Group test: Subaru Outback vs VW Passat Alltrack vs Skoda Octavia Estate vs Volvo V60 Cross Country | CAR Magazine

Group test: Subaru Outback vs VW Passat Alltrack vs Skoda Octavia Estate vs Volvo V60 Cross Country

Published: 02 September 2016 Updated: 02 September 2016

► The battle of the off-road estates
► Subaru vs VW vs Skoda vs Volvo
► Who will win the shootout? 

To the Manor Born?

Subaru Outback: UK foothold established by the fealty of F Giles and his Mudfordshire muckers, then a dash of élan added by Colin McCrash and Richard Burns. But are Subaru’s efforts to civilise unburstable, workhorse 4×4 perceptions merit-worthy?

VW Passat Estate Alltrack: The second generation Passat was the first Volkswagen passenger car to be equipped with all-wheel drive
back in 1984, so there’s something of a 30-year pedigree in this second iteration of the clunkily named Alltrack. Ain’t no bandwagon.

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate: Pre-enforced turnip economy, Czechs amongst the finest automotive engineers in Europe. The 1930’s Skoda Superb was precisely that, and just ask Erwin Rommel about his Tatra 87. But at the remains of the fray
is it now just a VW clone?

Volvo V60 Cross Country: With the XC range chunkily fulfilling the Swedish Utility Vehicle role for Volvo, it’s down to the Cross Country fleet to provide the more svelte alternative for the less horse-box-towing, point-to-point picnic-prone.

Just a shooting brake on stilts?

Subaru Outback: No; with a fixed, 200mm ground clearance, it’s the only machine here that isn’t just a jacked-up version of an extant estate sibling. Unfortunately, latest styling efforts are right up there with a bucket of smashed crabs.

VW Passat Estate Alltrack: Tentative, 27mm height hike over estate, for modest ground clearance of 174mm. A whiff of the plastic nappy fails to dislodge the crown of the best-looking car here, despite shouty presentation in Emergency-Stop-Bang-Ouch orange.

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate: Indeed, with nappies, a chin strap, and ground clearance jacked up by 33mm to 171mm – the least here. Corporate hooter something of a blank Czech, and nothing like as handsome as its Alltrack cousin. 

Volvo V60 Cross Country: Cranked up an extra 65mm for 201mm of underfloor air, it sports front and rear skid plates and beefier wheelarches, yet retains the ugly tailgate/rear bumper juxtaposition of all Volvo estates. Handsome otherwise.

Hose-down or hoe down?

Subaru Outback: Interior a substantial, piano-black-and-brushed-metal-sponsored improvement. Still a route march behind the overall quality of rivals here, but more than holds its own in terms of seat comfort and cavernous accommodation.

VW Passat Estate Alltrack: Classic, classy, carefully detailed interior. Inadequate steering wheel rake means snug, comfy driver’s seat needs lifting for best driving position. Helm-mounted switchgear a step backwards. Even more rear room than the Skoda.

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate: But for the badge on the steering wheel, every inch last year’s VW interior. Excellent driving position, and very comfortable front and back. More than adequate leg room astern, though less than the Passat.

Volvo V60 Cross Country: Peerless seat comfort, outstanding driving position. ‘Flying bridge’ centre console buys little useable storage, and red background to superb instruments something of a mystery in this unsporting environment. Rear decidedly cramped.

Capability Brown or Charlie Dimmock?

Subaru Outback: Standard equipment levels generous, incorporating new multimedia system with big-buttoned, dad-friendly and acceptably intuitive touchscreen, sat-nav, dual-zone air-conditioning, CD player, Bluetooth, 18in alloys and electric everything. Not one extra fitted.

VW Passat Estate Alltrack: Excellent standard equipment specification. Extra £4465 here spent on posh headlights, sunroof, larger 8in touchscreen and apps, Park Assist, and ‘Advanced Telephone Connection’, which really isn’t, and should be fitted as standard.

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate: Great specification for the money, including sat-nav as standard. Options fitted include even fancier sat-nav, heated everything in ‘Winter Pack’, and £100 for a space-saver spare, which is simply not that clever.

Volvo V60 Cross Country: Standard equipment all you’d expect for £38,000. This car topped up with every safety option under the sun, laminated windows, leather and keyless go, and a ‘Winter Pack’ with ‘Active Bending Lights’. So properly pricey.

