Volkswagen Passat Alltrack
Volkswagen's second generation Passat Alltrack is a family-sized 4x4 estate that continues to strike an appealing balance for many buyers who don't need - and probably don't want - a traditional compact Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4-style SUV. It has the quality look and feel of something premium and much more expensive, blended with an extra dose of subtlety that'll suit potential buyers. Plus it'll be as good off road as you'll need it to be. In other words, it ticks a lot of boxes.
The Alltrack isn't much different to drive than the standard models as only a few changes have been made over the regular Passat. The heightened suspension does have a small effect on handling though, as the centre of gravity is now a little higher. It's a small price to pay though as it stops the underside of the car from being damaged when off road and allows it to go over ground that the regular car couldn't look at. Performance is a fraction down on the regular car but not enough to be noticeable and the Alltrack has more than enough power for most, especially in the models with the more powerful engine. Two engines are currently available for the UK market, both 2.0TDI diesels. One is the 150PS version which comes with a manual gearbox. The other has 190PS and comes only with the DSG automatic. The extra power of the pokier model is desirable as is has extra torque more widely spread over the rev-range. Not only is this useful for off-road but it allows the car to give its performance in a more relaxed manner.
The performance is very accessible off road too. This car's Haldex all-wheel drive system uses sensors to detect any loss of grip and transfers power to the wheels with most traction. As well as making off road driving easier, this set-up ensures the driver has optimum traction during more spirited driving or in adverse weather conditions.
As is expected of any contemporary Volkswagen, the build quality of the Passat is excellent; materials are both hardwearing and aesthetically pleasing and the general feel of the whole car is solid but luxurious. As this is the Alltrack model.
The bodywork, suspension and numerous other areas have been tweaked to cope with rough terrain. The exterior of the Alltrack looks more workmanlike than the standard Passat thanks to its plastic wheelarches, raised suspension and modified bumpers. However, the sleek lines and distinctive styling features such as LED lights remain. The Alltrack is certainly one of the more subtly designed vehicles of its kind and is all the better for it.
The interior of this MK8 model Passat follows the design principals of the exterior - simple but elegant. All controls are ideally located and in true Volkswagen style, feel of high quality in terms of materials and ease of use. The combination of stitched leather and metal accents give a premium feel to the cabin and by simplifying the controls, the designers have avoided an excess of buttons and switches - an affliction which many cars suffer from.
We've had 4WD Volkswagen Passats in the UK since 2001 but they've been a rare sight. This second generation Alltrack version though, deserves wider acceptance. It's the car that so many buyers of compact soft roaders should be looking at - but probably aren't. Less extrovert than RAV4s, CR-Vs and the like but, in truth, probably better suited to their owners' needs - providing those don't include anything too extreme on the rough stuff.
This, indeed, is a car perfectly suited to those who don't believe in going to extremes. In buying something suitable for the Amazon when all they really need is something that'll guarantee to get the kids to school in a snowy snap. This is, in short, the most complete expression of pragmatic Passat motoring since this model was first launched back in 1973. And an SUV-style 4x4 estate that gives you the quality and cred of an Audi allroad for not much more than the price of a comparable Skoda or Subaru. A car, in other words, that the marketeers have thoroughly thought through. Just as you'd expect from a Volkswagen.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Passat Alltrack range
Subaru's Outback isn't an SUV but offers most of what that class of vehicle provides in a package that's a little more rugged than your average jacked-up large 4x4 estate. After all, its permanent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system will keep you going long after most other all-wheel drive estates, Crossovers and compact SUVs have waved the white flag. This improved fifth generation design is smarter, safer, cleverer, classier and more more technologically up to date. It might remain a rare choice - but for the right kind of buyer, it's potentially a very good one.
Subaru doesn't offer its 2.0-litre diesel engine any more - or manual transmission come to that. So Outback customers are limited to a 2.5-litre 175PS four cylinder petrol powerplant mated to a Lineartronic automatic gearbox. As before, you get a healthy 200mm of ground clearance and Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system features on all models. For better off road traction, the Lineartronic CVT auto gearbox is mated to a centre differential with a viscous limited slip differential.
Helping off road is the clever 'X-Mode' set-up, an integrated control system that oversees and co-ordinates the operation of the transmission, the All-Wheel Drive mechanicals and the VDC dynamics control. Press the appropriate dash-mounted button and 'X-Mode' tweaks all of these systems for off road use and adds in Hill Descent Control for steep slopes. The result is a set of off road capabilities not far off those of full-blown SUVs.
The exterior changes made to this revised Outback model are subtle and limited to a minor redesign for the front grille, bumper, door mirrors and headlights. The hexagonal grille redesign showcases a sharper, more defined shape and incorporates the distinctive Subaru wing design, which draws parallels to the horizontally opposed Subaru Boxer engine.
