The mainstream station wagon is almost extinct for North Americans. We have proven time and time again that despite how many people talk about saving the long-roof, the crossover is what we want. Subaru has been very intent on keeping the Outback (reviewed here) name alive, and Volkswagen wants to follow on their success. However, 2018 brings some updates to the Outback that actually take away the manual transmission, so this test vehicle here is a unicorn. This 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 4MOTION is the only manual transmission station wagon available for sale in Canada at the time of this writing.
When comparing it with the standard SportWagen (reviewed here), the Alltrack isn’t exactly a significant amount taller. It’s raised 0.6 inches and has some aggressive plastic body cladding on the side. Our Tungsten Silver test vehicle looked good, but moreso just did a great job at flying under the radar as a brilliant little commuter that looks absolutely anonymous. The new LED headlights tidy up the car’s design quite a bit, and add to the overall elegance.
Only one powertrain is available on the Alltrack, and this is shared with the SportWagen. Volkswagen’s corporate 1.8L turbocharged inline four-cylinder is in play here, offering 170 horsepower at 4,500RPM and 199 lb-ft. of torque at 1,600RPM. Torque is plentiful and comes on early, but the powertrain is the Golf Alltrack’s single weakest point. It’s adequate for the vast majority of buyers, but at this price point, we really wanted to see the 2018 update get the larger 2.0L turbo-four. It’s not slow, but it can’t be called quick by any stretch of the term.
The reality of the matter is, we are spoiled on this side of the pond. A 1.8L 170-horse engine is more than enough for the vast majority of us. The powerband is a little bit on the boring side, but turbo lag is minimal and the Alltrack gets out of its own way with absolute ease. The new 2019 Jetta gets the 1.4 TSI across the line, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the regular Golf get it in its next iteration, too. SportWagen and Alltrack models make do with the 1.8 TSI, a perfectly fine choice for anyone but the power-craving enthusiast.
Two transmissions are available, and as expected, most will gravitate towards the six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. It’s proven itself time and time again as a reliable and competent gearbox, but it was not present in our test vehicle. Our car was equipped with the six-speed manual, and of course, 4MOTION. Yes, you heard correctly – this is a manual transmission station wagon with all-wheel-drive. The shifter on the manual Alltrack is quite good, if not a bit rubbery. Clutch uptake feels great and this car is a blast to drive. It’s also very easy to drive quickly, once it gets into the sweet spot of the powerband.
On board features also include the XDS system, which is an Electronic Transverse Differential Lock. This setup predicts spin from the inside wheel, and is able to send power to the outside. This helps with cornering and ensures it’s crisp, which is very evident. The suspension uses struts up front and a multi-link layout in the back, and the added ground clearance of the Alltrack helps it tackle minor off-roading. I found the steering itself to be a little bit too light, and configuring it to the “Sport” setting adds some artificial weight but no actual feedback.
Unfortunately, the powertrain and the rather heavy nature of the Alltrack mean fuel economy is less than ideal. We tested it in a variety of situations, but the consistent outside temperatures were hovering around the freezing mark. In average driving, expect to achieve 10L/100km when combining city and highway. On a longer highway run, we saw as little as 8.4L/100km, but no better. There is no dedicated “Eco” mode or idle start/stop system on this model. Despite its turbocharged nature, this motor only requires regular 87-octane fuel.
The interior is well laid out in typical Volkswagen fashion, with a refreshed infotainment system for the 2018 model year. The 8.0” touchscreen is very responsive, but most of the physical buttons have been replaced with touch-buttons. A conventional volume knob is still present, and the steering wheel controls are responsive and clearly marked. The seats are comfortable, but we found them to lack lumbar support. The cabin is well-lit thanks to the large panoramic sunroof, and the Alltrack makes for a great road trip vehicle with quiet and composed road manners. We found it to be notably quieter than the Outback out on the road.
The Alltrack isn’t cheap by any standards. With a base price of $34,345, it starts at a staggering $10,000 more than the SportWagen it’s based off. If you want the automatic transmission, it starts at $35,745. Leather interior is standard, and the only available options are a $1,750 Driver Assistance Package (adaptive cruise, automatic emergency braking, park assist, rear view camera, and blind spot detection), and a $795 Light Package (LED headlights with dynamic headlight range adjustment). Our test vehicle had both of these checked off, and sat right at $36,890.
This may seem like it’s significantly more money than the Outback, but the 2.5i Limited with EyeSight, the closest example, is $38,295. The Subaru has a little bit more interior space and a slightly larger overall footprint, but there is no question that the Volkswagen is much better to drive. Those who prefer the sound and feel of a horizontally opposed four-cylinder may gravitate to the Subaru, but the effortless and traditional driving dynamics of the Alltrack are appealing.
All in all, the 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 4MOTION is one of the best year-round commuter vehicles I have personally tested this year. Its honest goodness is truly appreciated, and the usably large cargo area is more than sufficient for small or growing families. Its height advantage over the SportWagen means it’s a little bit more capable, and that just might be what you need for the weekend trip to the slopes. As the only manual transmission station wagon currently available for sale in Canada, it’s the de-facto winner in its segment.