Vwon the right track

NT News - Motoring - - CARS GUIDE - By STU­ART MARTIN

SO you want to ne­go­ti­ate ter­rain more chal­leng­ing than the drive­way but can’t cop be­ing seen in an SUV? De­spair not.

VW has tough­ened up its Pas­sat wagon so that it goes nose-to-nose with the Subaru Out­back as well as its sib­lings from Skoda and Audi. It’s called, with only slight hubris, the All­track. VALUE: At $47,790 the all-wheeldrive All­track is $1800 more than the front-drive Pas­sat 125TDI. That’s $1000 over the diesel Out­back Pre­mium, but the VW brings a stan­dard six-speed DSG auto to Subaru’s man­ual sole trans­mis­sion choice.

Other stan­dard kit in­cludes chrome roof rails, leather trim, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol with rear-seat vents, a reach and rake ad­justable leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel with sound sys­tem and phone con­trols, Blue­tooth phone and au­dio link, a hard-drive equipped sat­nav and sound sys­tem with USB in­put and a pow­ered tail­gate. It rides on 17-inch al­loys with self­seal­ing tyres and a space­saver spare.

Op­tions in­clude pearl­ef­fect paint ($700), sun­roof ($2000) and park­ing as­sis­tance sys­tem ($900). The two op­tion packs look de­cent value. The $3300 driver as­sis­tance and vis­i­bil­ity pack­age adds in­tel­li­gent bixenon lights, lane de­par­ture warn­ing and blind spot warn­ing. For $2800, the sport pack­age gets a mul­ti­func­tion leather steer­ing wheel with gearshifter pad­dles, Nappa full-grain leather trim and heav­ier rear win­dow tint.

The adap­tive cruise con­trol, that in­cludes the au­to­brak­ing ac­ci­dent warn­ing and avoid­ance sys­tem, is a $2000 op­tion and the adap­tive damper sus­pen­sion op­tion (with ei­ther 17in or 18in al­loy wheels) is $1650. TECH­NOL­OGY: The All­track uses the 2.0-litre com­mon-rail di­rect­in­jec­tion tur­bod­iesel four. It’s a proven unit with 125kW/350Nm and a thirst of 6.3l/100km, barely more than the 150kg lighter stan­dard Pas­sat.

Elec­tric sta­bil­ity aids are dis­abled by a but­ton’s push while the off-road sys­tem also quick­ens the re­ac­tion time of the elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial locks to pre­vent wheel spin and au­to­mat­i­cally ac­ti­vates hill de­scent con­trol to a higher engine speed and if the man­ual shift mode is em­ployed, the gear will be held and not over-rid­den by the gear­box com­puter.

The 4Mo­tion driv­e­train feeds only 10 per cent of power to the rear axle un­til the elec­tro-hy­draulic sys­tem sees a need for more. DE­SIGN The staid squared-off con­ser­va­tive look of the Pas­sat wagon has been beefed up with whee­larch trim and added bits on the front and rear bumpers.

More im­por­tantly, the All­track’s ground clear­ance has risen to 165mm. That’s down on the Out­back’s 213mm, the VW’s bootspace is at 588 litres al­most 100 litres greater than the Soob’s. It’s a clever and flex­i­ble space too, with lug­gage net and re­mote re­lease for the seat backs. SAFETY The Pas­sat scores five stars un­der the NCAP. A no­table fea­ture in this edition is an ‘‘ex­tended’’ elec­tronic diff lock and four-wheel drive. The driver gets an auto-dim­ming rear vi­sion cen­tre and driver’s side mir- ror, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing and some un­der­body pro­tec­tion. DRIV­ING: First im­pres­sions of the All­track are not sur­pris­ingly Pas­sat with hik­ing boots and a bit more swag­ger. The six-speed auto plays well with the turbo diesel, hum­ming swiftly along at free­way speeds and pro­vid­ing more than enough punch for over­tak­ing. The ride is on the firm side and a lit­tle jit­tery in the sport pack­age; I’d be in­clined to stick with the stan­dard wheel/tyre pack­age.

Wind­ing back roads are not go­ing to trip the All­track, that height in­crease is not sig­nif­i­cant enough to make it lean dras­ti­cally. The down­side to that is 165mm of ground clear­ance is go­ing to mean you’ll test the model-spe­cific un­der­body pro­tec­tion a lit­tle more than you would in a Subaru Out­back once you’re off the bi­tu­men.

The loose-sur­face dirt road is eas­ily tra­versed as well, with the all-wheel drive sys­tem and driver aids work­ing to­gether to pre­vent too much wan­der­ing. The front-drive bi­ased all-wheel drive sys­tem is not my per­sonal pref­er­ence — the more even split en­gaged by Subaru or the VW’s cousins at Audi are bet­ter bal­anced.

The off-road mode brings in a clever hill de­scent con­trol sys­tem that has its speed set by the driver’s right foot, but given the low clear­ance you won’t be step­ping over big rocks. VER­DICT If you value a Ger­man badge over a Ja­panese one, the All­track is a fam­ily wagon that can com­plete a broad range of mod­ern SUV tasks from fire trails to the school run.

Ne­go­ti­ate the Out­back in the com­fort of VW’s tough­ened-up All­track Pas­sat wagon. Be­low, left, eye-catch­ing in white and, right, a peek at the lux­u­ri­ous in­te­rior

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