2016 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The rough-road version of the Passat wagon is back with more kit, a new look and a stronger engine.
2016 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack
Price from $49,290+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five star ANCAP (35.89/37 – tested in 2015) Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel Power/Torque 140kW/400Nm Transmission six-speed DSG Body 4777mm (L); 1832mm (W); 1506mm (H) Weight 1671kg Fuel Tank 70L Thirst 5.4L/100km
JUST LIKE THE Golf Alltrack we recently reviewed, the Passat Alltrack (read our launch-based first drive) is a standalone model in the Passat family and gets a range of model specific styling, which we’ll come to shortly. The new Passat launched in Australia late last year and this new Passat Alltrack arrived in February this year with a one variant-only price of $49,290+ORC. The top-spec Subaru Outback 3.6R Premium undercuts this at $48,490+ORC.
Offering just one cost optional package, the Luxury Package costs $3500 and features a panoramic sunroof, electric folding mirrors, ambient interior lighting, LED headlights with dynamic cornering function, and headlight washers. Metallic paint costs $700.
What is it?
This is the second-generation Passat Alltrack, the first debuted in 2012 and we tested it back in 2014 where our Tony Bosworth summed it up as a “hugely practical car that simply delights”. Because it’s based on the Passat Wagon, the Alltrack variant offers the same cavernous 639 litre boot that its key competitor, the Subaru Outback (512 litres), can’t match.
But, unlike the Passat wagon, the Alltrack variant sits higher with ground clearance of 174mm, although not as high as the Outback (213mm), gets a new front grille design, new front and rear bumper, while the underbody protection is now plastic rather than steel on the previous generation; the upside is a reduction in weight for this unit alone of 16kg.
There’s no spare tyre in the boot of the Passat Alltrack which, at first, might seem a little odd, but the Alltrack runs Continental ContiSeal tyres which are claimed to be able to keep driving even when punctured by something up to 5mm in diameter. Apparently there’s a “protective layer” on the inside of the tyre that will seal the hole. We did a quick whip around online and the price, per tyre, is more than $500.
Unlike the regular Passat, the Alltrack variant gets VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system which sees the car behave like a front-wheel drive car most of the time, with the latest-generation Haldex 5 coupling activating when wheel slip is detected and directing drive to rear axle, and indeed it can send up to 100% of torque to the rear.
What’s it like?
My neighbour has a new Passat and with the Passat Alltrack parked next to his car, his, well, looked a little dowdy. The slightly raised ride height (27.5mm more than standard) and the extra body cladding and the new front and rear bumper and grille give the Alltrack variant a sharper look than the standard car. So, if looking different is what you’re going for, then this car will help you do it; better still it doesn’t look like it’s trying to hard to look like a rough roader.
Sure, the Passat Alltrack lacks the ruggedness of the Subaru Outback, but it carries a premium-ness via the crispness of the angles and body creases that the Outback can’t match. And the same goes as you move inside. The new Outback’s interior is a huge step forwards and is indeed very good, but it can’t match the Passat Alltrack.
Inside, every surface you touch is either soft plastic, leather or faux brushed alloy and while the large 8.0-inch touchscreen unit dominates the centre of the dashboard there are also traditional climate control dials and buttons below which are beautifully crafted and easy to use on the move. While VW has made a big deal of the unit’s ability to run both Apple Car Play and Android Auto, it can be used independently of smartphone integration and offers a nice simple menu structure.
The front seats are swathed in leather and are comfortable enough… but then a wooden chair can be ‘comfortable enough’. The front seats are very broad and flat and so you tend to sit on them rather than in them, and despite the presence of lateral support and side bolstering, the seats are just too broad to do a great job of keeping you where you want to be.
The back seats are better with plenty of room for two adults to sit comfortably – the middle seat, due to the transmission tunnel is more of a perch. There are ISOFIX mounts on the two outboard seats and I managed to fit my two children’s seats (one booster and one harness style) into the back very easily indeed. Both kids had plenty of leg room and loved the fact they had their own climate controls.
While the old Passat Alltrack was available with two engines, this new one is only available with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel which makes 140kW at 3500-4000rpm) and 400Nm of torque from 1750-3000rpm. This engine is mated to a six-speed DSG and fuel consumption is a claimed 5.4L/100km although in our time with the Passat Alltrack we only managed 7.3L/100km based on around 600km of mixed surface travel.
The Passat Alltrack, like the Golf Alltrack, gets VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system which is essentially a front-wheel drive system with an “electronically controlled multi-plate clutch” that activates to distribute drive to the rear axle when slip is detected. In that case, the system can direct up to 100% of drive to the rear axle.
