A Crossover Wagon
Americans love crossover sport-utility vehicles, which has been a bit of a problem for Volkswagen. While most full-line automakers have several crossover SUVs to choose from, VW has had just two; the small Tiguan and the larger, but now discontinued Touareg. To plug the gap until new models hit the market, the German automaker came up with the 2017 Golf Alltrack last fall. It was recently joined by the all-new three-row Atlas. SUV
And just what is the Golf Alltrack? In a nutshell, the Alltrack is a made over Golf SportWagen that has been slightly lifted, butched up with some body cladding, and includes VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system along with more standard content.
Sound familiar? That’s pretty much what Subaru did with the then Legacy wagon in 1994, morphing it into the Subaru Outback and calling it a “sport-utility wagon.” Aided by advertising pitched by Australian film star Paul Hogan, the Outback was, and still is, a smashing success.
It’s unlikely that the Golf Alltrack will come close to matching the Outback’s sales numbers, but Volkswagen has high hopes that it can lure some customers from Subaru. To accomplish that, the Golf Alltrack is offered in three trim levels: S, SE and SEL. Each is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine capable of making 170 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 199 pounds-feet of torque coming on at just 1,600 rpm. Standard is a six-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission offered as an option for $1,100.
Fuel economy isn’t exactly a glowing star with the EPA saying you’ll get 30 mpg on the highway, 22 mpg in the city and 25 mpg combined. That 30-mpg highway, however, does earn the Golf Alltrack entry into Clean Fleet Report’s 30-mpg All-Wheel Drive Club. By comparison, the Alltrack can’t quite match the Subaru Outback’s 32-mpg highway.
The least expensive Alltrack S, $23,850 plus $820 destination charge, has an arm’s length of standard features. They include 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels; faux-leather upholstery; heated front seats, side mirrors and windshield-washer nozzles; eight-way power driver’s seat; rearview camera; and a 6.5-inch touch-screen infotainment system with AM/FM/CD player with HD Radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The standard Car-Net system works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone apps.
A step up to the mid-level SE at $29,430 brings automatic headlights; rain-sensing windshield wipers; push-button start; Fender premium audio system; and a panoramic sunroof. The top SEL, $32,890, adds 18-inch wheels; dual-zone climate control; a 12-way-power driver’s seat; and an upgraded infotainment system navigation. For less than $850, the Driver Assistance package bundles forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and park-distance control on S and SE versions. SEL models offer a pricier system that also includes lane-departure warning, and bi-xenon headlights.
Looks a Lot Like The SportsWagen
Styling changes for the 2017 Golf Alltrack are subtle, but a side-by-side comparison with the SportsWagen revels that they do give the Alltrack a tougher looking exterior. Up front, the Alltrack gets a matte black mesh grille, a new bumper with an underbody guard and standard LED daytime running lights. Black cladding has been added along the wider door sills and wheel arches, protecting the body from stray rocks and other projectiles kicked up along the dusty trail. Even the wheels exude a rugged yet sporty appearance. The rear of the Alltrack has been treated to dark-red taillights, a revised bumper and dual exhaust outlets. Ground clearance is also greater, growing from 5.5 inches to 6.9 inches.
Look up and you’ll notice standard silver roof rails. VW offers an array of roof-mounted “attachment kits” for the Alltrack that will help outdoor enthusiasts haul bicycles, skis, snowboards and even a kayak.
On the inside, the Alltrack nearly mimics the SportWagen, but distinguishes itself from its sibling with aluminum-look pedals and kickplates with exclusive Alltrack branding. Like most Volkswagens, the cabin is sensibly designed and ergonomically friendly with a clean and uncluttered dashboard. The gauge cluster is simple and easy to read, with two main dials for ground and engine speed and two smaller gauges for engine temp and fuel level. Controls for climate and audio are easy to see and use. All Alltrack models get a standard 6.5-inch touchscreen with VW’s Car-Net smartphone integration that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. A navigation system is optional.
Like all Volkswagen Golf models, the Alltrack’s front seats are supportive and there’s an adjustable center armrest that does double-duty as a console lid. The glove box even has a cooling feature. Space in the front seats is just fine, but the rear seats are a little tight in terms of shoulder and headroom. Legroom of 35.6-inches, however, is adequate for those over six-foot.
