It seems almost quaint to review a bona fide station wagon in 2021.
Sure, a few examples still persist, thrive even in the case of Subaru’s Outback, despite the tide of popularity having long turned to mid-size SUVs.
Nevertheless, the humble wagon has so many endearing and often-overlooked attributes which make it such an ideal product for the majority of buyers, so all the more power to Volkswagen which persists in offering the Passat here in both regular wagon and lifted Alltrack forms.
The Alltrack is the latest arrival as part of a refreshed Passat lineup for 2021, and we’ve sampled a top spec 162TSI Premium at its Australian launch. Is it the perfect anti-SUV for the left-of-field buyer? Read on to find out.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
The Alltrack is available now with just one petrol engine option, the 2.0-litre turbo 162TSI in two trim levels. The standard Alltrack wears a before-on-road cost (MSRP) of $46,990, while the full-fat Alltrack Premium as sampled for this review comes at a significant price hike to $58,790.
The lifted wagon scene has largely given way to SUVs these days, but a few stalwart competitors remain, most famously in the form of the Subaru Outback (the most equivalent spec being the top Touring at $47,790), Volvo V60 (currently only as a wagon from $57,990, but a lifted Cross Country version is imminent), and the Skoda Superb Scout (really just a variation on this tried and tested VW wagon formula, $63,990).
The Alltrack Premium as sampled for this review comes at a price of $58,790.
As is frequently becoming the case with these more niche old-world models, even the base specification is well specified as standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, full LED exterior lighting, 8.0-inch multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity (both wired or wireless), a 7.0-inch multifunction display in the dash cluster, cloth interior trim with a leatherbound steering wheel (in the latest VW style) and shifter, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and push-start ignition and the full active safety suite, which we’ll touch on later.
The 162 TSI Premium has advanced ‘matrix’ LED headlight clusters.
Adding to this, the 162 TSI Premium justifies its much higher price with 19-inch alloy wheels, a 9.2-inch multimedia system with built-in navigation and a 360-degree camera suite, a fully digitised instrument cluster, more advanced ‘matrix’ LED headlight clusters, full leather interior trim with heating and cooling for the front two seats, electric adjust for the front seats with message function, a panoramic sunroof, electric tailgate, tinted rear windows, and a Harmon Kardon premium audio system. It also scores some interior tweaks like ambient lighting with 30 selectable colours, stainless steel sports pedals, and aluminium-brush dash inserts. The only thing notably missing, especially given the wireless CarPlay connectivity, is a wireless phone charger. There’s even a perfect spot for it under the climate unit.
The 162 TSI Premium gets a 9.2-inch multimedia system.
Suffice to say it’s all you could really ask for in today’s market, with the only option on Alltrack variants being premium paint (all colours except white) at an additional $800.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
A gentle retouch resulting in a quietly elegant execution of VW’s current design pillars defines the Passat wagon. It’s attractive but subtle, not the kind of car which turns heads, but one which is pleasant on the eye anyway from any angle.
It's not the kind of car which turns heads, but is pleasant on the eye from any angle.
It’s a classic wagon profile, complete with blocky rear three-quarter, but the Alltrack touches like the plastic cladding running down this car’s side profile help give it an element of toughness without overdoing it. The chrome garnish and LED matrix headlights on our test car round things out nicely for a stately, mature design. The Aquamarine Blue on our test Alltrack looks the business, too.
It contrasts the interior trim at any rate which in our test car was the optional “Mistral” pale coloured Vienna leather. This looks great now and makes the interior feel huge, but I can’t help but feel like it won’t age quite as well as the standard black leather trim on Premium cars.
Our test car was the optional “Mistral” pale coloured Vienna leather.
The rest of the inside follows VW’s sensible interior approach with lots of squared off stoic elements alongside more impressive touches like integrated air vent design which runs the length of the dash. It’s not an amazing design statement generally, but like this car’s exterior appearance, it’s quietly attractive. VW’s new wheel is a lovely touchpoint, and the digital dash cluster (still one of the best on the market) adds a bit of a wow factor in our top spec car. Compared to newer entries in the brand’s range like the updated Tiguan and incoming Golf 8, the Passat’s interior does seem to be aging, if just a little. Some would say it suits its mature personality.
The Alltrack’s interior doesn’t vary from the standard Passat at all, so this is really a sensible, subtle car for a sensible buyer who doesn’t want attention, perhaps apart from knowing nods from other wagon enthusiasts.
How practical is the space inside? 9/10
Why buy an SUV when you can have a wagon? The Passat Alltrack continues to put forward a compelling argument for team wagon, with a huge boot capacity, as well as ride height and angles which rival many SUVs.
Even the cabin feels cavernous, with large but supportive front seats, excellent adjustability, and a lovely blend of the extra ride height but the low-down seating position of a passenger car instead of an SUV. Feels sporty but comfortable and capable behind the delicate VW wheel, exactly how it should.
The cabin feels cavernous, with large but supportive front seats and excellent adjustability.
Storage options are also good with two large cupholders in the centre console with a sliding cover, a small bay under the climate unit with a helpful rubberised surface, a wide but shallow console box armrest clad in soft-touch materials, and big bottle holders in the doors with additional wide and deep storage bins. The only downside I could find for the ergonomics was a lack of any tactile dials for volume or climate adjustment, with both having been replaced by touch panels.
This will seat four adults of any height in relative luxury, or five in well above average comfort.
The back seat builds on this car’s excellent practicality with its very own climate zone, dual adjustable air vents and dual USB outlets on the back of the centre console, huge rear doors for easy access, pockets on the backs of the front seats, and big bottle holders in the doors. The excellent seat trim persists with the leather even wrapped around the very edge of the bulkhead, and there is a rather absurd distance between my knees and my own (182cm tall) driving position in front. This will seat four adults of any height in relative luxury, or five in well above average comfort. The only downside is the high transmission tunnel to facilitate the all-wheel drive impeding centre seat legroom.