If you haven't been in a Subaru for a bit, you'll probably be impressed by the cabin, which is a considerable improvement on previous interiors that the brand has brought us. You still wouldn't mistake the interior for something produced by a premium German brand but the slightly more utilitarian hard-wearing feel is in keeping with this SUV brand.
There's one of the best steering wheels in the class and even the touch screen system is easy to operate. The boot measures 559-litres to the tonneau cover, with 1,848-litres available when the seats are folded. That's about the same as, say, a pricier Volvo XC90. We like the little touches too. The memory function for the electrically-powered tailgate so you can set it at a specific height in multi-storey carparks or garages with low ceilings. The tailgate interior grip handle that can act as a hanger rail for things like damp wetsuits. The strengthened cargo hooks that can take up to 50kgs. And the useful foot-step on the rear sills that makes it easier to get up to roof level to oversee transportation of longer or bulkier items around the standard-fit silver roofrails.
And in summary? Well if you really don't want an SUV but really need one, there are plenty of plush jacked-up 4WD estate cars than can claim to offer a realistic alternative. Yet few of them would last long if regularly used up-hill, down-dale on the average rutted farm track. Here's an exception.
True, there are still more dynamically able models of this kind, with smarter cabins and trendier badges. As an overall package though, this Outback is now a stronger contender than ever before. It's always been the most capable car of its kind when conditions are at their worst, but now it's a much stronger everyday choice too. It deserves its moment in the sun.Click here to find out more about our Subaru Outback range
Skoda Octavia Scout
The Skoda Octavia Scout estate offers an all-wheel drive chassis, a raised ride height and a pair of punchy diesel engines at prices that stack up against some superminis. It's bigger inside than a rival Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and cheaper to run than both as well. Job very well done.
The basics are pretty straightforward. For this sort of car, you really want an estate bodyshell, a bit of extra ride height, a brawny diesel engine and the obligatory all-wheel drive mechanicals. Skoda duly delivers, with the engine choice extending to either a 2.0 TDI 150PS with a six-speed manual gearbox or a 2.0 TDI 184PS featuring a six-speed DSG twin-clutcher as standard.
The fifth-generation Haldex clutch transmission more accurately distributes torque between the front and rear axles. The ECU monitors your driving (steering angle, throttle position and how heavily you're braking) and delivers what it feels is the correct split of torque to each axles. As soon as a front wheel starts spinning, the clutch is engaged, sending torque to the rear tyres. An electronically locking differential on both axles helps too, drive being distributed evenly from side to side for optimum grip.
Like the rest of its sibling vehicles in the Volkswagen empire, this Octavia rides on the modular MQB chassis, which means that it'll ride well, handle competently and won't cost the earth to develop. The MQB chassis is also key in understanding how Skoda has been able to offer this 'stretched' long wheelbase chassis at only a modest incremental cost. The old family of platforms would never have allowed this to be commercially viable. The modular nature of MQB means that making it longer, shorter or even wider is comparatively easy, giving Skoda real flexibility in product planning.
The Scout certainly looks the part, with a distinctive front end that features a silver skid plate and fog lights assembly. There's also a redesigned rear end, with black body cladding added to help keep scuffs off the paintwork while off-roading. The ride height has been jacked up by a further 33mm, and with a total ride height of 171mm, the Scout has even more ground clearance than many so-called SUVs such as the Audi Q3. Changes made to this revised model are focused at the front. The two adjacent headlights form a dual face with a crystalline look and feature full-LED technology. The brand logo has gained more presence, with the front of the car featuring what the Czech maker hopes is a more powerful and wider appearance.
Rear seat space is generous and so is the amount of room in the back with the 610-litres of space you get in the boot when all the seats are in place. To put that in perspective, a Mondeo Estate offers a mere 537-litres and a Focus Estate yields a mere 476-litres. Direct rivals to this current model like the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack certainly can't match this Skoda. Now you get an idea of the sheer utility of this car. By folding the rear backrests down, the boot space increases to an impressive 1,740-litres.
In summary, the Skoda Octavia Scout is the sort of vehicle bought by people who will genuinely use its extended capabilities. It's a car that will get the job done in all weathers and which will shrug off some serious punishment in the process. It's never going to make the longlist of those looking to make a lifestyle statement or impress their friends at the golf club and that, in part, is what makes the Scout so appealing. It's authentic, and authenticity is something car manufacturers spend millions trying to claim.
Both variants have something to be said for them. The entry-level car offers sterling value, while the more powerful engine and silky-smooth DSG gearbox are items best not sampled if budgets are a bit tight. As a one car solution that does nearly everything, the Octavia Scout takes a heck of a lot of beating.Click here to find out more about our Skoda Octavia Scout range