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TRACKING SHOT

Volkswagen takes a leaf from sister company Audi's book and offers a rugged four-wheel drive estate. Andy Enright reports.

Ten Second Review

The Volkswagen Passat Alltrack offers a rugged-ised version of the Passat estate, replete with 4MOTION all-wheel drive, a raised ride height and a clever off-road mode. With a choice of two versions of a 2.0-litre diesel engine, it's a slickly packaged vehicle that can't fail to win lots of friends.

Background

There's something wholly depressing about realising that marketers have your number. We like to think of ourselves as free spirits, people who are unlikely to be easily pigeonholed when it comes to products but sometimes a car comes along where you realise that the designers were explicitly targeting people like you. They know where you shop. They understand how you like to spend your spare time. They'll have a pretty good fix on what you do for a living and what other brands you'll be attracted to. Don't try to fight it. These people are cleverer than us.

This lifestyle profiling results in cars like the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. If I wanted to know what an Alltrack owner looked like, I only need to look in a mirror. Mountain bike, skis and scuba gear that need carting about, mid-forties, has a decent job, maybe fights a little shy of the bling-ier brands. Of course, other manufacturers have had a go at this market before. Rugged estates like the Subaru Forester, the Volvo XC70 and, of course, the Audi allroad all offer broadly the same recipe as the Passat Alltrack, but never underestimate the subtlety of the brand message.

Driving Experience

With its raised ride height and 4MOTION four-wheel drive system, the Passat Alltrack is designed to find grip where none seems to exist. Of course, even the best four-wheel drive vehicles stand or fall on the grip of their tyres, but the Passat gives its rubber every chance. While it doesn't have the ride height for really serious off-road excursions, for those looking for a car that they can bump up an unmade track to a remote beach or not feel vertigo when ascending the hairpins to a snowy ski resort, the Alltrack looks ideal.

The Passat Alltrack features an off-road mode, activated by a dashboard-mounted button. In this setting, hill descent assist is engaged which automatically brakes the vehicle when the descent angle is greater than 10 degrees. The anti lock brake threshold is also altered, with faster-reacting electronic differential locks to prevent wheelspin. Choose the DSG dual-clutch transmission and the shift pattern is altered when off-road mode is engaged, with higher shift points to give more power, a flatter and easier-to-manage accelerator pedal movement and no automatic up-shifting in manual mode.

There are two engines on offer at present. The first is a 2.0-litre TDI 140 PS mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Should pressing a clutch pedal fail to appeal, try the slightly pokier 170 PS version of this engine. This is fitted with the six-speed DSG transmission. Whichever model you choose, you'll be get a decent towing capability of 2,000 kg (braked, 12 per cent incline), which is 200 kg more than an equivalent Passat Estate. Impressive.

Design and Build

The Passat Alltrack is based on the familiar Passat Estate but includes a number of modifications, not least of which is that 4MOTION four-wheel drive system. The raised ride height lifts ground clearance from 135 to 165mm, which offers better clearance off road. The body enhancements also provide a modicum of protection from scrapes when covering rough terrain. These include stainless steel-look front and rear underbody protection panels and flared side sills. Other features include matt chrome roof rails, window surrounds, plus a smarter grille and exterior mirror casings.

At 4,771mm, the Passat Alltrack is exactly the same length as the Passat Estate, and despite flared wheel arch protection, the vehicle's width also remains the same at 1,820mm. The raised ride height also improves the car's breakover angle - the acuteness of a hill crest it can negotiate without grounding out - from 9.5 to 12.8 degrees. Ruggedly styled front and rear bumpers increase the approach angle from 13.5 to 16 degrees and the departure angle from 11.9 to 13.6 degrees, giving a welcome measure of ability to the marketing spin.

Market and Model

Prices have been kept sensible, as is the Passat way. Expect to pay around £28,500 for the manual 140 PS model and about £2,500 more for the more powerful 170 PS car with the DSG transmission. While this is not an inconsiderable sum, it's thrown into stark relief by the fact that a decently specified Astra or Civic can run to £25,000 and an unspectacular 3 Series can easily knock on the door of £30,000. With a great diesel engine and clever all-wheel drive underpinnings, the Passat Alltrack seems to offer a lot of car for your money. It's well equipped too, the single trim level including Alcantara upholstery, 2Zone electronic climate control, a touchscreen satellite navigation system, DAB radio, MDI iPod connectivity, Bluetooth telephone preparation, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a tyre pressure monitoring system and 18-inch Canyon alloy wheels. It doesn't stop there. A Driver Alert System that monitors the driver's responses to raise awareness of fatigue is also standard, as is ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme).

Of course, there will be few cars that exit showrooms without a few options boxes ticked and there are a number of tempting extras. Who wouldn't want to treat themselves to climate seats with massage function? There's also High Beam Assist, which automatically controls dipping of the headlights and Side Scan Lane Change Assist, which monitors the vehicle's blind spot. Lane Assist is there to stop dozy drivers from veering out of their lanes on the highway. ACC Adaptive Chassis Control, meanwhile, will help more enthusiastic ones adjust the ride to the road they're on and the mood they're in. Automatic Distance Control with City Emergency Braking function will keep you a safe distance from the car in front at cruising speeds and reduce the chance of urban low speed knocks. Then there's Park Assist, an interior ambient lighting pack, a rear-view camera and an electrically deployed tow bar. That little lot could tot up quite nicely, so choose wisely.

Cost of Ownership

Clearly the depreciation figure will hinge on how well you can resist buying options that won't pay for themselves back come resale time, but if the Passat Estate is anything to go by, the Alltrack should be a fairly safe place for your money. Volkswagen claims a combined fuel economy figure of 49.6mpg for the 140PS car and emissions of just 150g/km, which is going to endear it to many buyers. The 170PS engine isn't too far behind, registering 155g/km of carbon dioxide and managing a decent 47.9mpg.

Summary

The Passat was once terminally dull. It was the very essence of vanilla motoring. Over the years, Volkswagen has done its best to make the car a bit more aspirational and a bit of a sexier sell. It has had mixed results. Few recall the R36 sports version but perhaps the turning point was the Passat CC, a slinky coupe-like thing that looked fantastic and which proved that properly packaged, a Passat could be seriously desirable. Step forward the second such sassy Passat in the shape of the slick Alltrack four-wheel drive estate. Here's a car that just looks completely confident in its own abilities. It's not try-hard or shouty. It's a lifestyle vehicle done the Volkswagen way.

With a pair of excellent diesel engines to choose from, a four-wheel drive system that's not just a bit of puff and nonsense and the choice of manual or DSG twin-clutch sequential gearboxes, the Passat Alltrack appears to have some real substance behind that understated style. Volkswagen's rich run of form continues apace.


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