Estates or wagons as we know them better here, are a rare sight these days.
So, it’s truly refreshing to drive the updated Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, not just for the long-awaited 162TSI petrol engine under the bonnet, but because it’s a proper full-size station wagon chock-full of technology, with luxury accommodation and a classy design to boot.
There aren’t many like it either, at least, in the affordable space. Subaru is still going great guns with its latest Outback, while Skoda potters along with its low-volume Superb Scout for the few that actually know it exists.
But, that’s about it as far as jacked-up wagons go in this class, unless you’re willing step up to pricier options like the Audi A4 Allroad quattro or upcoming Volvo V60 Cross Country, which is set to replace the current V60 Wagon.
Blame the plethora of SUVs of all shapes and sizes that seemingly knows no boundaries for the sheer lack of variety in family wagons these days. It’s a shame, given how much more efficient and dynamically superior the trusted family wagon actually is compared with an SUV.
The 2021 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack lifts that bar even further.
The Alltrack boasts petrol power for the first time in Australia along with Volkswagen’s tried and tested 4Motion all-wheel drive system for those occasional overland excursions.
Punters might not immediately pick between old and new Passat Alltrack, either, given the subtleness of the latest facelift, but it’s clearly a sharper and more mature execution than the previous iteration.
There’s one engine, one gearbox, and two trim levels on offer.
The ‘base’ Alltrack 162TSI wears a sticker price of $46,990 before on-road costs, while the Alltrack 162TSI Premium tested on the local launch commands an $11,800 premium, bumping the price to $58,790 plus on-roads.
For those buyers looking to cross shop with those rivals mentioned earlier, the top-spec Subaru Outback AWD Touring is priced from $47,790 plus on-road costs, whereas the Skoda Superb 200TSI Scout wears a $63,990 drive-away price tag.
Despite the significant price gap between the base Alltrack and Premium version tested here, the standard 162TSI is still generously equipped with features such as LED headlights, fog lights and tail lights, 18-inch alloy wheels with matching full-size spare, park assist, front and rear parking sensors, as well as power folding mirrors with puddle lighting and memory.
Additionally, the ‘base’ model gets an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired and wireless), and three-zone climate control.
Power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat and keyless access/start round out the key inclusions.
The 162TSI Premium adds a stack of extra kit, comprising 19-inch ‘Albertville’ alloy wheels with matching spare, ‘IQ.Light’ Matrix LED headlights and premium LED tail lights with dynamic indicators, a hands-free auto tailgate, a 360-degree camera system, heated and cooled electrically-adjustable front seats with massage function for the driver, and a boot net.
Additional creature comforts on the top-spec Premium include ambient lighting with 30 colours, brushed aluminium inserts in dashboard and door cards, a panoramic sunroof, a 10.25-inch digital instrument display, a larger 9.2-inch touchscreen with gesture control, ‘Vienna’ leather-appointed trim, Harman Kardon premium audio and window blinds for the second row.
There is but a single option listed for the updated Passat Alltrack – metallic or pearl-effect paint ($800) with a choice of Reflex Silver, Pyrite Silver, Manganese Grey, Aquamarine Blue (as tested) and Deep Black Pearl.
The latest Passat Alltrack retains its five-star ANCAP safety rating based on its 2015 crash test results when this current-generation Passat originally launched.
Moreover, Passat model range is fitted with the latest IQ. Drive Safety suite, which now includes Travel Assist with Adaptive Lane Guidance for semi-autonomous driving on the motorway.
It also scores autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist with lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, driver fatigue detection and adaptive cruise control, not to mention the Alltrack’s standard 4Motion all-wheel drive and hill-decent control.
By the way, the surround cameras with birds-eye view simultaneously appearing of the left of the screen is outstanding for its clarity, helping you avoid nasty wheel rim damage when reverse parking close to the kerb.
As well, the entire Passat range is also fitted with nine airbags, including dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee inflators.
The Passat Alltrack 162TSI Premium we sampled was also upholstered with the optional ‘Mistral’ Vienna leather (call it bone white), which immediately gave the car a more upmarket ambience throughout the cabin.
Inside, the cockpit is a seamless blend of soft-touch materials and brushed aluminium accents (with a hit of rose gold) arranged in a series of horizontal lines and layers.
