2013 VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT ALLTRACK REVIEW
Engine: 125TDI turbo diesel | Transmission: six-speed DSG
Fuel consumption listed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 7.8 l/100km
For a start, it's more versatile. Its six-speed DSG with 4Motion AWD technology, higher ride-height and additional underbody protection means you can take it places you wouldn't take the FWD 'standard' Passat wagon.
It's also more comfortable on road. That higher ride-height provides more suspension travel, more initial compliance and a more 'elastic' feel generally. Hardly noticeable on smooth tarmac, but you'll appreciate it on rougher bitumen surfaces and corrugations.
And it's well-equipped. Leather seats, sat-nav, and a host of other features are standard in the versatile Alltrack.
Lastly, it looks better. The FWD Passat wagon is a bit on the anonymous side - nice enough, but lacking the standout coachwork of, say, the Mazda6 wagon.
The Alltrack's higher stance, stainless steel front-lip, rear diffuser and wheel-arch cladding work wonders for the Passat's lines. This one you'll notice in a crowd.
And, we're not finished yet (to jump straight to the inescapable question), yes, it is noticeably better than Skoda's value-buying AWD Scout.
The Passat feels at least a generation more modern (hang-about, it is), has a more robust feel, and is quite a bit more powerful and eager on-road. The Alltrack scores the brilliant 125TDI turbo-diesel against the 103TDI in the Skoda.
So, at a starting price of $47,790 plus on roads - barely $2k more than the $45,990 Passat 125TDI Highline wagon - the Passat Alltrack packs a high-quality drive behind the asking.
It's familiar fare here. The Passat dashboard, instrument binnacle and soft-touch dash-top is one of the best in the business. That brushed-alloy strip running the full width sets the tone for a classy interior.
The finish is exceptional, and everything fits exactly as it should. The switchgear - dials, gearshift etc. - have a high quality feel and the 'chronograph-style' clock is a nice touch.
The standard leather seats in the entry model are a bit flat, but the leather is plush. Tick the Sport option and you get nicely scalloped 'Nappa' leather sports seats with good support under the thighs and in the side bolstering.
Even to the fussiest eyes, there's little to mark this interior down.
Perhaps the buffed metal centre console and the unnecessary 'Alltrack' lettering looks a tad cheap. It doesn't quite sit with the quality feel of the rest of the cabin (the shiny centre-stack is a little reminiscent of the old Chrysler Crossfire).
The Sport package adds an extra $2800; bringing bigger 18-inch alloys and those classy leather seats; we'd opt for it. (The Passat TDI's 6.3 l/100km fuel consumption keeps the purchase well under the LCT threshold, no matter how many options boxes you tick.)
Besides adaptive cruise control and 'driver assistance visibility package', the options are mostly dress-up - panoramic roof, pearlescent paint, etc.
And the fact is, the Passat Alltrack is well-featured out of the box.
Standard features include 'Vienna' leather seats, fatigue detection, a classy eight-speaker audio with Bluetooth, CD/MP3 player and aux-in, sat nav, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, stop-start function with brake energy regeneration, 4Motion AWD, hillhold and hill-descent control, 17-inch alloys, fog lights, stainless steel pedals and engine and transmission protection.
There's a nifty two-stage blind over the cargo area, and, like the Passat, 588 litres of cargo space expanding to 1716 litres with the rear seats flat.
ON THE ROAD
Yes, the Passat Alltrack is a better drive than its front-wheel-drive confrere. Performance of course is similar: the shared 125TDI diesel up front is a very well-known quantity.
With 125kW and 350Nm on tap, it is swift and effortless on the highway in whatever Volkswagen Group product it can be found in.
Overtaking in the Alltrack, pulling strongly out of a corner, or tackling a long hill is absolutely no trouble. This diesel, while very strong in the mid-range, is happy to rev and gives the Passat a swift turn of speed when called for.
But where the Alltrack has it over the front-wheel-drive 125TDI Passat is in its superior 4Motion AWD traction - noticeable on both bitumen and gravel - and in the quality of the ride.
In a straight-line shoot-out, it would be hard to split the Alltrack from the FWD Passat wagon: you could assume however that the slightly heavier Alltrack may be a tad slower than the Passat Highline wagon's 8.8 second 0-100km/h dash.
But on a slippery surface or on gravel, the stable and predictable Alltrack is well ahead. There is a little extra body roll, but grip levels are on the better side of merely good.
And punch it into the off-road setting (a switch to the left of the gearshift), and its right at home on an unmade track.
In off-road, the throttle response becomes more 'doughy', to take the jerkiness out of slower rough-going, and the parameters at which ABS and ESP functions are extended.
What that means in the King's English is that it allows a little slip.
Besides being more fun (if you want to play rally drivers), there is a very good reason for it. Allowing some 'skid', allows the tyres to cut through the loose covering layer of gravel to get to the firmer surface down below - where the ABS and ESP can find some grip.
In practice, turn in is very sharp, even on loose surfaces; it will understeer momentarily, then 'bite'. And you can wag the tail out with the accelerator before the ESP chimes in to stop things becoming embarrassingly messy.
The 'hill descent assist' also ensures you can easily creep the Alltrack down a steep incline using the ABS and traction control to hold a constant speed.
It takes its cue from the driver as to the speed of descent, and kicks in on demand (take your feet off things) up to a speed of 30km/h.
Best of all is the long-travel suspension feel. This is a Volkswagen that feels just right on Australia's worst secondary roads. It's quiet, there is no thumping nor jarring from below, and holes and corrugations are simpled 'soaked' away.
Some Euro suspensions (including some Volkswagen ones) are too darn firm for our ratty backroads. Not the Alltrack. You won't have the kids complaining about 'the bumps' on a long trip.
And if you get a puncture, the Continental 'mobility' tyres can self-seal a hole up to 5mm. If its worse than that, the tyre monitoring system will alert you, and there's a steel-rimmed spare in the boot.
So full marks for the drive for family buyers looking for a little adventure - not too far off road, and wanting to get there in comfort.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Yes, this is an easy one. After a day in the saddle on back-roads and byways through the Adelaide hills, we'd give the Passat Alltrack the big tick. Versatile, robust and comfortable, this is a very good product from Volkswagen.
It's not for the heavy duty track, and you perhaps wouldn't use it for towing the horse float, but the Alltrack will effortlessly get you and your family to some of Australia's more interesting places.
And that strong abstemious diesel will get you there on the smell of a diesel-soaked rag. On a tight motor, we clocked 7.8 l/100km against a claimed 6.3 l/100km.
As wagons for the Australian family go, at this price, they don't get much better than Volkswagen's Passat Alltrack.
Available from November, the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is priced at $47,790 (plus on-roads).