Good: huge space for passengers and luggage, very comfortable
Not so good: engine should be quieter, not cheap to buy
It's not immediately obvious that you're looking at the Alltrack version of the Passat. Without the bright Habenero Orange paintwork to grab attention, we reckon most would notice that this Passat Estate is of high specification but they're unlikely to think anything more of it. Look a little closer and the differences are quite numerous. There's extra plastic cladding for the lower section of the car, new bumpers with front fog lights and underbody protection, plastic wheelarch surrounds for that off-road look, the door mirrors are painted matt chrome to complement the silver anodised roof rails, modest badging and chunky-looking 17-inch Ancona alloy wheels. Adding further sparkle are LED headlights and 'Premium' LED rear lights. Last, but certainly not least is an increase in ride height, by 27.5mm, which helps give the SUV-like specification some credibility.
Indeed, the Alltrack is better off the beaten track than you'd wager, and all are equipped with 4Motion four-wheel drive and a special 'Offroad' mode in the driver profile selection. What does this do? First up it readies the Hill Descent Assist system, which controls the speed you drive down a steep hill at (a gradient of more than 10 per cent) automatically, allowing the driver to choose that speed (with the accelerator or brake) between 2- and 30km/h. The anti-lock brakes work differently in this mode too, allowing a wedge of loose material to build up in front of the tyres under heavy braking, as that actually helps deceleration in such conditions. Finally, the gear shift points of the automatic transmission are altered to suit off-road driving and the accelerator pedal becomes less sensitive, making it easier to slowly mete out power.
Rather oddly, along with Eco, Normal and a customisable Individual setting there's also a Sport mode. Thankfully it's not a million miles away from the Normal mode, as this version of the Alltrack doesn't have adjustable damping. It does sharpen up the throttle response, give the steering some more heft and make the DSG transmission decidedly more proactive, but there's little reason for Sport mode. That's because this car is all about taking your time and luxuriating in the space and comfort. Sure, a regular Passat Estate is just as spacious and comfy, but there's extra satisfaction to be had from knowing that the Alltrack can take you further off road than you'd ever dare to venture and that it should be handy in bad weather.
In normal conditions it pretty much drives like a front-drive Passat, though the four-wheel drive system makes for smoother progress when you're in a hurry in poor conditions and eradicates wheel spin that is all too easy to illicit in a front-drive car in the wet. Oddly, you never really get a sense of power going to the rear axle, as the calibration is undoubtedly biased towards neutrality and stability. Hence, this is not a car you'll relish a back road blast in, as it's all very comfort oriented. Nothing wrong with that in the least. Too many car makers want a dynamic image and forget that most motorists just want to be comfortable. The Alltrack excels on that count.
Easy performance from the 190hp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine also helps, especially when mated to the smooth-shifting six-speed DSG automatic. Being critical, this can be a bit slow-witted at time, even if it is slick, but separate to the driving settings it has its own Sport mode and manual override gear change paddles if you're in more of a hurry; most will be happy with the default calibration. The engine is louder than we'd like, however, and though it costs only €280 to tax, our experience shows that the official fuel consumption figure is something no owner will ever achieve. For the record, we averaged just over 7.0 litres/100km in a week in which the car spent a good bit of time dashing about on a variety of road types, but no prolonged motorway journey.
On the subject of money, if you've glanced at the specifications over you may be wondering at the lunacy of a fifty grand Passat, and you're not alone, but perceptions aside, the Alltrack at least feels like it's worth every cent and in fairness, prices start considerably lower than this test car. We'd go so far as to say it's the most premium model in the Volkswagen line-up, more than capable of stealing a few buyers away from Audi. Not that that's immediately obvious.