It's not often you get a chance to test cars back-to-back on the snow and the race track, but in places like Queenstown, New Zealand, you're as close to snow-capped mountain peaks as you are to the local circuit.
When colleague Scott Collie came back from the BMW Alpine Experience having not actually experienced much in the way of alpine driving, I wasn't sure what to expect from the Volkswagen 4Motion 'Get A Grip' showcase, given the itinerary is entirely dependent on the weather.
Luckily, there was enough white stuff at the crack of dawn at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds to have a go at some ice driving in a range of Volkswagen's all-wheel-driven products, including everything from the Golf R hot hatch to the recently-launched Crafter 4Motion commercial van.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed standing in frosty two-degree temperatures – who am I kidding, I'm the total opposite of a morning person – I started my inaugural ice driving stint learning how to do a Scandinavian flick with the guidance of Bathurst 1000 winner, Luke Youlden, along with a team of professional race drivers.
For this exercise we had the 'sportier' vehicles on hand: the Golf R hatch, the T-Roc 140TSI, the Tiguan 162TSI R-Line, and the Passat Alltrack 140TDI. These models are all based on Volkswagen's MQB platform and run a Haldex-style on-demand all-wheel drive system with front bias.
All vehicles were equipped with winter tyres for added grip, and the Golf R had a set of smaller 18-inch wheels that we don't get in Australia.
Given these vehicles all have front-biased all-wheel drive, getting them sideways isn't as simple as turning the wheel and stomping on the throttle like you might do in a rear-driven car. Instead, we had to learn the art of lift-off oversteer.
Approaching the circular end of the key-shaped course we'd need to build up a bit of speed, lift off the throttle and apply steering lock to get the back end out, and then 'flick' the steering in the opposite direction. Modulating the throttle would help to control the slide and bring the vehicle back to the straight and narrow.
This proved to be quite a delicate task; not enough speed would result in no tail-happy goodness, while too much would send you into the snow bank on the perimeter – something a fellow journalist managed on more than one occasion.
Not only do you have to get acquainted with the general physics of the exercise, each car had different characteristics based on size and weight. For example, the longer wheelbases of the Passat and Tiguan meant they took much longer to start getting sideways while the T-Roc and Golf pretty much snapped if you changed direction quickly.
Furthermore, the varying power levels of each car's engine meant some were easier to apply throttle to straighten up and gather speed, while others required more patience and planning.
I personally had a stack of fun while learning quite a bit about vehicle control and getting a feel for how differences in size, weight and power can dramatically impact a car's handling characteristics in low-grip terrain.
The Golf R and T-Roc proved to be the most enjoyable given their keen and predictable handling, while the Tiguan and Passat were more challenging, but still fun.
Not only are these models all different shapes and sizes, their all-wheel drive systems are different too. The Arteon and Crafter stick to the on-demand front-biased Haldex rear clutch setup we trialled earlier, while the Amarok and Touareg use a full-time Torsen system with locking centre diff and standard 40:60 rear bias.
Like before, we'd be practicing lift-off oversteer through the course, though the majority of the course wouldn't be as tight and we'd be travelling faster. Again the obvious physical and mechanical differences between the various models determined the difficulty of the task – but by no means were any of them short of fun.
The Arteon was by far the sharpest of this lot, with eager handling and good power from its 206kW 2.0-litre turbo engine, however, the Touareg's wafty, glidey nature felt the most predictable through the course. It seemed completely ridiculous I was going sideways a near-$100,000 large luxury SUV.
While the Arteon and Touareg proved to be quite easy to manoeuvre through the icy slalom, it was a bit more of a challenge to caress the Amarok and Crafter through the course.
The Amarok was a bit of a struggle because you can't fully switch off the stability control system like you can in most of the other cars we had available to us, so it was very difficult to get it sideways without the electronic aids kicking in and correcting us.
It was a similar story with the Crafter, but it was still a stack of fun driving this leviathan of a thing through the ever-shrinking gaps between the cones.
A couple of other journalists worked out the Crafter was a lot more tail-happy when encouraged with a pull of the handbrake, but I wasn't brave enough to give it a go.
The day of ice driving concluded with some hot laps through an extended slalom course with one of the very skilled professional drivers at the wheel – basically everything we had done earlier turned up past 11 – and a breathtaking helicopter transfer back to our accommodation (check out some pictures in the gallery). New Zealand's mountain ranges are nothing short of stunning.
In stark contrast to the first day of our trip, the second and final day in NZ was spent at Highlands Motorsport Park, located in Cromwell, Otago.
The winter tyres had been swapped out for summer rubber, while the T-Roc and Crafter weren't in attendance – a shame really, the T-Roc would have been great to punt around a circuit.
Once again the cars were split into two groups – fast and slow, naturally. I started off with the slower vehicles, cycling through the Amarok, the Touareg and Passat Alltrack over six laps of the 'D' course.
First up I had the V6-powered Amarok ute. Within a few corners it was apparent the big pickup didn't really like being there.
It wallowed and squealed at me as the chunky tyres scrabbled for grip through some of the tighter bends, though the torquey V6 diesel was surprisingly punchy. There was no way I was keeping up with the Passat and Touareg leading the way, though.
