Volkswagen Passat Alltrack review
The VW Passat Alltrack adds off-road styling and some 4x4 ability to the family estate
While the Volkswagen Passat has been around as a family car for a long time, the Passat Alltrack has only been on sale since 2011. The first version was based on the older Mk6 Passat, but this was replaced by the second Alltrack - based on the current Mk7 Passat - in 2017. As with the last model, the Alltrack is offered exclusively as an estate, and in some ways acts as the flagship model of the Passat range, alongside the plug-in hybrid Passat GTE.
The big difference between the standard Passat Estate and the Alltrack is the latter model's off-road enhancements. It uses GT trim as a base for kit, but the Alltrack gains 27.5mm in ride height, as well as plastic cladding on the wheelarches and door sills, plus silver skid plates for the front and rear bumpers, matt-finish roof rails, exclusive alloy wheels and extra kit inside. Here you'll find an exclusive cloth upholstery design (leather is offered as an option), plus some extra 4MOTION badges and extra buttons for the off-road systems.
4MOTION four-wheel drive is standard on the Alltrack. The Haldex-based system is the same as you'll find in any other 4MOTION-equipped car other than the Amarok pick-up, so it defaults to front-wheel drive in normal use. However, if the car's electronic detect wheel slip of any description, the 4WD system will activate and send power to the wheels with the most grip, front or rear.
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In addition VW has added a hill descent control system to the Alltrack, which is operated via an 'Off-Road' button next to the gearlever. Other off-road touches include extra protection under the body for the engine and gearbox.
While VW offered manual and auto versions of the Passat Alltrack when it was launched, the range has been pared down to a single model. It's the 2.0 TDI 190PS DSG, which has a 187bhp version of VW's punchy diesel, and a seven-speed twin-clutch auto gearbox. This model weighs in at nearly £36,000, cementing the Alltrack's position as a flagship of the range.
There are plenty of rival high-riding estates on offer, although the Alltrack falls somewhere in the middle of the field. The Skoda Octavia Scout and Subaru Outback are cheaper, while the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is a decent alternative. The Audi A4 Allroad is more expensive, but has a more premium image. Elsewhere, the Audi A6 Allroad is bigger still, but is showing its age, while the Volvo V90 Cross Country and Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain are expensive alternatives.
For some buyers, the Alltrack could be considered an alternative to an SUV. Its big boot means it'll carry more than most SUVs, while the lower ride height and car-based body should deliver better economy, too.
The Passat Estate is a very practical car, but the Alltrack model takes that to the next level. Think of it as a Passat Estate with a pair of hiking boots on. The Alltrack is a rugged, off-road version of the estate which wears chunky front and rear bumpers, larger wheels and gets jacked up suspension to help it tackle off-road terrain.
There is substance to go with the Alltrack's off-road style, because it's equipped with a part-time four-wheel-drive system that gives it enough off-road ability to suit the average SUV buyer, while there's under body protection for the engine and gearbox should you want to take the car off-road. The electronics have been tuned to emulate a limited slip diff and give the Alltrack the traction of a permanent 4WD set-up, while hill descent control is activated when you use off-road mode, which is activated via a button by the gearlever.
Engines, performance and drive
The Alltrack's 2.0 TDI is a bit rattly from the outside, but like the rest of the Passat range, excellent sound deadening means the cabin remains quiet. The seven-speed 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 composed and stable, and is marginally more comfortable than the standard estate.
The payoff for this comfort is that there’s some body roll in corners, but it's not excessive, and there’s plenty of grip. Add the optional Dynamic Chassis Control, and the adaptive dampers can be made firmer, giving the Alltrack the same cornering ability as the regular Passat.
The Off Road button next to the gearlever engages an electronic diff lock and optimises traction control to handle light mud-plugging. The VW is pretty capable off road, and hill descent control boosts its ability.
In normal driving, you don’t really feel the 4Motion system, because the majority of the time power is sent 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. But thankfully you can't really feel the transmission shunting power between the front and rear axles.
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 tow up to 2,200kg, while the optional tow bar and trailer stability assist systems make the most of the transmission.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
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.
As there's just one model to choose from now, you're stuck with claimed economy of 54.3mpg and emissions of 137g/km. That's poorer than the Audi A4 Allroad powered by the same engine, but then you pay less for the Alltrack in the first place.
Interior, design and technology
The eighth-generation Passat was launched at the start of 2015, and its sharp lines were given a bit of added style to the saloon and estate. The estate is arguably more handsome than the saloon, while the upgrade to Alltrack spec looks smart.
The Alltrack adds plastic wheelarch extensions and extra matt silver 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 28mm over the standard Passat’s, and the roof rails stand proud of the roof. Exclusive 18-inch alloys add to the Alltrack’s rugged look and give it a chunky appearance.
Apart from Alltrack branding around the gearlever, the Off Road button next to it and some unique dashboard trim, 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 rivals can’t match. The switchgear feels solid and the major controls are well weighted, plus overall fit and finish is first rate.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Alltrack gets VW's Discover navigation set-up with a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Car-Net, although you can upgrade to the eight-inch screen, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB and Think Blue trip computer that gives efficient driving tips. Also included is the Car Net ‘App Connect’, which brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone capability, plus sat-nav and a three-year subscription to online services.
The unit has crisp graphics and the straightforward menu system rivals the Audi A4’s for ease of use. A motion sensor brings up hot keys when your hand approaches the screen, while the touch menu buttons respond well.
You can upgrade to the £855 Discover Pro, which features a larger 9.2-inch screen, gesture control and a 64GB memory, while the £585 Active Info display replaces the traditional dials with a 12.3-inch configurable TFT screen.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Passat Estate is a practical car, but the Alltrack has a little less boot space, thanks to the addition of the rear transmission. The interior is spacious, though, and offers comfortable seating for all, while the boot is still a big and user-friendly load area.
There’s 639 litres with the seats in place, which is 11 litres down on the standard Passat Estate. This rises to 1,769 litres with the back seats 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 useful features, too.
There's no seven seat option, which some of its SUVs and MPV rivals do, but you’ll never be short of places to put luggage. 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.
Reliability and Safety
The Passat uses the same MQB platform that VW is using on all of its new models, and the mechanicals and electronics will have been extensively tested to ensure they are 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 seven airbags, Isofix points and tyre-pressure monitors, while driving aids include adaptive cruise control, front collision alert, front and rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers plus hill descent control for when you head off-road.