What is it?
The eighth-generation Volkswagen Passat has been refreshed, four years after it was launched in 2015. And this particular version – the slightly higher-riding all-wheel-drive estate known as the Alltrack – first appeared with the Passat iteration that arrived before that, in 2010.
The Alltrack provides a useful mix of load-carrying and mild-off-road capability in a format popularized by Volvo’s Cross Country models and the Allroad estates of sister brand Audi.
The Passat refresh is relatively modest. Items now standard include particulate filters for all engines, LED lights front and rear and Travel Assist, which enables the car to drive at up to 130mph in part-automated mode. The adaptive cruise control now reads and acts on speed limit signs, and while this can be over-ridden with a switch or the accelerator pedal, it will return to the speed it sees on the next sign, limiting the usefulness of this essential tool for anyone who doesn’t cruise on the motorway at exactly 70mph.
More positively, the infotainment system can now screen Apple CarPlay or Android Auto without a cable, and potential Passat buyers must now navigate a modest orchard’s worth of eight model derivatives rather than the previous forest.
Among the culled line-up is the Alltrack sampled here, its identifiers including the black plastic wheel arch extensions of an off-roader, more ruggedly sculpted bumpers, new 18in alloy rims, the option of a bucolic bottle green paint finish, assorted decor highlights in stainless steel, aluminium and chrome and Volkswagen's 'Discover' 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system.
More fundamentally, its 4Motion system provides an off-roading mode and the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel that's your sole engine choice comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
What's it like?
This is one of the more sophisticated-looking Passat wagons, and the optional green paint special to the Alltrack is a refreshing change from the endlessly silver cars we usually see. The dashboard still looks reasonably sophisticated four years in, but it’s a disappointment to find that the standard upholstery is cloth, especially when you discover that leather costs a stiff £1900.
It’s a roomy interior though, with generous room front and rear as well as a decently long and wide boot. That the boot floor is level with the sill is handy for heavy loading, but you lose plenty of height.
While you wouldn’t call it noisy, there’s no mistaking the 2.0 TDI engine for anything other than a diesel, betrayed by a persistent light clatter almost absent from the lesser 1.6 TDI unit. Still more intrusive is road noise, a dull roar intruding even over moderately coarse textures, making this car rather less restful than its size and standards of finish imply. Volkswagen should have mounted a silencing campaign during this refresh.
The Alltrack doesn’t ride especially well, either. It’s less good at dealing with small, knobbly bumps than its smaller but taller Volkswagen T-Cross brother and decidedly less soothing than a 1.0-litre Golf. All of which makes it hard to avoid thinking that, fine finish or not, you’re driving about in a corporate beast of burden, and a pricey one at that.
But you do get all-wheel drive, a slightly elevated ride height, some underbody protection, an off-road dynamic mode and hill descent control, all of which should keep this Passat going through slippery stuff and over lightly challenging off-road terrain. You’ll feel more secure on a rain-lashed winter motorways, too, with the top ratio of the 'box quelling the engine very effectively. If you’re determined enough with the throttle, use the Sport mode or the paddle-shifters, this commodious Volkswagen can get along pretty briskly when needed. It doesn’t especially encourage a full flexing of its muscles, but it delivers enough solid thrust for a life both on and off road.