The new car market is full of niches to cater for every taste, and one sector with a cult following is the crossover estate. The Volkswagen Passat Alltrack was something of a latecomer to the sector in 2012, but VW has been quicker off the mark with the new model, which is based on the latest estate launched at the start of the year.
As before, the Alltrack features a raised ride height (this time increased by 28mm over the standard car), grey plastic wheelarch and sill extensions and a host of matt silver bodywork additions to give it a more rugged look than the regular estate. Go for a standard colour, and the differences are subtle, but you do have the option of vivid Habanero Orange if you want greater visual impact.
Under the skin, the metal sump guard has been replaced by a strong yet lightweight plastic shield, while VW has added its fifth-generation 4MOTION four-wheel-drive system, which is claimed to be as responsive in slippery conditions as a permanent 4WD set-up.
The Alltrack’s high-quality cabin has been given a bit of a makeover, with part-Alcantara seats and a different trim finish for the dashboard. Alltrack models are specced to the same level as GT trim, so kit includes adaptive cruise control, sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors and three-zone climate control. The multimedia system adds an off-road mode to show your bearing and height above sea level, although this is more of a gimmick than being of any practical use.
On the road, the Alltrack’s longer suspension travel gives an added softness to the ride when compared to the standard Passat, which is a bonus on bumpy roads. It also means the Alltrack isn’t quite as agile as the standard Passat, but it’s still a sharp performer when compared to rivals, while the standard Passat’s motorway ride is improved by the softer damping. Go for the optional Dynamic Chassis Control, and switching to Sport mode tightens the dampers to deliver cornering that’s just as good as the standard car’s.
UK-spec Alltracks will initially be offered with a 2.0 TDI diesel in two power outputs. The 148bhp model features a smooth six-speed manual gearbox, while the DSG-equipped car gets 187bhp. We tried the former, and with strong mid-range acceleration and plenty of torque, it will be more than capable of towing horse boxes and trailers.
The transmission itself doesn’t have a discernible impact on the way the Passat drives. It defaults to front-wheel drive in most situations, and there’s no transmission shunt as the electronics try to distribute power between the axles. On rough roads, the extra grip is a bonus, while the longer travel suspension irons out most surfaces.