It all happened in the mid-1990s, but the creation of what we now call the 'crossover' vehicle genre occurred in two distinct but parallel story arcs.
In the first, both Subaru and Volvo decided that taking a normal station wagon, raising the ride height and sticking some extra plastic bits on the outside to make it look a bit tougher would be a good idea. That's how the Outback and Cross Country (later XC) came to be.
In the second, both Toyota and Honda decided that making a bespoke sports-utility-type wagon with high ground clearance and a spacious cabin, yet basing it on a monocoque chassis with road-car suspension that was not really designed to go off-road, would be a good idea. That's how the RAV4 and CR-V came to be.
Turns out both were extremely good ideas. Not only do all four models mentioned above continue in new versions today, but their concepts have been widely copied by virtually ever other maker.
Even mighty Volkswagen, although it's been a bit slow. It took until 2007 for VW to create a RAV4 rival, the Tiguan.
It has flirted with jacked-up road cars many times (CrossPolo springs to mind), but it's taken until 2012 to create a true Outback rival: the Passat Alltrack.
As you might expect, the Alltrack is a standard Passat TDI 4Motion with 30mm extra ride height, some rugged-looking plastic trim and an off-road mode and extra cladding underneath should you want to delude yourself that you'll take it into adventurous territory.
The mechanical package is familiar; not that there's anything wrong with that because it's also very good. You get VW's 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine in 125kW/350Nm tune and the six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG).
The powertrain is smooth as ever, with plenty of punch from the TDI engine and ultra-quick gearshifts from the dual-clutch DSG when required. The transmission still suffers from a bit of slip on hills or in situations where you're maneuvering in tight spaces, but in the vast majority of running it's a deeply impressive powertrain and very easy to use. Combined economy of 5.8 litres per 100km is remarkable for a car of this size.
The Alltrack could potentially have gone a bit cheesy and small bits are – like the giant 'Alltrack' decal on the centre console, which couldn't look more like an afterthought if it tried. But overall this car really looks the part – much more appealing than your regular Passat Variant – and it really gives the whole Passat lineup a lift. If you know what I mean.
VW quite rightly figures that if you want an all-wheel drive Passat TDI wagon you'll probably just pick this one, so the Alltrack effectively replaces the Variant 4Motion. It's even a little cheaper at $59,550, although choosing the optional leather upholstery package (a feature that as standard on the Variant) makes for a spec-adjusted premium of $2000 for the Alltrack.