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Volkswagen 4Motion 2020 review: T-Roc, Golf R, Tiguan, Passat Alltrack, Arteon, Touareg, Amarok, Crafter

Volkswagen chose the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground in Cardrona to highlight 4Motion’s ice capabilities.
EXPERT RATING
9

You’ve got to try pretty hard to find proper icy driving conditions in Australia, but when you do, you want to have every option at your disposal to give you the best chance of avoiding a collision. 

Just look at the popularity of inherently all-wheel drive Subarus in the Snowy Mountains area or Tasmania. 

Audi is another brand synonymous with all-wheel drive, but parent brand Volkswagen is turning all four wheels by an increasing measure, with 44 per cent of passenger car and SUV sales now wearing 4Motion badges. The German brand claims this is double the industry average. 

Volkswagen is turning all four wheels by an increasing measure, with 44 per cent of passenger car and SUV sales now wearing 4Motion badges. Volkswagen is turning all four wheels by an increasing measure, with 44 per cent of passenger car and SUV sales now wearing 4Motion badges.

It’s not just ice where all-wheel drive can come in handy either. Gravel, wet bitumen and mud are much easier to come by, and often when you’re not planning to. Australian roads are still 56 per cent unsealed according to Volkswagen.

It’s easy to say that stability and traction control systems go a long way to playing the same role as all-wheel drive when it comes to accident avoidance, but it’s important to understand that all wheel drive as a proactive means of preserving traction, unlike traction and stability control which are reactive. 

If you can prevent a problem before it starts, surely that’s better, and the systems actually compliment each other when calibrated to work in harmony. 

Given the lack of ice in Australia, we’ve just travelled to New Zealand to experience Volkswagen’s 4Motion systems in the most trying of conditions, at work in everything from a small SUV, to a hot hatch, to a full-size commercial van

We travelled to New Zealand to experience Volkswagen’s 4Motion systems in the most trying of conditions. We travelled to New Zealand to experience Volkswagen’s 4Motion systems in the most trying of conditions.

4Motion explained

Volkswagen 4Motion all-wheel drive is currently available in two main types, Haldex and Torsen. 

Volkswagen 4Motion all-wheel drive is currently available in two main types, Haldex and Torsen. Volkswagen 4Motion all-wheel drive is currently available in two main types, Haldex and Torsen.

The Haldex-type used in all 4Motion models aside from the Touareg and Amarok, and is a part-time system where fluid pressure controls a clutch pack to send power to the rear wheels as needed.

The latest fifth generation Haldex-type system is integrated with a whole bunch of drivetrain sensors to help predict traction loss before it happens.

The Touareg and automatic Amaroks use a full-time system with a Torsen, or torque sensing, mechanical centre diff that’s essentially reserved for their north-south engine layout. The Torsen system was made famous by various Audi Quattro models, and also sees duty aboard vehicles as diverse as the Toyota LandCruiser Prado.

The Touareg and automatic Amaroks use a full-time system with a Torsen centre diff. The Touareg and automatic Amaroks use a full-time system with a Torsen centre diff.

The third 4Motion type currently in use is only found aboard manual versions of the Amarok, and is essentially the traditional mechanical low-range transfer case. This version was not available to test in New Zealand.

 

On the ice

Volkswagen chose the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground in Cardrona to highlight 4Motion’s ice capabilities, which is the sort of James Bond mountain-top network of ice circuits you’ve probably dreamed about. 

The 4Motion cars being able to drive at all on this ice was amazing. The 4Motion cars being able to drive at all on this ice was amazing.

It would be ideal to test the same cars back to back in two- and all-wheel drive, but given the ice was hard enough to walk on, two-wheel drive would have been next to useless. So the fact that the 4Motion cars were able to drive at all is amazing. They did have winter tyres fitted, but I really doubt they made any difference on the slick ice. 

The cars on hand represented a good spectrum of the VW 4Motion range, including the upcoming T-Roc small SUV in 140 TSI guise, the Golf R hot hatch, the Tiguan 162 TSI mid-size SUV, the Passat Alltrack 140 TDI wagon, the Arteon sedan, the new Touareg large SUV in NZ-spec 210 V6S guise, the Amarok Ultimate 580 and would you believe it, the big Crafter van in MWB TDI 410 spec. 

