Volkswagen Passat Alltrack review
The VW Passat Alltrack takes the off-road ability and space of an SUV ands wraps it up in a more conventional package
Large family cars have fallen out of favour with buyers, but the Volkswagen Passat is still going strong in saloon and estate guise.
There’s no performance model, so the Alltrack is the flagship of the range, although it’s available only as an estate.
Buyers have a choice of two 2.0 TDIs: a 138bhp manual and the 175bhp DSG auto. Both cars are four-wheel drive as standard.
Our choice: Passat Alltrack 2.0-litre TDI 140
The seventh-generation Passat has been on sale since 2010, and its lines follow VW’s trademark no-nonsense style, with plenty of straight edges. The estate is more handsome than the saloon, while the upgrade to Alltrack spec looks smart.
Also, the Passat adds black plastic wheelarch extensions and extra trim on the bumpers and door sills, while the metal scuff plates are complemented by silver trim along the bottom of the doors. The ride height has been raised by 30mm over the standard Passat’s, and the roof rails stand proud of the roof. Exclusive 18-inch Canyon alloys add to the Alltrack’s rugged look and give it a chunky appearance.
Apart from 4MOTION and Alltrack branding around the gearlever, and the Off Road button next to it, the cabin is identical to the regular estate’s.
However, that’s far from a bad thing, because the layout is intuitive to use and has an air of quality that the Insignia can’t quite match. The switchgear feels solid and the major controls are well weighted, plus overall fit and finish is first rate.
Fire up the 2.0 TDI and its familiar rattle is evident, although it's quieter than the rival Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer. The Passat’s smooth DSG twin-clutch box shifts crisply, and there’s no hesitation in the power delivery.
The box allows you to take manual control of shifts, but the car is more about relaxed touring than sporty performance, and in that regard the Passat is a good cruiser. As well as a slick box, it has long-travel suspension that absorbs bumps well. The extra ride height has been used to good effect, and the Alltrack rides smoothly on the motorway. It fidgets at low speeds, but overall the Passat is more composed and stable than the Vauxhall.
The payoff for this comfort is that there’s plenty of body roll in corners, where the VW feels less lively, but there’s plenty of grip.
The Passat’s Off Road button engages an electronic diff lock and optimises traction control to handle light mud-plugging. The VW is pretty capable off road, although it’s no substitute for a proper 4x4.
In normal driving, you don’t really feel the 4Motion system at work, as 90 per cent of drive goes to the front wheels. It’s only when the conditions get slippery that up to 100 per cent of the power can be sent to the back axle, helping the car feel more planted when cornering on the road and allowing a little extra go-anywhere ability off it.
The 4x4 is really designed for those who will use their Alltrack as a tow car, where the system comes into its own on grassy paddocks. Alltracks can also tow 2,000kgs, regardless of whether you drive the high or low power model - 200 extra kilos over the standard Passat Estate.
While the current Passat has been on sale for many years, its running gear is largely the same as in the last-generation model, launched in 2005. As a result, the mechanicals and electronics will largely be tried and tested, and should prove reliable.
The 2.0 TDI diesel is also used in a wide variety of VW Group models, and as long as it’s maintained to the manufacturer’s schedule, you shouldn’t experience any problems. The Passat saloon earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating, and the Alltrack will be just as safe in an accident. Safety kit includes six airbags, Isofix points and tyre-pressure monitors, while driving aids include front and rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers plus hill descent control for when you head off-road. VW’s excellent adaptive cruise control is offered for £725.
The Passat Estate is already a practical car, and the Alltrack is unchanged in terms of its carrying capacity. The interior is spacious, and offers comfortable seating for all.
There’s 588 litres with the seats in place, which rises to 1,716 litres with the backs folded. Freeing up the maximum capacity is easy, as operating levers are set into the sides of the luggage area. A flat floor, level load lip and wide boot opening are solid features, too.
It doesn’t offer the option of seven seats, which some of its SUVs and MPV rivals do, but you’ll never be short of places to put luggage as a result. VW offers a clever integrated booster seat for the rear bench, which allows children to be transported in safety and comfort but this is a rather costly option.
The tray behind the gearlever incorporates pop-out cup-holders, while the standard MP3 player connection is hidden in a drop-down panel above the generously sized glovebox.
As well as blending the look of an SUV and estate car, running costs are somewhere between the two as well. It’s cleaner than a full-size SUV - as it weighs less and is more aerodynamic - but doesn’t quite deliver the same MPG and CO2 performance as the Passat Estate on which it’s based.
Our pick of the range is the low power model, because it offers all the performance you’re likely to need and still returns almost 50mpg and 150g/km of CO2. However crossover models like the Mazda CX-5 and Audi Q3 offer similar or greater levels of performance and lower runnings costs too.