The back seat builds on this car’s excellent practicality with its very own climate zone, dual adjustable air vents.
Wagons, of course, offer the superior luggage hauling experience to both sedans and SUVs, combining a low loading lip with a flat floor and truly massive 650-litre (VDA) capacity which is far larger than a mid-size SUV. The top-spec Premium adds a tie-down luggage net, and there are practical stowage bays behind the rear wheel arches for securing smaller objects. It’s worth reminding you here wagons are often the ideal vehicle to keep your dog out of the cabin.
The boot has a truly massive capacity at 650-litres (VDA).
A massive boon for those travelling for extended periods or frequently on unsealed surfaces, the Alltrack sports a rare full-size alloy spare wheel under the floor.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
There is just one engine in the Passat Alltrack range for 2021, the 162 TSI 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which produces the namesake 162kW and 320Nm of torque. This is a tried and tested engine used extensively in other VW group products, and pairs nicely to the brand’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The Alltrack also makes use of VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system which pairs to the taller ride height for some extra off-road capability over the standard low-riding range and many of its competitors. There are also some off-road modes cooked into the car’s transmission software, although without low-range functionality and relatively slim profile tyres we’d stay away from any truly rough stuff.
The 162 TSI 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which produces the namesake 162kW and 320Nm of torque.
How much fuel does it consume? 8/10
The Passat Alltrack’s official/combined fuel consumption comes in at 8.1L/100km which seems pretty good for an upper mid-size wagon with all-wheel drive. On our launch loan we produced a computer-reported figure of 9.7L/100km which involved a mix of urban and freeway driving, which lands it nicely between this car’s official combined and ‘urban’ figure of 10.1L/100km. It’s likely a more reasonable indicator of what this car will get in the day-to-day.
162 TSI Alltrack variants require mid-shelf 95 RON unleaded fuel and have relatively large 66-litre fuel tanks.
The Passat Alltrack’s official/combined fuel consumption comes in at 8.1L/100km.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
VW continues to offer its competitive five year and unlimited kilometre warranty promise which puts it ahead of many euro offerings, and on-par with its Japanese and Korean rivals. It also includes one year of roadside assist.
Servicing is also far better than it used to be, with VW offering three- or five-year service packs which can be bundled in at the time of purchase at a significant discount.
VW continues to offer its competitive five year and unlimited kilometre warranty promise.
Pricing will carry over from the current 162 TSI, with three years setting you back an additional $1300 while five years (claimed to be the best value) comes in at $2400 or $480 per yearly or 15,000km visit.
Not the cheapest generally, but not bad considering its niche. Expect roughly the same costs for Skoda’s mechanically similar Superb, while Subaru and Volvo are hardly paragons of low service pricing in recent years.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
The Alltrack possesses a lot of the kinds of positive driving attributes which VWs have become known for, like excellent road holding and a strong turbocharged follow-through on its higher-torque 2.0-litre engines.
Indeed, the Passat can be a hoot in a straight line once a brief moment of turbo lag has been overcome, and our usual dual-clutch woes of jerkiness and hesitation at low-speed are much less noticeable with the 162 TSI engine than they are with lesser powerplants.
The Passat Alltrack is a lovely car to drive.
It still feels connected to the road via light but appropriate steering, and grip levels granted by the Alltrack’s relatively long wheelbase and all-wheel drive system are superb.
One issue we’ll point out from the outset is how this car is still geared perhaps a little too much toward driving on tarmac. Giant alloys, low-profile tyres, and suspension which seems to favour body control over flexibility might be nice in the every day around Sydney and carving up a curvy but well-sealed countryside road, but the Alltrack claims to be a bit more all-purpose on unsealed surfaces, and I hate to say it still seems a bit firm for extended periods on gravel.
Giant alloys and low-profile tyres might be nice around Sydney, but seem a bit firm for extended periods on gravel.
Part of my testing included a gravel track or two, and while our Alltrack Premium did an admirable job of dealing with the road texture despite huge 19-inch alloys (suggesting complaint dampers), it was larger corrugations and potholes which lead to a few moments best classified as “sharp” with shudders sent through the cabin.
I would like to try this car in the standard 162 TSI trim to see if a smaller wheel and larger tyre helps this at all. As a former daily driver of a mid-noughties Volvo XC70, one of the things which was most appealing about the chunky all-wheel drive Swede was its soft suspension and ample tyre, fit for purpose for those unsealed weekend adventures. I still think Subaru’s Outback will be a more robust choice in todays market if you mean to spend much time on gravel tracks.
I don’t mean to be misunderstood. The Passat Alltrack is a lovely car to drive, and on tarmac, possibly even a 9/10. However it’s the whole branding purpose of this car to be a bit more adventurous, and while the extra ride height gives you the confidence to go a bit beyond the capability of a low-riding wagon, it wouldn’t have been hard to make the suspension softer and the tyre larger for a truly transformative ‘Alltrack’ experience.
For those looking for a long-distance tourer, though? Look no further, the Alltrack is lovely even after hours behind the wheel, and the 162 TSI engine leaves a good amount in reserve for overtaking on the freeway.
I like the Passat Alltrack. It’s my kind of car and it certainly got a nod or two from passing VW drivers and wagon appreciators. It’s a shame more people will look straight past this and to the also fantastic but arguably less interesting (or practical) Tiguan in showrooms.
The Alltrack is good value falling between its wagon rivals while offering full safety, excellent multimedia and stellar practicality. But in the world of raised wagons, the Alltrack could still be a little further removed from its regular Passat wagon siblings to really stand out.
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