It works wonderfully from a visual perspective, as well as highlighting the Passat’s super-vibrant ambient light beams that feature on the dash and door cards. If you’re like me, you’ll want keep the Star Wars-style iridescent blue as the default colour, despite the choice of 29 others.
The front seats are more like armchairs than sports buckets, but don’t be alarmed, because there’s more than sufficient support, should you like to punch it from time-to-time.
There’s no single standout feature in here, but even things like the three-spoke, almost-flat-bottom steering wheel (complete with new VW logo) not only looks the part, but also offers superb tactility.
While most new makes and models have opted for a floating-style touchscreen infotainment unit, the Passat integrates screen into the dash. It’s all so neat.
There’s no physical switches on the entire centre console, it’s all touch buttons save for the electric park brake, stop/start functions, and drive mode. Some might find the deletion of a volume switch or the standard rotary dials for heating and cooling controls to be a touch annoying.
At least there’s still a proper shift lever, as well as paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but all other functions are effectively accessed via the central display.
If it’s luggage space you’re after in your family hauler, the Passat Alltrack has got you well and truly covered. Boot space, alone, is huge, with 650 litres behind the rear seats, increasing to 1780 litres when folded flat.
By comparison, that’s more than a Hyundai Santa Fe (571 litres) and Mercedes-Benz GLE (630 litres). There’s also small storage bins to the side and a luggage net, as well as a full-size spare under the floor.
Similarly, rear legroom is vast when compared with most mid-size SUVs, at least with my driver’s seat position. Plenty of elbow space, too. The only downside is a large transmission tunnel hump, which will mean some discomfort for middle-seat passengers. As consolation, though, even the carpet is plush.
Storage for phones, wallets and keys is plentiful, and there’s a convenient USB-C port to the left of the shifter that’s easily accessed for those that prefer their CarPlay wired. There’s another USB-C port in the centre console bin , as well as a 12V socket.
There’s also two cup-holders, a loose-change tub and console bin further aft, though it’s not massive. Door pockets are large, though, and able to swallow larger water bottles.
There’s only one engine that powers the latest Passat Alltrack range, the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine shared with other VW models such as the Tiguan and Golf GTI, as opposed to the pre-update model’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
In this guise, it produces 162kW of power and 350Nm of torque, sent through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and a 4Motion all-wheel drive system.
The system distributes power between both front and rear axles depending on where the best traction can be found.
It might look elegant, even low-key in profile, but the 2021 Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is also a bit of a sleeper. Mind, there’s still some annoying lag if you’re a bit too keen on initial throttle tip-in, but from 1500rpm it packs plenty of punch.
High-speed overtaking is a breeze and the Alltrack will also cruise effortlessly all-day long at the maximum legal speed with good fuel economy. We saw an average of 8.9L/100km on a quick 50km run – just up on the 8.1L/100km claim.
That said, around town, you tend to want to lean on this engine and its willingness to accelerate swiftly out of corners. It’s quite satisfying and feels awfully like driving an enlarged Golf GTI.
It simply doesn’t feel like a large wagon from behind the wheel. Throw it into a corner and it’s very nicely composed with surprisingly little body roll. That’s also down to the car’s direct and relatively quick (electro-mechanical) steering, albeit with a slightly numb feel about it.
Drivers can also access multiple drive settings via a button on the console or the central touchscreen, which had me flicking between Comfort and Sport – more for the keener throttle response than anything else.
But, here’s the thing, there’s almost no need exit Sport mode given the superb ride compliance and damping dialled into the Alltrack. Broken roads, potholes, and even those supersized speed bumps are barely registered from inside the cabin, with seemingly no effect on the car’s adept cornering performance. It’s impressive, if not reassuring.
The entire Passat range is covered by Volkswagen Australia’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and one-year of roadside assist that is renewed for up to 10 years if you service with your VW dealer.
Buyers can pre-pay for several service packs to save money on servicing: $1300 for the first three years or $2400 for five years.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, whichever comes first.
It’s never going to sell in big numbers, but the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack is a car that will be bought by thinking people who want more than just a ubiquitous mid-size SUV.
There’s more space, better handling, less weight and arguably better looks than any equivalent high-rider. And, let’s not forget, the Alltrack’s extra ride height means it doesn’t mind falling off a gutter or wading through a bit of standing water, but without compromising driver enjoyment.
And, frankly, I like its sleeper status.
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