In Alltrack guise, Volkswagen's eighth generation Passat gets re-engineered for off-road duties. Can it excel here too? Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest version.
Volkswagen's second generation Passat Alltrack is a family-sized 4x4 estate that continues to strike an appealing balance for many buyers who don't need - and probably don't want - a traditional compact Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4-style mid-sized SUV. It has the quality look and feel of something premium and much more expensive, blended with an extra dose of subtlety that'll suit potential buyers. Plus it'll be as good off road as you'll need it to be. In other words, it ticks a lot of boxes. Especially in this revised form.
If I wanted to know what a Passat Alltrack owner looked like, I only need to look in a mirror. Mountain bike, skis and karting equipment that needs moving about, middle-aged, has a decent job, maybe fights a little shy of the bling-ier brands. Someone who probably wouldn't previously have been attracted to a Passat Estate. But then, this one isn't quite as we know it. The ride height is a touch higher and the bodywork a touch showier to tweak the lifestyle appeal a small but crucial click towards more outdoorsy hunting, shooting, fishing - heck maybe even jetskiing - folk. People who would usually need to buy a fully fledged SUV, all the while gritting their teeth against a perceived social backlash from eco-friendly neighbours. By equipping this car with 4MOTION all-wheel drive and giving it with a modicum of light off prowess, Volkswagen claims to have ensured that they don't have to.
So, it's a plush, family-sized SUV-flavoured 4WD estate. Something we've seen before of course - but not quite like this. Wolfsburg claims to have brought us a car of this kind that bridges the gap between affordable but less premium models of this kind from Skoda and Subaru and the more desirable but much pricier ones from Audi and Volvo. A place you'd think that a significant number of buyers would like to be. Let's try it.
The Alltrack isn't much different to drive than the standard models as only a few changes have been made over the regular Passat. The heightened suspension does have a small effect on handling though, as the centre of gravity is now a little higher. It's a small price to pay though as it stops the underside of the car from being damaged when off road and allows it to go over ground that the regular car couldn't look at. Performance is a fraction down on the regular car but not enough to be noticeable and the Alltrack has more than enough power for most. The Passat Alltrack is only offered in 2.0 TDI 190PS form with a 7-speed DSG auto gearbox and 4MOTION 4WD.
The performance is very accessible off road too. This car's Haldex all-wheel drive system uses sensors to detect any loss of grip and transfers power to the wheels with most traction. As well as making off road driving easier, this set-up ensures the driver has optimum traction during more spirited driving or in adverse weather conditions.
The visual changes made to this lightly revised post-2019 Alltrack model are pretty minor. Smarter LED headlights add extra overtaking presence and the re-shaped lower fog lamps incorporated into the revised bumper look more sophisticated. The lightly updated radiator grille exudes a more polished presence too, its purpose being to emphasise the car's width and, with the swept-back windscreen and low bonnet line, create a lower, wider and more expensive look.
As usual with this Alltrack model, the bodywork, suspension and numerous other areas have been tweaked to cope with rough terrain. The exterior looks more workmanlike than the standard Passat thanks to its plastic wheelarches, raised suspension and modified bumpers. The Alltrack is certainly one of the more subtly designed vehicles of its kind and is all the better for it.
The interior of this MK8 model Passat follows the design principals of the exterior - simple but elegant. All controls are ideally located and in true Volkswagen style, feel of high quality in terms of materials and ease of use. The combination of stitched leather and metal accents give a premium feel to the cabin and by simplifying the controls, the designers have avoided an excess of buttons and switches - an affliction which many cars suffer from. Rear seat room is pretty spacious by class standards. And there's a 650-litre boot, extendable to 1,780-litres when the rear seats are folded.
The Passat Alltrack is now only offered in 2.0 TDI 190PS form with a 7-speed DSG auto gearbox and 4MOTION 4WD and a single trim level costing around £39,000. You're looking at a premiumn of £700 over a Passat R-Line 2.0 TDI 190PS DSG auto estate with 4MOTION 4WD. The Alltrack variant features Off-road suspension and a 27.5mm increase in ride height, plus an 'Off-road' drive mode setting and a Hill Descent Control system. Along with anthracite-coloured wheel arch protectors and side sill protectors, 18-inch 'Kalata' alloy wheels, uniquely-shaped 'Alltrack'-style bumpers, a full-sized spare wheel and special upholstery.
Other elements of standard equipment include roof rails and a variable-height boot floor. As a buyer of this Volkswagen, you also get free access to a 'We Connect' app, via which you can remotely interact with your Passat, accessing things like driving data and enabling light activation. At point of purchase, you'll be offered the option of upgrading this to 'We Connect Plus', which - after payment of a three year subscription fee - will enable you to go further and, again via your smartphone, do things like pre-set cabin temperatures and lock or unlock the doors from wherever you are in the world.
The Passat Estate this Alltrack variant is based upon is a car that sells on pragmatism, so it's a critical component of its success that the running costs of the vehicle flag up all the right numbers. Remember that despite its SUV-style appeal, the bulk of this car's sales will still come from fleet buyers who don't give a brass tuppence about 4x4 capability. For them it's about bills, bills, bills; residual values, fuel economy, carbon dioxide emissions, insurance costs, servicing overhead and so on.
These people should approve of the figures returned by the 2.0 TDI 190PS diesel engine - up to 46.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and up to 127g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. Upfront pricing is slightly higher than some rivals, but pull residual values into the equation and the Passat looks a strong proposition. Less impressive is the three year/60,000 mile warranty cover. We can't see why Volkswagen couldn't extend that mileage limit to 100,000 miles, since that what you get on its mechanically very similar Caddy model. Doing that though, wouldn't give Volkswagen dealers so much of an opportunity to sell extended warranty packages.
We've had 4WD Volkswagen Passats in the UK since 2001 but they've been a rare sight. This second generation Alltrack version though, has gained rather wider acceptance. It's the car that so many buyers of mid-sized soft roaders should be looking at - but probably aren't. Less extrovert than RAV4s, CR-Vs and the like but, in truth, probably better suited to their owners' needs - providing those don't include anything too extreme on the rough stuff.
This, indeed, is a car perfectly suited to those who don't believe in going to extremes. In buying something suitable for the Amazon when all they really need is something that'll guarantee to get the kids to school in a snowy snap. This is, in short, the most complete expression of pragmatic Passat motoring since this model was first launched back in 1973. And an SUV-style 4x4 estate that gives you the quality and cred of an Audi allroad for not much more than the price of a comparable Skoda or Subaru. A car, in other words, that the marketeers have thoroughly thought through. Just as you'd expect from a Volkswagen.
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