ROAD TEST: Volkswagen Passat Alltrack

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Steve Sharpe drives the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack 2-litre BlueMotion

The seventh generation Passat was revealed to the public at the Paris Motor Show in September 2010, 37 years after the first Passat went on sale in 1973.

In the intervening 40-year period, around 15 million cars have been sold in more than 100 markets worldwide.

Like its Golf stablemate, the Passat has enjoyed continuing success, as more and more estates and tourers have come onto the market, by adapting and building on VW’s reputation for reliability, build quality and innovation.

The Passat has adopted the latest technologies and efficiency measures to make it among the most advanced and economical cars in its class.

The Passat range is an extensive one, with models in saloon and estate bodystyles, petrol and diesel engines and trims to suit every taste.

But it’s the Passat Estate I drove, which in the latest generation actually outsells its saloon counterpart.

And the latest addition to that stable is the Alltrack, a four-wheel drive version of the estate model, which went on sale in the UK last year.

This beefed-up estate has continuous four-wheel drive and a raised ride height compared to the normal estate. It’s the same height and length as the conventional estate, but there are also some and rugged body enhancements providing some protection from scrapes on rough terrain, which include stainless steel-look front and rear underbody protection panels and flared side sills.

Other extra features include matt chrome roof rails, window surrounds, grille and exterior mirror casings

There’s just one trim level available in the UK, in two versions – a 2.0-litre TDI with six-speed manual gearbox and a 2.0-litre TDI with six-speed DSG transmission.

In the Alltrack VW have given drivers the best of both worlds – power ordinarily goes to the front wheels, which is the most effective use of power economically, but if necessary, almost 100 per cent of power can be sent to the rear wheels.

There’s also an off-road mode, which activates hill descent assist, which automatically brakes the vehicle when the descent angle is greater than 10 degrees. The ABS is also adjusted, to provide better braking on loose surfaces, and the car has faster-reacting electronic differential locks (EDS) to prevent wheelspin

The Alltrack makes for an attractive proposition to those looking for the practicality of an estate car combined with the versatility of a conventional SUV.

It will also appeal to drivers looking for a powerful tow car, as there’s a 200kg capacity increase on the estate, plus that extra control from four-wheel-drive.

It’s a handsome car, offering more road presence than the estate due to those body additions and the increased ride height.

That elevation also means that you get a higher ride position, giving a great view of the road through all sides.

The 2-litre diesel engine provides effortless power. It ticks over quietly until called into action, and then smoothly and with little fuss accelerates away, with little increase in engine noise.

I drove the model with the DSG automatic gearbox, which slipped in and out of gears slickly, ensuring overtaking at higher gears and higher revs is also a simple task

It could, however, be a little hesitant at lower speeds.

The standard Stop-Start system also gets a little flummoxed when pulling away from standing or in slowly-moving traffic.

I found it sometimes cut out just as I was ready to pull off again, rather than when coming to a halt, and it paused a second or so while it thought about what it’s immediate plans were.

But it’s out on the open road where the Alltrack feels totally at home.

It’s an effortless drive. The miles just drift by in peace and quiet, with the merest of sounds coming from the tarmac or from the rush of wind around the flanks.

At nearly 50mpg the Alltrack is going to win some fans with those travelling long distances with heavy loads.

These big estates aren’t really made to provide a thrilling driving experience but the Passat can be driven with ease in all conditions.

Steering is sharp and body roll has been well managed – and that burst of power, plus the four-wheel-drive, is always welcome.

Inside the cabin you’ll find VW’s usual blend of practicality and quality.

The dash is sensibly laid out, the dials are clear and everything is well within easy reach.

Things are nicely finished too, with silver flashes dotted around the soft-touch plastics.

The conventional estate is a good size car and as the Alltrack is the same size you can expect the same.

There’s plenty of legroom and headroom for both front and backseat passengers, although a middle passenger is going to put up with a fair size central tunnel down the middle.

The boot section is huge and the rear seats fold down to provide even more space.

There are a lot of estate cars on the market and VW have made sure that you get a lot of equipment as standard.

There’s only one trim available for the Alltrack, and standard equipment includes Alcantara upholstery, electronic climate control, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring system, front and rear parking sensors, colour touchscreen satellite navigation, MDI iPod connectivity, Bluetooth telephone prep and 18-inch alloys

Standard safety features include a raft of hi-tech gizmos, including Driver Alert System and (Electronic Stabilisation Programme).

The Alltrack is a practical car that has enough style and looks to make it a desirable car too.

Effortlessly driveable, well-controlled and with real road presence, the Alltrack will attract those looking for the space and practicality of a family estate allied with the capabilities of an SUV.

Fact file

Volkswagen Passat Alltrack 2-litre BlueMotion

Engine: 2-litre diesel

Transmission: Six-speed auto

0-60: 8.9secs

Top speed: 131mph

Economy: 47.9mpg

Price: £31,760