Sharper camping tool
Special edition Passat wagon goes bush without an SUV’s bulk or thirst
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.