WAGONS may not be the most pulse racing vehicle on offer, in fact, far from it, but their attraction lies in creature comforts. Practicality may sound boring but for anyone needing that boost of space, or for families looking for ease of use, they are an undeniable luxury.
True, most buyers of that ilk continue to turn to those ever-popular SUVs to provide moving solutions. Not only are they big but they are also capable on a variety of surfaces and tend to have visibility and safety features on their side too.
But SUVs don't always float the boat either which leaves room for the crossover estates - not just a wagon not quite a SUV - but a vehicle that holds that middle ground with aplomb. The Passat Alltrack is a case in point.
Based on Volkswagen's most popular car (globally, if not in Australia), the Alltrack, now in its second edition and offered here only as a turbo-diesel, is smooth, classy and good value.
There is little change on the inside from the regular Passat wagon, which is no bad thing given the fit and finish of that vehicle.
There is an offer of luxury in the plush surrounds, easily mixing with the generic Volkswagen feel, with the layout and fixtures on the dash a familiar sight.
The front seats are nicely supportive and easy to settle the small of the back into although, oddly, only the lumbar and back rest controls on the driver's seat are electric.
There is room in the second row to stretch out even for three adults - pity the one in the middle though, who has to contend with less padding and the high transmission tunnel.
On the road
The Alltrack sits some 28cm higher than the Passat wagon but feels firmly planted on the road, its sureness under foot and easy response making for a pleasant drive.
It slopes around in unhurried fashion, dealing well with corners - even at speed - and proves unfussy to manoeuvre despite its size. Now, at low revs it feels a bit heavy to move but that feeling eases quickly as you gather momentum, the dual-clutch gearbox working well to make decisive choices especially on the open road.
The Alltrack is just as assured on the gravel, making light work of loose surfaces and negotiating potholes and ruts with minimal discomfort. This is not a car for bush bashing but it will have little trouble with most farm tracks and secondary roads.
The Alltrack is the only Passat to boast VW's 4MOTION all-wheel drive system which basically drives the front wheels until traction and torque is needed in the rear. An off-road setting activates the hill-descent system, allows you to slow the throttle response and changes the ABS and stability control.
What do you get?
The Alltrack comes suitably equipped with, amongst others, 18-inch alloys, tri-zone air-conditioning, electric tailgate, an 8-inch colour touch screen that fronts the infotainment system as well as sat-nav, reverse camera and smartphone connectivity.
But it is the safety systems that impress, with nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane assist, blind-spot assist, multi-collision braking, parking sensors, rear cross traffic alert and emergency braking. There is an optional Luxury pack ($3500) that includes panoramic sunroof, LED headlights with integrated DRLs, semi-automatic parking and chrome grill strip.
Being heavier than the sedan hurts economy but we stayed quite close to the claimed 5.4L/100km efficiency figures. Volkswagen offers a three year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing ($1298) over three years.
The Passat Alltrack is well placed to do battle with the Subaru Outback (from $35,490), Audi A4 Allroad (from $70,500), Skoda Octavia Scout (from $32,990) and Volvo XC60 (from $57,990).
These crossover wagons make practical sense for people who want space, comfort and a raised driving position but don't want to be hankered down by a SUV. We like the options the Alltrack affords, the nifty storage solutions and the run-flat tyres that are capable of sealing a 5cm puncture like a nail or screw until you can get it seen to.
Aside from extra ground clearance, the Alltrack differs visually from the wagon courtesy of matt-black body trim, aluminium scuff plate and roof rails. It sits proudly on its wide wheel arches, with subtle hints at its rugged capability.
The Passat Alltrack is easy to like. It drives well, is generously equipped, has an excellent safety package and oodles of room. It is a more than convincing alternative for a high-riding SUV and has a bit more oomph than a wagon.
A definite consideration for those buyers looking for versatility and practicality with a touch of luxury.
Model: Volkswagen Passat Alltrack.
Details: Five-door all-wheel-drive crossover wagon.
Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder diesel generating maximum power of 140kW @ 3500-4000rpm and peak torque of 400Nm @ 1750-3000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed DSG automatic.
Consumption: 5.4 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on roads: from $49,290.
What matters most
What we liked: Comfortable ride, versatility, good grip, excellent safety.
What we'd like to see: Better low rev throttle response, fully electric seat adjustment.
Warranty and Servicing: 3 year unlimited kilometre warranty and 3 year capped-price servicing.
Driving experience 17/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 18/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 17/20
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