2014 VW Passat Alltrack review
Tony Bosworth’s 2014 VW Passat Alltrack review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
Subaru pretty much had the all-wheel drive wagon field to itself for years thanks to the capable Outback, but now VW is getting a proper grip with the hugely capable Passat Alltrack.
It will come as no surprise to learn one of my all-time favourite cars is the Audi quattro coupe, the model that introduced performance four wheel drive to the world. In the 1980s it was the car, winning rallies hands down and turning heads wherever it went.But that was then and this is now.
Now I’m older and I’ve got a family so I want performance of a different kind. Here’s the thing though – the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack with its permanent four-wheel drive – tagged 4MOTION – is quattro-like – hardly surprising considering it comes from the same company – so it seems at first glance that maybe you can have it all – gripping performance and space for the family, but is that true?
I once asked a VW designer how the company would change the next version of the Passat, and he said, “very carefully”. The comment is telling; Volkswagen don’t go in for revolutionary design changes. Take a look at any of their models and the evolution is clear. There’s a lot of sense in this because if you have a successful design you don’t want to go messing with it just for the sake of change.For the buyer that’s also a plus because evolution means your VW will keep its value pretty well too, unlike some brands which choose to reinvent the look completely every five years. With the Passat you can clearly see the resemblance to its ancester of a decade and more ago, and why not? It’s a supremely practical design which offers loads of interior space inside a fairly compact car.
But the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack does differ, albeit subtly, from its lesser front-wheel drive cousins thanks to plastic moulded wheelarch covers, discrete badging and a taller presence on the road – it’s 165mm higher than the bread-and-butter Passats. It has a greater off-road ramp angle, approach angle and departure angle and higher ground clearance than other Passats.
And while the Alltrack’s looks might not make you quite swoon with desire when it drives past, it is perfectly proportioned and has an unmistakable air of quality about it. As with all VWs, the body metal is thick, the doors close solidly and even the quality and solidity of the door handles tell you there’s been no skimping here. The Passat also features front and rear underbody protection in what they call “stainless steel-look”, fog lights, stainless steel door sill plates with ALLTRACK stamped on them, and dual exposed chrome tailpipes left and right.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The Alltrack’s ideal driving position is easy to find no matter your height, thanks to a mass of possible seat adjustments and a neat-sized adjustable steering wheel.Our car was fitted with black leather seats which look great and seem tough but they’re not the most practical offerings if you have young children. It’s a personal choice of course, but if kids are involved – and the Alltrack is crying out for a family dog in the back too – then cloth would be my choice, but it’s not an option on the Alltrack, you get either what VW calls Vienna leather in beige or black, or Nappa, the latter supplied as part of an optional Sport pack.
The large centre console screen also looks good and its multi-functions – maps, navigation, radio, phone – are easy to use and quickly become familiar with. The Alltrack has bags of room, particularly in the back where there’s more than enough legroom for anyone and the bench is very comfortable and a good size.A twin drinks holder tray built into the rear central armrest silently and smoothly makes an appearance when you tap the end. This is a nice bit of design and features spring loaded arms that expand to hold any size of drinks container. But, there’s a problem; your typical childrens’ metal drinks bottle is too heavy for these and when the driver corners or brakes, the arms let the bottle go and it rolls on to the floor. The idea is good, the design is great, but about all it will safely hold is a cardboard cup or small plastic bottle. The same basic grasping-arm design is also in the front between the two seats but there it is less of an issue because the cup holder is sunk into the console.
ROOM & PRACTICALITY
Boot space is simply cavernous, and it’s easy to access too thanks to the high lifting tailgate and a flat load floor with no boot lip to push items over, which means heavy luggage can easily be slid in and out. There’s a full-sized spare wheel though it’s a 16-incher rather than the standard 17 inch, and it’s under the luggage floot so if you have a puncture you need to empty the boot before you can haul it out. The Alltrack also has – in common with all other Passats – 0.72metres of cargo height access and 0.83m useable height once inside. There’s a metre of width between the rear wheel arches. Fold the split-fold rear bench down and the cargo loading surface is just short of two metres.Cargo capacity is quoted by VW at 588 litres with the rear seats up, and 1716 litres with the rear seats folded flat. What this means in practice is simply bags of room for anything you can chuck at this car. We stuffed it full with two kids’ bikes, skateboards, skis and scooters and we never had to jam any of it in. And I love the two storage bins either side of the boot – they’re really great for dropping in football pumps, cricket balls, or whatever else you want.
Fitting a child seat and booster seat was no problem, though to get the catch for the child seat between the seat back and retractable luggage cover you need to unlatch the seatback and pull it forward. The Alltrack is also fitted with what’s called Isofix, the latest European standard for child safety, but most Australian standard child seats don’t have the fittings to connect to these catches either side of where the seat sits.
In common with most new cars these days, the Passat features daytime LED running lights. Car makers seem to be trying to outdo each other here; one new car approaching the other day looked like an LED festooned carnival ride. Still, from a safety perspective daytime lights are undeniably good, even though you can choose on the Passat to switch them off. Our car also had swivel headlights fitted, which means they can track around corners. Additionally, the boot can be opened with the remote key, slowly rising as you click.
A button inside the boot door allows you to close it too; the Alltrack also has a very neat standard roofrack.The Passat also has a standard reversing camera and there are no truly awful blind spots that you find in some bigger SUVs. Having said that, the side mirrors feature a small strip of amber LED lights that illuminate if a car is alongside you. Now, this is excellent because as any driver knows, it’s all too easy, on the motorway, to miss that car just there beside you. Both mirrors have this feature.
