2015 VW Passat Alltrack 2.0 TDI 150 review
Rugged all-wheel-drive Alltrack version of VW's Passat Estate gets a raised ride height to compete with rivals such as Volvo's V60 Cross Country and the Subaru Outback...
In a car market witnessing a huge growth in the popularity of SUVs, it might seem strange that manufacturers still persist with rugged, jacked-up versions of their estate cars.
However, while they're certainly not breaking any sales records – VW expects the Alltrack to account for just 5% of Passat Estate sales – off-road estate cars continue to find fans among those with a caravan, horse or boat to tow. Indeed, for others, the idea of SUV-like off-road capability and space coupled with a more car-like handling and driving position is actually more attractive.
The Passat Alltrack is the latest such offering from Volkswagen, which takes a Passat Estate, raises the ride height by nearly 15cm, beefs up the suspension and adds more underbody protection. These modifications make the Alltrack both taller and slightly longer than the standard load lugger.
An on-demand all-wheel-drive system comes as standard, and seeing as the Alltrack sits at the top of the range, there's a good amount of standard equipment thrown in. Two engines are available for now; a 148 and a 197bhp version of VW's 2.0 TDI diesel. The former comes with a six-speed manual gearbox only, the latter exclusively with a six-speed DSG automatic. We're driving the entry-level manual.
What's the 2015 VW Passat Alltrack like to drive?
Very capable. This 148bhp 2.0 diesel doesn't feel as quick as it does in the lighter Octavia Scout, but it's still good for around a nine-second sprint to 60mph from a standstill. It pulls well from 1500rpm to around 3500rpm, meaning you don't need interact with the manual gearbox to ensure you're hitting a narrow sweet spot.
It's no hardship changing gear, though, because the Alltrack's six-speed 'box is light but precise while the car's pedals are all well weighted making it easy to drive at low speeds. At motorway speeds, wind and road noise is well suppressed, even over changing surfaces. This 2.0-litre engine settles nicely at cruise, too, but makes a coarse noise and sends light vibration back through the pedals and steering wheel when pushed beyond 3000rpm.
The Passat has never been the sharpest Estate to drive, putting comfort before agility. No surprise then that this taller Alltrack feels slower to turn in as it leans further with steering inputs, but at least the Passat's precise, well-weighted steering remains intact.
It's still a pleasing car to thread along a twisty road, though, and despite being slightly less agile than a standard Passat, the Alltrack feels more alert than a V60 Cross Country or Subaru Outback. Part of the reason is the VW's impressive ride, which was helped by our car's £705 Dynamic Chassis Control, allowing more control over damper stiffness.
Comfort mode allows the Alltrack to waft along the road, soaking up large bumps, and damp away high-frequency ripples well at all speeds. Flick through Normal to Sport modes and things get gradually firmer, which means less lean in tight bends. Ultimately the Alltrack's standard 18in wheels make it feel slightly more abrupt than lesser Passats on initial impact with bumps, but its body is still extremely well controlled.
On-road grip levels are high, even though most of the time the Alltrack runs in front-wheel drive mode to save fuel. If any slip is detected, then power is sent instantly to the rear wheels to help out, with the car's Electronic Differential Lock system limiting slip on low-speed wet and slippy terrain.
When you decide to leave the Tarmac, choosing Off-road mode engages hill descent control, adapts the brakes to lumpy surfaces and, if you have one, forces the automatic gearbox to maintain lower gears. Those towing will like the fact that this Alltrack manages up to a 2200kg braked trailer, and a Trailer Assist function is available for £470 extra.
What's the 2015 VW Passat Alltrack like inside?
Aside from door sill protectors and dash and door trims unique to the Alltrack, there are no further changes from the cabin you'll find in a standard Passat Estate. Two tall adults will therefore find a huge amount of head- and leg room to stretch out in, while the driver is treated to lots of reach and rake steering wheel movement, and a seat with generous manual base and lumbar adjustment and an electronically manoeuvrable backrest.
The back seats are no less accommodating. Two tall adults will sit behind two more without their knees even brushing the seat in front, although squeezing in three side-by-side will be less comfortable.
While the Alltrack's main cabin doesn't differ from the Estate's, its boot does - slightly. Its four-wheel-drive system means there's less space, with overall capacity to its window line down from 650 litres to 639. Naturally, then, with its 40/20/40-splitting rear seats folded down as one piece, there's less space, too - 1780 litres becomes 1769.
Still, you're hardly going to be left wanting for space. The Passat's interior space is larger than that of Volvo's V60 Cross Country and about on a par with a Subaru Outback or Skoda Octavia Scout's. In terms of boot space, too, it trumps all of them. It's also a nicely shaped boot, being consistently square, easily accessible with a totally flat surface with the rear seats folded down thanks to its standard variable boot floor.
Additionally, the Alltrack's cabin is ahead in terms of perceived quality when compared with these rivals. Its dense, soft-touch plastics and chrome details give a slick, modern appearance while its substantial, logically-arranged switchgear further the premium feel.
Our model had VW's optional (£815) Discover Navigation Pro fitted, which increases the Alltrack's standard 6.5in screen to 8.0in. In its bigger size, it's every bit as clear to read and simple to operate, with large onscreen buttons and intuitive menu systems to work through. It's responsive too, even when using Apple CarPlay (included in the Pro system) which effectively mirrors you iPhone's screen on the dash.
The Alltrack is based on range-topping GT trim, so standard equipment is generous, including 18in alloy wheels, heated front seats, climate control, Bluetooth, sat-nav, adaptive cruise control, half leather seats, front and rear parking sensors and automatic headlights and wipers.
Should I buy one?
Compared with an Outback or V60 Cross Country, the Alltrack is cleaner, more comfortable, better quality, more spacious and more refined, yet similarly priced. That said, the Subaru is even better equipped and likely to get you even further off-road, and a Skoda Octavia Scout is almost as spacious, and can be forgiven its lower-rent interior and inferior ride given it is considerably cheaper to buy.
Of course, if you're simply after some off-road ability and decent space, it's worth investigating a traditional SUV too. A Mazda CX-5, for example, costs around the same money in more powerful all-wheel-drive form, is similarly well equipped, nearly as spacious and will tow nearly as much bulk across most fields without issue.
All in all, if you prefer the idea of a rugged estate, then you're very unlikely to be disappointed with a Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. It offers a compelling blend of comfort, refinement, practicality and off-road security.
What Car? says...
Volkswagen Passat Alltrack 2.0 TDI 150 manual
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £30,885
Torque 251lb ft
0-62mph 9.2 seconds
Top speed 127mph
Fuel economy 57.7mpg