The Passat Alltrack also offers electronic differential locks (EDL) on both the front and back axle which also feature XDL. These are misnamed; it’s just good old brake traction control. EDL works through the stability control and, when one or another wheel starts to spin then drive is shifted away from that wheel to the opposite wheel; XDL works by brushing the brakes on the inside wheel “during fast cornering”. In the end, and unless you’re paying particular attention then you’ll probably never notice when all this ‘drive’ is being shuffled around but, and this is the same criticism I levelled at the Golf Alltrack, the thing never feels as fluid as a permanent all-wheel drive.
And I say this because on slippery dirt, in particular, you can feel the Alltrack’s all-wheel drive system working as it pushes on corners before tightening its line (as the system cuts in and out) and so on. Don’t misread me, it doesn’t exactly stutter its way through a corner but its attitude doesn’t feel as consistent on dirt as does a Subaru Outback.
Like the system on the Golf Alltrack you can access an Off Road Mode, as well as Normal, Sport and Eco, but the Off-Road system activates the hill descent assist, tweaks the ABS intervals to allow a wedge of dirt to build up ahead of the wheels to assist in stopping on dirt, and it soften the throttle pedal to avoid over revving if your foot bumps up and down on the pedal when driving across rough terrain. More than this, it raises gear shift points that allow you to drive in a lower gear for longer. The Amarok has a similar system – read our test.
Since I’ve mentioned gears shifts, let’s talk about the six-speed DSG for a moment. There are those people who would slam DSGs for being the transmission of the Devil. They’re not. Actually, drive them properly and get a good one (and this is key) and you’ll forget all about gazillion-speed automatic transmissions. Unfortunately, the six-speed DSG in the Passat Alltrack is not a good one and this is surprising as I have a very similar six-speeder in my personal car, a Skoda Octavia, which is a 2011 model and has never missed a beat. It doesn’t roll back, or shudder when taking off on a hill in first gear, or thump through gears when up and running.
But the transmission on the Passat Alltrack we tested did all of those things. Select D for Drive and transition from the brake pedal to the accelerator and the car will momentarily roll back. And the same goes when you go from R for Reverse to Drive. Then, it’ll clumsily change gears at around town speeds only smoothing out once the speed rises beyond 80km/h. But this could just have been a one off… so, if you own an Alltrack let us know if you’ve had any issues.
Beyond this the steering is nice and direct and is one of the better electric assist systems on the market. It’s nice and stable at highway speed and quick and nimble enough when navigating fast corners.
The suspension errs towards firm which is great for driving on bitumen and means the thing offers a nice sporty attitude with little body roll or pitching under brakes. But out-of-nowhere bumps will thump into the cabin, although they won’t upset the steering. Away from bitumen and onto gravel and the ride is less comfortable with the Passat Alltrack lacking the compliance and damper adjustment to be as comfortable on dirt as, say, a Subaru Outback.
Like other VWs the Passat Alltrack offers Front Assist with City Emergency Braking and this is the system that road safety organisations like the TAC in Victoria claim are vital to reducing the road toll. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a great idea but they’re not infallible and there’s more to improving road safety than automatic emergency braking systems, but that’s an article for another time… I managed to provoke the City Emergency Braking twice in my week with the Passat Alltrack and in both situations there was absolutely no ‘real world’ reason for the system to activate. One saw a car turning in front of me, and with no oncoming traffic I could see that simply backing off the throttle and turning around the car on the left was enough to see me not run up the back of it. Not so the onboard computer, which decided that I hadn’t seen the car so it applied the brakes and then released them causing me to head bang the steering wheel. Almost. Then, as I started turning the steering wheel to drive around the turning car, my car picked up the white line on the edge of the road and immediately tried to apply counter steering which I had to fight against to keep from steering into the back of the car I’d been trying to avoid. Sheesh.
More than this, I found that the counter steering which uses cameras to monitor any wandering out of your lane, could quite often be tricked by thick lines on the road, or even long cracks and caused me a few heart-in-mouth moments when I had to fight against the steering.
There are other active safety features, like the rear traffic alert and the side assist, which is a fancy way of describing blind spot monitoring, that work very well indeed. Our test car didn’t get the cost optional Luxury package and so we missed out on trying the latest-generation Park Assist. Luckily for me I know how to park a car…
Like most other manufacturers these days, Volkswagen offers capped price servicing for the Passat Alltrack with servicing schedules every 15,000km or 12 months. Pricing is: 15,000km or 12 months $413.00; 30,000km or 24 months $413.00; 45,000km or 36 months $463.00; 60,000km or 48 months $985.00; 75,000km or 60 months $413.00; 90,000km or 72 months $478.00. Additional items not covered under capped price servicing are Pollen filter every two years $56.00; Brake fluid every two years $138.00 and Haldex fluid change every three years $181.00.
While we’ve touched on safety, it’s worth mentioning the Passat Alltrack gets airbags for front and rear seat passengers, heated windscreen washer jets and rain sensing wipers, ISOFIX mounts on the outer seats in the back, daytime driving lights, traction and stability control as well 4Motion all-wheel drive, reversing camera, driver fatigue detection, active cruise control and much more.