The cars on hand represented a good spectrum of the VW 4Motion range. The cars on hand represented a good spectrum of the VW 4Motion range.

The two ice courses on offer proved a masterclass in weight transfer and how a bigger car is much harder to turn. And I’m not just talking about the Crafter either, the T-Roc may seem like just a Tiguan with the back of its roof chopped off, but it is so much more nimble than the Tiguan on the ice. 

Despite the resemblance, the T-Roc is so much more nimble than the Tiguan on the ice. Despite the resemblance, the T-Roc is so much more nimble than the Tiguan on the ice.

The longer wheelbases of the Passat Alltrack and Arteon made them even more difficult to unsettle, but the lower ride height and roofline of the Arteon made it that much easier to change directions.

The longer wheelbases of the Passat Alltrack made them even more difficult to unsettle. The longer wheelbases of the Passat Alltrack made them even more difficult to unsettle.

The ice also highlights how each car is set up to suit its intended purpose. The Golf R will let you turn off all its stability control for proper Ken Block-style four-wheel drifting, while the cars aimed at more sedate driving, like the Touareg or professional use, like the Amarok and Crafter will keep some of the stability control on all the time in the interests of outright safety. 

The Golf R will let you turn off all its stability control for proper Ken Block-style four-wheel drifting. The Golf R will let you turn off all its stability control for proper Ken Block-style four-wheel drifting.

This also highlights the role of stability control with all-wheel drive. Without stability control, it is a challenge to get a car sideways, and planting your right foot will quickly straighten everything out. But with stability control, it’s almost impossible to induce oversteer, and therefore pretty much idiot proof, so they work really well together.

For this integration of systems to keep vehicles as large the Crafter stable in these conditions is amazing. For this integration of systems to keep vehicles as large the Crafter stable in these conditions is amazing.

For this integration of systems to keep vehicles as large and rugged as the Amarok and Crafter stable in these conditions is simply amazing. 

 

On the track

The benefits of all-wheel drive aren't so obvious on dry bitumen, which is indeed where most of us spend most of our time driving. 

Volkswagen gave us access to Highlands Motorsport Park race circuit. Volkswagen gave us access to Highlands Motorsport Park race circuit.

But to demonstrate how broad the models’ range of capabilities are, Volkswagen gave us access to Highlands Motorsport Park race circuit to experience most of the same cars at the other end of their performance spectrum.

We drove the Haldex-equipped Tiguan, Arteon, Golf R and Passat Alltrack back to back with the Torsen-equipped Touareg and Amarok, and couldn’t pick any difference in the systems on the dry bitumen surface.

Our track time highlighted that both 4Motion all-wheel drive systems are beautifully integrated with the stability control, suspension and tyres. Our track time highlighted that both 4Motion all-wheel drive systems are beautifully integrated with the stability control, suspension and tyres.

 

This is going to sound a bit like a VW ad, but our track time did highlight that both 4Motion all-wheel drive systems are beautifully integrated with the stability control, suspension and tyres, with no sense of tugging or unsettling emergency reaction when you reach the limits of adhesion.

You couldn’t pick any difference in the systems on the dry bitumen surface. You couldn’t pick any difference in the systems on the dry bitumen surface.

This includes the Amarok too, which is a big ladder chassis ute with a solid axle and leaf springs on the back, and it maintains stability and predictability. A dual cab ute! On a racetrack!

Verdict

You might be thinking that our findings are pretty obvious. Of course you get more grip with all-wheel drive, and you’d be right, but it’s amazing to see how seamlessly the Volkswagen systems work under extremely low grip on ice, along with a high grip race circuit, across such a broad range of products.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.

 

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$50,040
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
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$37,790
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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
132 TSI 1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $37,790 2019 Volkswagen Passat 2019 132 TSI Pricing and Specs
132 TSI Comfortline 1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $43,790 2019 Volkswagen Passat 2019 132 TSI Comfortline Pricing and Specs
132 TSI 1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $39,790 2019 Volkswagen Passat 2019 132 TSI Pricing and Specs
132 TSI Comfortline 1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $45,790 2019 Volkswagen Passat 2019 132 TSI Comfortline Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9
Malcolm Flynn
CarsGuide Editor

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