lot of car. It's a hugely versatile family wagon with loads of features, loads of space and offers luxury touring with excellent dynamics.
Its closest rival is the Subaru Outback 2.0D Premium at $46,990, but that’s with a manual transmission only.
Other more expensive competitors playing in this niche segment include the Audi A4 Allroad ($69,900), Volvo XC70 (from $62,990) and the Skoda Octavia Scout ($43,990) – but that’s with a 103kW diesel engine.
The Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is expected to be in showrooms by November 6.