Given the popularity of SUVs these days, you’d think that a big, four-wheel-drive estate like the new Volkswagen Passat Alltrack would bring buyers flocking. After all, it does a very similar job in the real world. Yet, VW actually reckons that it’ll account for only 5% of Passat Estate sales.
The estate-only Alltrack model is available with two engines: the 148bhp 2.0 TDI complete with a manual gearbox, as tested here, or a 187bhp 2.0 TDI with a standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Four-wheel drive comes courtesy of a Haldex on-demand system, while ride height is raised by 15cm over that of a standard Passat Estate.
What’s the 2016 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack like to drive?
Virtually as polished and relaxing as the excellent standard Passat Estate. The steering feels heavier, even in the lighter of the variable steering settings, but it’s accurate and builds weight through corners progressively. It makes for confident use even in faster stuff, despite the more pronounced body lean of the Alltrack model, while the steering is also light enough for easy use when manoeuvring at low speeds.
The engine delivers plenty of mid-range response, so you don’t feel left short for overtaking and the gearshift and clutch both have light movements that make shifting no chore.
Ride comfort tends to be the Achilles' heel of four-wheel-drive estates, but on standard suspension and 18in alloys the Alltrack does a fair job of keeping occupants comfortable, even on UK roads. The softer springs result in some body float over high-speed undulations, and there’s a bit of gentle shudder over broken town roads, but it never deteriorates to jarring or crashing, remaining composed the majority of the time. Certainly, it’s more than good enough that you don’t need to add the £705 adaptive dampers (dubbed Dynamic Chassis Control).
Refinement isn’t an issue, either, although there is more tyre noise than you get in the standard Passat. It’s still subdued enough, with engine and wind noise well suppressed enough to satisfy even on very long journeys.
Few buyers would quibble with such small compromises to refinement and handling in return for the SUV-like versatility of the Alltrack. Hitting the off-road button activates hill descent control, adapts the brakes to lumpy surfaces and, if you have an automatic, forces the gearbox to maintain lower gears. Those towing will like the fact that this Alltrack manages up to a 2200kg braked trailer – 200kg more than the equivalent standard Passat Estate - and a Trailer Assist function is available for £470. A muddy, sloped country track isn’t going to be a problem, so you can enjoy real versatility from this Passat.
What’s the 2016 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack like inside?
This is one of the Passat's real selling points; not just its huge cabin and boot, but the general aura of solidity and quality. The dashboard looks really classy, with the strakes through the vents running flush across the cabin, a good blend of materials and the 6.5in colour touchscreen complete with sat-nav finishing it off nicely.
The Alltrack’s lengthy standard equipment list enhances the sense of the more premium feel, too. With front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, auto lights and wipers, heated front seats with adjustable tilt and powered backrest, plus DAB radio and all the connectivity functions you could want, there's no need to add any options.
Rear passenger space is unchanged from that of the standard Passat, which means you get masses of space for two tall adults to get comfortable. The boot is huge – it’s only fractionally smaller than the standard Passat Estate's and is roughly on a par with that of the Skoda Octavia Scout and Subaru Outback for capacity. More importantly, it’s a convenient square shape and comes with a variable-height boot floor, despite the standard full-size spare alloy wheel.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. If you need something with off-road potential but don’t want an SUV, this is a great choice. In fact, even if you've been looking at SUVs, you'd be wise to consider whether this offers more for the money. It’s well equipped, capable off road and has an interior that betters those of its peers and most SUVs in this price range for perceived quality and outright space at this price.
The only car that threatens to muddy the waters is the Skoda Octavia Scout, which undercuts the Passat by around £5k. It’s not as refined or as well equipped, but clearly with that sort of saving it’s worth looking into whether the Skoda might make more financial sense to you.
What Car? says...
Volkswagen Passat Alltrack 2.0 TDI 150
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Torque 251lb ft
Top speed 127mph
Fuel economy 57.7mpg