What is it?
This is the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, a raised, more rugged looking and, most importantly, four-wheel-drive extension of VW's Passat franchise. Volkswagen says the Alltrack neatly plugs the gap between its passenger cars, specifically the existing Passat range, and its more overly off-road SUVs.
As far as the UK is concerned, the Alltrack comes in two guises. Both are powered by the Volkswagen Group’s venerable 2.0 TDI, with one variant producing 138bhp and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as driven here, and the other producing 168bhp and driving via a six speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox.
Both models feature the latest generation of VW's Haldex-based 4Motion all-wheel drive system plus a small array of mechanical and cosmetic embellishments to provide a useful degree of off-road ability.
Suspension has been raised from 135 to 165mm to increase ground clearance while revised bumpers front and rear help to increase approach and departure angles to 16 and 13.6 degrees respectively. There's also a switchable off-road driving mode that activates a hill descent assist mode, alters the ABS and ESP responses, softens the throttle map and, in the DSG-equipped model, changes the gearbox's shift patterns.
What's it like?
Like a Passat estate, unsurprisingly, albeit a slightly taller one and with a well-specced interior. Volkswagen is pitching the Alltrack as something of a halo model within the Passat range now the CC has gone it alone and lost the 'Passat' tag. As such, the Alltrack comes as standard with an impressive range of kit – including Alcantara trim, dual-zone climate control and touch screen sat-nav – and a price to match.
The Passat has never really stood out as the enthusiast driver's choice but you can't deny its solid, well-rounded competence. The Alltrack has that in spades, but embellishes it with a potentially useful degree of off-road competence and enhanced towing capability.
On the road it's pretty refined save for some road noise at autobahn speeds – possibly down in part to the optional 18-inch wheels fitted. Otherwise the Passat Alltrack rides well and maintains good body control despite the increase in ride height, and feels extremely sure footed, particularly so under power at junctions, roundabouts and on cold, wet alpine roads. It's a slightly sterile driving experience but that comes as no real surprise given the car's lineage.
Off road, at least on the Austrian alpine ice and snow we sampled it on, the Alltrack is extremely impressive. The switchable off-road driving mode delivers remarkable traction allied to eye-opening stopping power and braking stability of the sort you'll hope you'll never need.
Should I buy one?
If you want all-wheel drive ability in a refined, well executed and relaxing-to-drive estate-shaped car rather than a more ostentatious-looking SUV then possibly, yes.
It's not cheap though. Volkswagen UK reckon the 138bhp manual Passat Alltrack we drove will cost around £28,500 when it goes on sale in July, and expect a premium of around £2500 on top of that for the higher-powered DSG-equipped car.