Sharper camp­ing tool

Spe­cial edi­tion Pas­sat wagon goes bush with­out an SUV’s bulk or thirst

The Courier-Mail - Cars Guide - - First Drive - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE EDI­TOR

LUX­URY car mak­ers are in­creas­ingly en­croach­ing on the ter­ri­tory of main­stream brands, tempt­ing buy­ers with a pres­tige badge at an af­ford­able price.

Now Volk­swa­gen is fight­ing back. The maker says al­most 25 per cent of Pas­sat buy­ers cross-shop a Ger­man lux­ury brand, so with that in mind, it has raided the parts bin of sis­ter brand Audi to put to­gether an up­mar­ket ver­sion of the Pas­sat All­track wagon.

The new “Wolfs­burg edi­tion”, at $54,990 drive-away, bor­rows Audi’s lat­est “vir­tual cock­pit” tech­nol­ogy — call­ing it ac­tive info dis­play — as well as adap­tive chas­sis con­trol to ad­just sus­pen­sion set­tings be­tween com­fort and sport.

Old-fash­ioned di­als and nee­dles are re­placed by a big dig­i­tal screen that can be con­fig­ured to dis­play sat­nav maps, mu­sic choices and trip in­for­ma­tion along­side a vir­tual speedo and tacho. The driver can con­fig­ure the screen to suit, for ex­am­ple shrink­ing the speed and rev read­outs to make more room for the map dis­play.

It’s a great party trick and puts all the in­for­ma­tion you need at your fin­ger­tips, which means you don’t have to look at the cen­tre screen while driv­ing.

Other added gad­gets in­clude gearshift pad­dles and a tail­gate that opens with the swish of a foot un­der the bumper. Most other en­hance­ments are purely visual — 19-inch al­loy wheels, LED head and tail-lights, day­time run­ning lights and spe­cial edi­tion badg­ing.

In­side there are am­bi­ent light­ing, black roof lin­ing and brushed metal high­lights on the dash and doors. The pre­mium over a stan­dard All­track is $5000, or $7000 if you add a panoramic sun­roof.

Else­where, the Wolfs­burg picks up the stan­dard All­track good­ies, in­clud­ing nine airbags, park­ing sen­sors and re­vers­ing cam­era. It also sup­ports Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, which dis­play your smart­phone apps on the cen­tre screen. ON THE ROAD The All­track fol­lows the lead of Subaru’s Out­back — a tougher look­ing, high-rid­ing fam­ily wagon with some off-road abil­ity, cour­tesy of all-wheeldrive, some body cladding and 27mm more ground clear­ance. VW calls it a “board­room to board­shorts” car, de­liv­er­ing all­wheel-drive with­out the com­pro­mises of an SUV.

It’s not go­ing to do the Can­ning Stock Route any­time soon but it will get you down a dirt road or a muddy track.

The trade-off is that it doesn’t feel quite as sharp through the corners as a stan­dard Pas­sat. Com­pe­tent and pre­dictable, it has con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing lev­els of grip, but doesn’t feel as ag­ile.

It’s a lot sharper tool than top-heavy SUVs for the same money, though.

The 2.0-litre turbo diesel has de­cent shove from rest. There’s a lit­tle de­lay in power de­liv­ery and the twin-clutch auto can hes­i­tate be­fore en­gag­ing.

Over­all it’s not lack­ing in grunt, es­pe­cially on the free­way where it hums along with­out re­ally break­ing a sweat or, for a diesel, mak­ing much noise.

The cabin has a qual­ity feel, with good le­groom in the rear and lots of space for lug­gage or the Ikea run, es­pe­cially with the sec­ond-row seats folded.

Un­like some SUVs, it has a full-size al­loy spare. VER­DICT The All­track is a worth­while op­tion for those who like the out­doors and week­end get­aways but don’t want a hulk­ing SUV.

It will go most places the av­er­age SUV will, has al­most as much space, uses less fuel and drives bet­ter.

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