VW Passat Alltrack

Even in the dirt, thereís still plenty of polish

JEZ SPINKS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

SUBARUíS Liberty-on-stilts, the Outback, has been kicking up dust successfully on the highriding wagon trail for two decades, yet despite Volvo following soon after with the XC70, thereís been only an incremental expansion of the breed since. Volkswagen didnít come around to the idea until 2011 with the Alltrack, while retaining the top-selling Passat namplate.

Now we have the second Alltrack iteration, applying the same formula of rugged looks and light off-roading ability to the latest, eighth-generation Passat.

Exterior changes include the front scuff plate, matte-black body trim, extended sills, roof rails, exclusive 18-inch Kalamata alloys and raised ground clearance (up 28mm to 174mm).

There is increased underbody protection, and the Alltrack is the only Passat offered with 4Motion all-wheel drive, a predominantly front-drive system that increases drive to the rear as required via a fast-acting electro-mechanical multi-plate clutch. Itís certainly effective on dust trails and loose surfaces, equipping the Alltrack with strong traction when you floor the throttle.

With that higher ride height, a 2200kg braked towing capacity and an Off-Road mode that recalibrates throttle response and electronic nannies while also introducing hill-descent control, this Passat is match-fit for country Australia.

A little tyre noise on coarsechip surfaces aside, there is excellent cabin refinement and no unwelcome diesel clatter from the 2.0-litre TDI four (familiar from the regular Passat).

The Alltrackís extra 107kg mass, a result of heavier underpinnings and extra bodywork, decreases fuel efficiency and speed slightly. More noticeable is the greater lethargy at low revs Ė not even eradicated by selecting Sport mode Ė before the turbo spools up to present a mid-range to match the Alltrackís beefy aesthetics.

While a Passat 132TSI sedan could almost be called agile in comparison, the Alltrack remains decently poised, despite some bodyroll, while maintaining the Passatís reputation for excellent bump-blotting ride quality.

The all-wheel drive set-up robs the Alltrack of just 11 litres of cargo capacity and its status as a classically practical wagon is guaranteed by a 639-litre boot that can be extended to 1769 litres by folding the 40/20/40-split rear seat.

A $49,290 starting price means there is a mere $1300 premium over the 140TDI wagon, continuing the good-value approach to the overall range. And, importantly, even in the dirt the Alltrack retains the polish weíve come to expect from the Passat nameplate. n, ach d, he ns e

Value package

The extra $1300 to jump from the Passat 140TDI wagon to the Alltrack seems good value based on getting all-wheel drive alone. VW has kept the Alltrack equipment set-up simple with a one-model line-up, the only options being metallic/pearl-effect paint ($700) or a Luxury Pack ($3500) that adds LED headlights with integrated DRLs, semiauto parking, ambient cabin lighting, electric folding mirrors, panoramic sunroof and a chrome grille strip.

PLUS & MINUS

Low-rev lag; DSG still not the smoothest; increased weight hurts Loose-surface traction; ride; steering; classy and practical interior; value