Although Americans tend to dismiss station wagons, we can all appreciate their versatility for carrying stuff. The 2017 Alltrack boasts more than 30 cubic feet of room with the rear seats up, and 66.5 with them folded. That’s more than some small crossover SUVs. The rear hatch opens nice and high, but you won’t find a power-operated option as you will on many small SUVs.
Driving the Golf Alltrack
Without a raised seating position or a tall roof, the 2017 Golf Alltrack feels not even a little like a crossover SUV. The lift amounts to just 1.4 inches, and most of that comes from taller wheels and tires, though VW says the Alltrack does have longer springs and dampers.
More important is the upgraded powertrain. Volkswagen knows how to wring every last ounce of pleasure from a turbocharged engine, and as for the Alltrack, VW married the base Golf’s turbo four with the Golf R’s driveline. That means the dual-clutch automatic transmission has an electronically controlled clutch that manages the front-to-rear torque split. The computer can apply the brakes individually to direct torque to the left- or right-side wheels on either axle.
VW’s 4Motion four-wheel-drive system powers the front wheels, saving fuel, until a loss of traction is detected, after which it can send 50 percent of the power rearward. Driving modes include normal, sport, custom and off-road, and manual gear selection can be made through paddle shifters on the steering wheel or manipulating the shift lever in the center console.
Around town, the suspension tuning favored comfort, giving me a silken ride quality. The car glided over bumps in the road and soaked up harshness like a mechanical sponge. It was compact enough to slot into urban parking lots, comfortable and spacious enough to carry three friends and their gear to the airport.
The engine itself was free revving, low on noise and got the Alltrack up to speed swiftly enough that I didn’t find myself wanting it to pick up pace. The invigorating engine easily pushed the Alltrack and happily drank regular unleaded while doing so.
On the highway, the suspension competently ironed out pothole-ridden stretches and offered a comfortable cruise on smooth portions. Refinement was typical Volkswagen-civilized. There were low levels of wind noise, though, and on some surfaces road rumble made its way into the cabin. On occasion, I picked up the under-hood signature of the turbo as it spooled up.
The Alltrack was fun to throw into corners, and its steering firmed up nicely after initial softness at lower speeds. While body roll did make its presence known, a combination of light and precise steering, beefy brakes, and a taut chassis gave me a sense of confidence.
I didn’t test our Allroad S on terribly rugged off-road terrain, but I did find the sort of rutted, muddy, slippery and generally boggy trails that can give two-wheel drive cars, as well as some all-wheel drive vehicles, a headache. On slick surfaces that varied from loose gravel to sloppy mud washes, the 4Motion all-wheel drive system kept up with conditions, giving the Alltrack a secure feel. Using the Off-Road setting, the AWD system aptly put power to the wheel where it was needed, and the built-in hill-descent control helped ease the car down steeper grades. Volkswagen’s TV ad campaign may say the Alltrack is “soon to be seen everywhere,” but that may be a slight exaggeration. This is no Moab rock crawler.
When I handed the Golf Alltrack back to Volkswagen, the odometer showed we had driven 243 miles–including city, highway and freeway driving, plus our off-road excursion. As for fuel economy, we were spot on with the EPA’s 25 mpg combined rating.
In The Marketplace
Our test 2017 Golf Alltrack, a base model S with the Driver Assist Package, wore a sticker price of $28,615, including the $820 destination charge. That’s comparable to its direct competition, a Subaru Outback that is well equipped and also powered by a four-cylinder engine.
Unlike the Outback, the Alltrack offers a manual transmission and comes standard with a turbocharged engine. However, the slightly larger Outback offers more ground clearance for improved off-road capability, has more interior space and earns better fuel economy. The Outback also offers a stout six-cylinder engine.
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is worth a long hard look if you’re shopping for a small utility vehicle that has some off-road moxie, but the Subaru Outback is tough to beat. Plus, these two aren’t the only carmakers betting on this formula. Volvo’s V60 comes in Cross Country flavor, while Audi thinks that the A4 Allroad will whet your appetite. If none of these are your cup of tea, the more traditional crossovers such as Honda’s CRV and Toyota’s RAV 4 may best meet your needs.
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