A wonderful piece of kit that has great build quality and driving dynamics.
For years, wagons have been perceived as uncool. In the 1950s through to the 1980s, massive land yachts with engines that consumed gallons-per-mile were the preferred method of transportation for families. With rear-wheel drive pushing the big boats about, old tire technology also meant poor road manners to go along with treacherous driving in inclement weather. Volkswagen understands that this stigma exists to this day, and while the regular SportWagen possesses great driving dynamics, looks generally smart, and is just as versatile inside, it does have a little bit of the uncool station wagon appearance. To combat this, they’ve rejigged it a bit to shed this stereotypical image.
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is raised by a relatively small 20 millimetres (0.8 inches), but gets black fender cladding and higher profile tires to complete a quasi-SUV look that’s at least a little bit similar to the AMC Eagle of the 1980s. Additionally, the Alltrack gets a few other goodies that set it apart from the more conventional Golf offerings in the VW lineup. Volkswagen Canada recently offered one up in a bright Tornado Red finish for a week on test. On paper, it certainly looks to be exactly the kind of family vehicle that the editorial team would like. Would it hold up in practice?
Starting at a base price of $35,295, the Alltrack includes just about all of the standard features you’d expect on a loaded Volkswagen. Accompanying the neat exterior look are a set of 18-inch wheels, leather seating (heated up front), dual zone climate control, a rear view camera, rain-sensing wipers, panoramic sunroof, a 120V power outlet in the rear cargo area, and, new for this year, 4Motion all-wheel drive (also now available on non-Alltrack SportWagens). Options on the test car include the Light and Sound Package ($1,310) that adds bi-xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, Fender premium audio, and LED daytime running lights.
The Driver Assistance Package ($1,610) adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, lane keeping assist, and park assist (automatic parallel and reverse perpendicular parking). With an as-tested price of $38,215, it is on the higher end of the spectrum for a car like this, and Volkswagen is certainly hoping to steal some market share from the likes of the 2.5i trim levels of the Subaru Outback and Forester. While the regular SportWagen (reviewed here), be it in front-wheel or all-wheel drive form, can come equipped more modestly, the Alltrack comes with a feature set more in line with the top trim Highline models.
To compete with the Subarus, Volkswagen has outfitted the Alltrack with the same 1.8-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine seen in regular Golfs, Sportwagens, Jettas, and Passats (reviewed here). Known as the EA888, its 170 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 199 lb-ft between 1,600 and 4,400 rpm was just about adequate in moving around the jacked up VW. It won’t win any drag races, but the engine’s pairing with the six-speed Direct-shift gearbox (DSG) helps greatly to make things livelier. Similar to the transmission used in the sporty GTI, the dual-clutch design means that shifts were lighting quick yet still silky smooth. The gear ratios were well spaced relative to the engine’s powerband, and gear hunting was not necessary.
On hills, the powertrain didn’t need to downshift, and was more than happy to use the turbo’s low end torque to maintain speed. While small, the 1.8-litre is definitely punching above its weight in terms of displacement, and its cast iron construction suggests that the high boost and cylinder pressures will be no problem when under load. The exhaust and induction note are a bit coarse, as is typical for a Volkswagen four banger, but competitors like the 2.5-litre boxer four in the Subarus are no better, either. To make the Alltrack’s powertrain truly great, using the 2.0-litre, 210 horsepower (or 220 depending on trim) out of the GTI would be ideal, but this will probably cause the price to balloon out of contention.
With the little turbo four, fuel economy is rated at 10.6 L/100km in the city, and 8.0 L/100km on the highway. This is worse than the 9.6 L/100km city and 6.8 L/100km highway on the regular front-wheel drive SportWagen with the same 1.8-litre engine and conventional six-speed automatic, but it’s the price to pay for the extra goodies on the body and the 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Observed fuel economy during the week came to 9.8 L/100km in mixed driving, which is still somewhat respectable (the front-wheel drive car returned 8.4L/100km earlier this year). Fuel capacity is 50 litres, and even with the turbocharger, the Alltrack happily accepts regular fuel. Relative to its peers, the Forester (reviewed here) and Outback with the 2.5-litre non-turbo engine will consume a bit less.
While the hot hatch GTI gets more power and more performance-oriented suspension tuning, the Alltrack manages to go the opposite way without sacrificing too much in the way of handling. With the increase in ride height, it can’t take a corner as well as its lower and sportier sibling, but it is still surefooted, and the brilliant Volkswagen and Audi MQB chassis is responsible for the confident feel on the road. There’s a Drive Profile selector that offers four modes: Normal, Sport, Off-Road, and Custom. Each optimizes the 4Motion all-wheel drive system, engine, and transmission for each unique driving condition. For optimal day-to-day driving, Custom mode was used for most of the test week, with all functions set to “Normal” or “Comfort”, and only the steering was set to “Sport”. This allowed for maximum ride comfort, and the extra starch in the steering isn’t too excessive and makes for a more engaging drive. The softer suspension setting is still typical Euro-firm, but isn’t harsh, with great body control and a more premium feel than the entire Golf lineup’s pricing suggests.
Relative to its Subaru archrivals, the interior is the place where the Volkswagen really shines. Fit and finish is a very strong point, and the material selection and overall aesthetic will trump all but the top level Outback Premier trim. Interior and cargo space is closer to that of the Forester than the Outback, but there’s still plenty of room to swallow up plenty of family gear and miscellaneous items. It’s a welcome improvement over the standard Golf, and is a very real and worthy alternative for families needing only two rows and space for their junk.
Additionally, Volkswagen’s App-Connect multimedia suite includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Subaru’s Starlink interface is slow, clunky, and not the most intuitive, but an update is expected within a model year or two. App-Connect and the rest of the touch interface is relatively good, with good responsiveness and with access to most menus at your fingertips. The Fender audio system took a little bit more tweaking to bring out good sound quality – the midrange needed to be turned way down compared to other cars.
Overall, the 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack is a wonderful piece of kit that has great build quality and driving dynamics. The excellent chassis is among the best in the world for compact cars right now, and it feels nothing like the penalty box that small cars used to be. Although the price is in the mid-$30,000 range, it’s still quite competitive against the Subaru Outback and Forester. The Volkswagen drives better and subjectively looks better inside and out, and is a sure bet if you’re looking for a little more personality in your driveway. For this reason, much like the regular SportWagen, it’s one of the best cars tested over the past year in the DoubleClutch.ca Magazine garage, and rightfully earns a well-deserved nomination in the Best SUV/Crossover/Wagon category.