Grouse moor or gymkhana grass?

Subaru Outback: 148bhp struggles to shift 1678kg with any alacrity. Matters made worse by inexplicable mating with faux-stepped CVT transmission. A leaden right foot merely signals the abattoir under the bonnet open for business. Best off-roader here.

VW Passat Estate Alltrack: Quiet, swift, absurdly smooth progress courtesy of double-clutch ’box. Would be quickest here but for smuggling a whopping 221kg more than the Skoda. Can’t help wondering where? 2200kg capacity takes towing honours.

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate: Lesser iteration of VW’s 2.0-litre turbodiesel, but the Skoda weighs less than 1500kg, so is the quickest here on paper. No paddles, so Sport mode needed to sharpen the responses of the DSG gearbox.

Volvo V60 Cross Country: All-wheel drive forces retention of 2.4-litre, 5-cylinder turbodiesel of yore. Power on a par with Passat, but torque, and mooing noises, greater. Heaviest car here, though, so not as fleet as VW Group offerings.

Silver Pigeon or spud gun?

Subaru Outback: Schmooze potential of oleaginous CVT torpedoed by over-toughening of ride in an effort to promote handling. The latter equally devastated by light, vague steering and less mechanical grip than expected from awd system.

VW Passat Estate Alltrack: Greater road noise and lesser ride quality than the Volvo. But pointier bows allied to superior steering with far more feel and feedback combine with flappy paddles to offer the most alert, engaging drive here.

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate: A firm, nuggety ride; not uncomfortable, but delivers occasional thump to the pants. Steering nicely weighted, good body control, fine balance when pushed and tenacious in the wet. Unsurprisingly Alltrack-like to drive.

Volvo V60 Cross Country: Superior straight-line ride quality with fine insulation for all occupants. Steering a submarine hatch; too heavy and epidural-numb, which doesn’t encourage throwing around, despite respectable grip. Best m-way cruiser here.


VW Passat Estate Alltrack (Winner): Outstanding all-rounder; comfortable, capacious and highly competent. Might seem gently pricey in this company, but for the Volvo.

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate: VW parts-bin proletariat status shines through, especially on board, after dark. But great value for money, and a must for the badge-indifferent.

Volvo V60 Cross Country: Not a driver’s car but, for comfort and practicality, incredibly well thought out, rugged and solid. As you’d expect, given the price tag…

Subaru Outback: Subaru’s ongoing schizophrenia issues made metal, and comprehensively outclassed here. Manual a better drive, but not available on more powerful petrol variant.

The specs

Subaru Outback 2.0D SE Premium Lineartronic

Price: £32,995 
As tested: £32,995
Engine: 1998cc 16v turbodiesel flat-four, 148bhp @ 3600rpm, 258lb ft @ 1600-2800rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic, all-wheel drive
Performance: 9.9sec 0-62mph, 124mph, 46.3mpg, 145g/km CO2
Weight: 1678kg 
On Sale: Now
Rating: Three stars

Volkswagen Passat Estate Alltrack 2.0 TDI 190PS 4MOTION DSG (winner)

Price: £33,935 
As tested: £38,400
Engine: 1968cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 187bhp @ 3600-4000rpm, 295lb ft @ 1900-3300rpm
Transmission: Six-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance: 8.0sec 0-62mph, 136mph, 54.3mpg, 137g/km CO2
Weight: 1705kg 
On Sale: Now
Rating: Four stars

Skoda Octavia Scout Estate 2.0 TDI 184PS 4×4 DSG

Price: £28,200 
As tested: £30,570
Engine: 1968cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 181bhp @ 3500-4000rpm, 281lb ft @ 1750-3250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance: 7.8sec 0-62mph, 136mph, 56.5mpg, 129g/km CO2
Weight: 1484kg  
On Sale: Now
Rating: Four stars

Volvo V60 Cross Country D4 AWD Geartronic Lux Nav

Price: £38,025 
As tested: £43,250
Engine: 2400cc 20v turbodiesel 5-cyl, 187bhp @ 4000rpm, 310lb ft @ 1500-3000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance: 8.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph, 49.6mpg, 149g/km CO2
Weight: 1763kg 
On Sale: Now
Rating: Four stars

Read more CAR comparison tests

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche