Crossovers have made a big impact on the new car market over the past few years. It all started in 2007 with the Nissan Qashqai, which set the template for cars with the running gear and costs of a modern regular family hatchback wrapped up in an SUV-style body.
However, if you’re not a fan of crossovers, but still need rugged ability, there’s an alternative. The off-road estate takes a standard family car, then adds four-wheel drive and chunky looks. The latest model to follow this formula is the VW Passat Alltrack. The flagship of the Passat estate range, it gets 4WD, a raised ride height and rugged body additions.
A £28,480 price puts it right at the heart of the 4WD crossover competition, though. Our current class champ is the Mazda CX-5, so we’ve pitched the new Alltrack against the flagship, four-wheel-drive 2.2D Sport model. Does the Volkswagen make a better case for itself than a more conventional 4x4?
The VW Passat Alltrack is an intriguing car. It looks great and has plenty of premium features to justify its position at the top of the model’s range. It’s also priced to fill a gap in the VW Group’s off-road estate line-up, as it slots between the cheaper Skoda Octavia Scout and the more expensive Audi A4 allroad. If you want maximum carrying capacity and need a car that can deal with slippery conditions and minor off-road work without fuss, the Passat fits the bill.
However, it’s not as versatile as a crossover. The added ride height isn’t enough to make it a viable alternative to an SUV, while the 138bhp 2.0 TDI diesel isn’t as eager as the cheaper Mazda’s more powerful engine. And although the Alltrack beats its rival for boot space, the CX-5 enjoys a clear advantage in nearly every other area.
The flagship diesel auto costs less to buy, yet it comes with more standard kit, is more engaging to drive on the road and has lower tax bills for company drivers. Plus, while it doesn’t get lockable four-wheel drive or hill descent control, greater ground clearance means it can venture further than the Alltrack.
In many respects, the range-topping CX-5 is the least convincing model in that car’s line-up, but it does more than enough to beat the high-riding Passat in this rugged encounter.