We drove the 125TDI which features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder inline turbo diesel making 125kW at 4200rpm and a tree-stump-pulling 350Nm, with that maximum pulling power running between 1750 and 2500rpm. VW now has a more powerful version on offer, called the 130TDI, featuring 130kW and 380Nm.
The oil-burner is mated to a six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox with what VW calls Coasting Function (it uses no fuel when your foot is off the throttle) and so overall the Alltrack consumes a very frugal official combined figure of 6.3L/100km.On start-up and tickover it’s clear a diesel heart beats beneath the metal, the rumble is unmistakeable. But once the Alltrack is up and running the engine is smooth and mostly refined, helped in no small part by tubocharging which picks up quickly without any noticeable turbo-lag.
The Alltrack also features aStop/Start system which frankly I just can’t stand. The idea is when you stop at traffic lights or a junction – any time you come to a dead stop – the engine cuts out to save diesel. When the lights change you take your foot back off the brake and the engine restarts. Except that on four occasions during my week with the car it didn’t and that meant I had to take the key back out (the ‘key’ is a an electronic block that slides into a socket on the dashboard and has to be pushed home) and restart the car, which involves putting it back in Park, having your foot on the brake and pushing the key down into the socket once again. This happened twice when I was waiting for my garage door to open – an eight second event – and twice at traffic lights. It leads to a lot of fumbling with the key and led to plenty of cursing.In Sydney on two occasions as I drove from traffic light to traffic light the system did not cut off at the lights at all, so that’s a bit confusing. Of course, what I learned to do after a while was just feather the brake so the engine kept running, but that doesn’t save fuel. Honestly, I’d rather hand over the extra for the amount of fuel I’d use without Stop/Start than have this system. I have to say that by the end of the week I was used to it but when I got back into a car without Stop/Start it was a relief. In my week of testing I recorded an average fuel consumption of 7.0L/100km.
RIDE & HANDLING
Push the Alltrack hard and it’s a rocket, helped in no small part by all four wheels working hard. Okay, it’s no sports car but I’d defy anyone to say they need more poke than this. Even with four on board and their skateboards, bikes and footballs, the Passat has train-like pulling power and never seems to run out of puff.
There has been some criticism elsewhere of the DSG gearbox, chiefly that it’s not smooth and can be clunky in lower gears, but our test car exhibited none of these minuses. Changes were smooth and almost seamless and it never felt as if the unit was vibrating or hunting for a gear.
As you can imagine, the Alltrack’s 4MOTION system operates all four wheels. In normal driving conditions the front is the primary drive axle, with the rear only getting 10% of the drive torque, which clearly goes a long way to eke out the fuel. The rear axle is gradually engaged – step by step – depending on driving and road conditions. In the quattro coupe circa 1988 if you concentrated you could feel torque redistributing at high speed, but in the Alltrack it’s a seamless exercise, thanks not least to an advanced hydro-electric all-wheel coupling. Basically this is an electric system rather than mechanical, so it’s very refined.
Technology aside, this car has levels of on-road grip that make you smile. After dropping the kids off at school one rainy morning I took the Alltrack to my favourite slippery mountain roads and threw it through the bends. I have to tell you, my nerve gave out well before the grip.
The Passat’s ability is simply awesome, and remember this is a wagon, not a sports car.Despite being taller than the standard Passat, the Alltrack has very little body roll, especially when you consider this is a sizeable wagon. Throw it into a rain-soaked bend and it simply tightens its line. Yes, you can get it to drift, which it eventually does quite neutrally, but you’re not going to do that anywhere except on a test track because once you unstick the Alltrack you’re going seriously fast.
I also did a stint of off-road driving and while the VW is clearly no Land Rover this Passat is totally grippy and happy to surge through water and grapple with gravel.Engage the Off-Road button on the central console – it activates a system also used in the VW Touareg – and the settings for the safety and driver assistance systems and DSG gearbox are changed so the ABS anti-lock braking system has higher thresholds for control intervals. With normal ABS systems it’s quite possible to keep going on snow and ice when braking compared with an identical car without ABS (well, assuming you have a driver who knows how to cadence brake well…) because the ABS keeps working and adjusting rather than actually stopping the car immediately.
But the off-road Alltrack setting allows the ABS to form a wedge of gravel in front of the tyres when braking and that decelerates the Passat even more effectively than normal. With the Off-Road system engaged, there’s also what VW calls, “a flatter accelerator pedal characteristic”, in other words, the throttle is not so light and responsive, and gear shift points are raised too, automatically giving a higher engine rpm and therefore more useable power to work with. And if the DSG gearbox selection lever is switched to the manual shift position, the transmission doesn’t upshift automatically, and the Stop/Start system and coasting function are also deactivated.
At first glance the Alltrack’s facia looks rather plain but it doesn’t take more than a moment or two to realize everything is exactly where it should be and less is definitely more – it all looks very tasteful indeed. There are some real nice touches – the felt in the door pockets which stops items noisily rolling around, the metal-effect panels running the length of the dashboard, the elegant chrome-trimmed dials and switches and the lovely leather trimmed steering wheel complete with controls for computer and phone and sound system. Even the simple analogue clock centre-dash speaks quality.
EQUIPMENT & PRICING
At $47,790 (+ORC), the Alltrack is well equipped and certainly gives close rivals like the Subaru Outback a good run for its money – though the Outback is less expensive to buy in the first place. What I like about the Passat Alltrack is its immense practicality and also its tremendous poise and grip both on and off-road – and that’s worth a lot. Our test car was also fitted with the extra cost options of Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Assist and City Emergency Braking, plus Park Assist, Adaptive Chassis Control, Driver Assistance and Visibility Package – all amounting to a hefty $8550 on top of the base price of $47,790 (plus ORCs).