Is this the next cult 4WD and AWD manufacturer?

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 16 September 2019

Why Volkswagen is the one to watch when it comes to AWD and 4WD vehicles in 2019.

Volkswagen isn’t as synonymous with all-wheel drive as, say, Subaru. The latter has developed a loyal following on the back of its product offering that – with the exception of the rear-drive BRZ coupe – is exclusively all-wheel drive. And the company markets it well.

The German brand is better known for its growing range of passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles, but VW is now keen to shine a spotlight on its all- and four-wheel-drive offerings as a genuine alternative to the likes of Subaru.

VW’s 4Motion system is now offered on more models than ever before. In fact, every second Volkswagen sold in Australia is fitted with 4Motion. Given the company’s sales of more than 56,000 units last year, that’s a decent chunk.

Keen to show off the capability of its cars, Volkswagen decided to showcase its tech on the ice at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground about an hour’s drive from Queenstown in New Zealand. It’s a world-class facility used by many global automotive manufacturers to test the durability of their models during the prototype stage.

After the long, winding drive up the mountain to the proving ground, we hit the ice for some test drives in a bunch of current VW models, including the Amarok ute, Touareg, Tiguan and forthcoming T-Roc SUVs, Passat Alltrack high-riding wagon, Golf R hot hatch, Arteon mid-size liftback and the massive Crafter commercial van for good measure.

VW uses a couple of different setups for its 4Motion systems. The Touareg and Amarok use a mechanical ‘torsen’ (torque sensing) on-demand all-wheel-drive system. In the Touareg, the system can send about 70 per cent of the drive torque to the front axle and 80 per cent to the rear as required, depending on driving conditions.

The fifth-generation Haldex system fitted to all other models distributes power between front and rear axles via an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch. Sensors detect slip between the front and rear wheels and apply torque to the back pair until the two axles are moving at the same speed.

To properly test the all-wheel-drive capabilities, the traction control was switched off on the ice drive so we could see how the 4Motion system works. The driving was done in controlled conditions and at low-to-medium speed. Circling on the ice was fun, but also highlighted the grip of the all-wheel-drive system.

Even with the traction control off, there was never a sense of feeling out of control and that largely comes down to the 4Motion system.

We also drove the vehicles on the track at Highlands Motorsport Park near Queenstown where the all-paw traction was really on show. And this time the traction control was well and truly on. Even some of the bigger, heavier vehicles, specifically the Amarok ute and Touareg large SUV, felt incredibly planted to the track.