After two laps, I swapped into the Touareg. Compared to the vehicle we had on the ice, this Touareg was fitted with the 48V active anti-sway bars that will form part of the optional R-Line Package on Australian models from October, nipped from its platform-sharing cousins like the Audi Q8 and Bentley Bentayga.
The Euro 6-certified 210kW 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel we drove on the track is also not currently available in Australia, though could be introduced in 2020.
I was very impressed with the Touareg's characteristics on the track, this trip also being my first time to get behind a Touareg of any kind. With the help of the anti-sway bars, the Touareg cornered with confidence and rarely felt like it was losing grip even as the speed climbed.
Our tester's 210kW diesel was a little laggy down low, but was very muscular once it came on boost, with the eight-speed automatic shifting quickly and intuitively on its own in sports mode, and responding snappily with a flick of the steering-mounted paddles.
Should Volkswagen Australia introduce the SQ7-powered V8 TDI version of the Touareg in the future, this certainly leaves a promising insight into its dynamic capabilities.
The Passat Alltrack offered sharper and less wallowy handling again thanks to its lower centre of gravity, noticeably more car-like than the other two in its group. Its 140kW four-cylinder diesel, however, lacked the muscle to be properly fun on the track – who's taking one of these things racing anyway?
Moving to the faster group of cars had me a little more excited. I decided to continue working my way up the speed ladder, starting with the Tiguan 162TSI, then graduate through to the 206kW Golf R and Arteon.
Like the Passat, the Tiguan lacked muscle compared to its other group mates, not helped by its taller, heavier body which made it feel rather dull in comparison to the Golf and Arteon. In isolation, though, it was pretty good.
Hopping from the Tiguan to the Golf R was like night and day. The hot Golf was a scalpel on the track by comparison, while the Tiggy was more of a butter knife.
I'd never had the opportunity to really push a Golf R on the race track before, and being able to give it a punt around Highlands Motorsport Park was a real insight into what this little hatchback is capable of.
Volkswagen's 213kW/380Nm version of its 2.0-litre turbo four is a fantastic and versatile engine, which offers peak torque from just 1850rpm through to 5300rpm.
Not long ago the Golf R's 0-100 time of 4.8 seconds was reserved for the realm of AMGs and Porsche sports cars, yet now you can get supercar-like performance from a little hatchback. Madness.
The Golf R was blisteringly quick on the straights, emitting a throaty (assisted) exhaust note under hard acceleration and little pops on upshifts, while also offering heaps of grip in the corners which inspires a lot of confidence when you're going hard.
My final stint behind the wheel on the track was in the Arteon 206TSI. Despite sharing its powertrain with the Golf R, the Arteon is nowhere as fierce both in terms of acceleration and soundtrack.
Part of this is because of the obvious physical differences, being a longer, wider and heavier car. It's also worth noting the Arteon's more luxurious intentions, compared to the Golf R's sporting skew.
Without any sound augmentation through the in-car speaker system, the Arteon is noticeably quieter under hard acceleration, though it was still impressive how the big fastback handled itself around the track.
It was noticeably wallowier through the bends compared to Volkswagen's flagship hot hatch but still held its own and provided an entertaining experience, with quick and predictable steering coupled with a capable and balanced chassis.
Like the Golf, acceleration is meaty even from right down low in the rev range. The Arteon develops its peak torque output of 350Nm across a wide rev band, too, quoted at 1800rpm to 5600rpm.
Following the drive program we were able to again get hot laps with the professional drivers at the helm, so I took the opportunity to ride in the back of the Golf R with a real race driver going full tilt around the circuit.
I thought I was going fast down the straights and through the twisties, but this was just next level. Like before, the Golf R is nothing short of impressive given its all-round capability and relatively affordable price tag.
But then, so was every other vehicle we had the opportunity to test during the trip. Here at CarAdvice we tend to get knocked for constantly giving Volkswagen products high praise, but it's really because they're good vehicles.
Regardless of the body style or terrain, just about every vehicle available to us was more than capable of handling both the icy pans of the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds and the high-speed bends of Highlands Motorsport Park – obviously some vehicles weren't tested in both scenarios, namely the T-Roc and Crafter.
It also demonstrated the all-round abilities of a good all-wheel drive system, not just Volkswagen's. Should you constantly frequent low-grip driving conditions, having the added traction and peace of mind that comes with all-wheel drive is invaluable.
Buying a car with all-wheel drive doesn't mean you have to drive around a big bulky SUV or pickup truck, either, as vehicles like the Arteon and Golf demonstrate.
Getting a stint behind the wheel of the new T-Roc and sway bar-equipped Touareg left good impressions of what's to come for the company's SUV family, too,
The T-Roc should prove to be a fun, sporty alternative to some of the rather mundane offerings at the pointy end of the small SUV segment in Australia when it arrives in April next year in 140TSI guise – though it needs to be priced below $40,000 to avoid being cross-shopped with the related and mechanically-similar Audi Q2 40 TFSI quattro sport ($49,400).
Meanwhile, the Touareg's tech suite was already impressive at launch, and the addition of new equipment options later this year, including the nifty 48V anti-sway bars should no doubt bolster its appeal as a viable alternative to premium-branded luxury SUVs.
Beyond the car stuff, Queenstown is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Everything looks like it belongs on a postcard, and being a little over three hours away from Melbourne by plane means it's closer to home than some interstate destinations. Go figure.
Click the photos tab for more images