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2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Test Drive Review
Tried and true, the formula behind the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is nothing new. Take a station wagon, add all-wheel drive and SUV styling cues, raise the suspension a bit, and solve for a variety of daily driving requirements. AMC did it in the 1980s. Subaru did it in the 1990s. And now Volkswagen is doing it in the 2010s. Consider me a fan of Germany’s take on an old recipe.
Look and Feel
Getting sick and tired of crossover SUVs? Looking for something practical, fun, and different from whatever everyone else in America is driving? The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is one compelling alternative.
An all-wheel-drive (AWD) version of the Golf Sportwagen, the Alltrack is equipped with a 4Motion AWD system, a hill-descent control system, an Off-Road driving mode, and a 1.2-inch increase in ground clearance. The Alltrack also gets several SUV-inspired design details, inside and out, which help to set it apart from a regular Golf Sportwagen.
Three versions are available. The Alltrack S is the base model and starts at $26,670 with a manual gearbox. A mid-grade SE trim costs $30,250 and includes a panoramic sunroof, a premium sound system, keyless entry with push-button engine starting, and automatic rain-sensing wipers. Both the S and SE command $1,100 for an optional 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automated manual transmission.
My test car was the top-of-the-line Alltrack SEL, which runs $33,710. It includes the DSG transmission along with the most comprehensive infotainment system with navigation and Car-Net subscription services, power adjustable front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and larger 18-inch aluminum wheels. To this, my test car added the Driver Assistance and Lighting Package, for a total of $35,705.
Stop clutching your chest in mock horror. That’s only a grand more than a loaded Honda CR-V.
As is typical of Volkswagen, the company takes a conservative approach to expressing the Alltrack’s mock-SUV styling. Polished silver coats the lower front spoiler, rocker panels, rear valence, mirror caps, and roof rails. Gray plastic cladding encircles the car, running up and around each wheel well. Add the suspension lift and the SEL’s larger 18-inch wheels, and it looks more capable of tackling a variety of roads. Personally, I like the result.
Inside, alterations are less obvious. The primary differentiators are carbon-pattern trim, metallic pedals, and an exclusive Marrakesh Brown upholstery color. Mats remain carpeted rather than rubber, and the materials perform an honest impression of an Audi in terms of their sheen, texture, and quality. Even the standard V-Tex leatherette upholstery does a good job of mimicking real leather.
Although the Alltrack is a Volkswagen, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a luxury brand if you didn’t know any better.
Crossovers have taken over. Don’t get me wrong—I understand the appeal of a tall seating position, AWD, and lots of room for people and cargo. Crossovers can do it all, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, very few of them provide genuine driving enjoyment. Given their mission, it’s a genuine shame that they rarely inspire their drivers to take the long way home, to go exploring for the sake of exploring, to hit the road for hours, days, or even weeks.
Wagons, on the other hand, are a different story, especially when they’re developed in Europe, where people take driving seriously. Take the Golf Alltrack, for example. It’s not terribly powerful, and it isn’t tuned for maximum performance, yet it is an utter delight to drive, and that makes it easy to get behind the wheel for no other reason than to see where the road might take you.
A turbocharged, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine supplies the motive force, making 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. Those are wholly unimpressive numbers, even for a car weighing a minimum of 3,369 pounds.
However, the torque is peaking from 1,600 rpm basically up to where maximum horsepower kicks in at 4,500 rpm. This broad power curve across the bottom of the rev range provides an enjoyable surge of acceleration. Combine that trait with the engine’s refined, free-revving nature and the DSG transmission with paddle shifters and a Sport mode, and you’ve got a recipe for driver engagement.
Beyond this, the steering is sharp and precise, weighting up nicely as you pitch the car from corner to corner. The brakes are typically Germanic in that they coat the front wheels with gray dust and grab a bit as the Alltrack comes to a stop, but pedal feel impresses, and the pads resisted fade on a warm, muggy testing day.
Finally, the suspension delivers an excellent blend of compliance and control, making the Alltrack comfortable and secure at all times, especially the SEL models with the larger 18-inch wheels and tires.
The Alltrack also has the same XDS Plus cross-differential system as the Golf GTI, which is designed to limit understeer in corners. Does that make this car a bigger and more practical GTI? Of course not. VW’s hot hatch can run circles around this station wagon. But that doesn’t mean the Alltrack isn’t fun to drive in its own way.
If I have a word of warning, it’s that Volkswagen is potentially advertising talents the Alltrack can’t match in the real world. On its website, the company shows this car tackling all kinds of roads in all kinds of weather. In reality, you’re going to want to know your path well.
Ground clearance still doesn’t come close to that of a Subaru Crosstrek or Outback, which makes it even more important to avoid deep dips and ruts. Approach, breakover, and departure angles aren’t much to rave about, either. So stick to beaten paths in the Alltrack, lest you suffer expensive damage.
Also, you should know that the Alltrack returned 24.8 mpg on my testing loop, despite idling during a photo shoot and sitting in rush-hour traffic on the freeway. After a week of driving, my average had risen to 26 mpg. Given that the EPA says it will get 25 mpg in combined driving, this is an impressive result.
Form and Function
For a German-bred vehicle, the Alltrack is relatively easy to operate. The good news is that the controls are located where you expect to find them. The bad news is that it takes some time to get the hang of certain functions, such as cycling through the different driver-information displays.
Another reason I love driving the Alltrack is the driver’s seat. It is exceptionally comfortable and faces a flat-bottom steering wheel shaped for an easy grip. The driving position is proper and perfect, and Volkswagen provides soft places to rest your elbows. In fact, the sliding, height-adjustable center armrest is a big contributor to the Alltrack’s long-distance comfort.
Rear-seat passengers will not be as happy. The space is fine for children, though they will put whatever is on the bottom of their feet onto the soft vinyl coating the back of each front seat. Adults of average stature will feel confined, unless people of even shorter height are sitting up front.
It is also worth noting that the Alltrack doesn’t have dark tinted privacy glass for the rear windows. Cars can’t have this feature from the factory, while “trucks” can. Volkswagen dealers do offer side window and liftgate window sun blinds as an option, and a cargo cover is standard.
Speaking of cargo, trunk space is generous. Volkswagen cleverly integrates the liftgate release (and reversing camera) with the VW emblem, and it swings up to reveal a roomy 30.4 cubic feet of space. The 40/20/40-split folding rear seat supplies mix-and-match utility, and handy levers located in the cargo area release and fold each section down. With the rear seat folded flat, the Alltrack holds 66.5 cubic feet of cargo.
Granted, these numbers come in a bit lower than several conventional crossover SUVs, but because the Alltrack’s cargo area is cube-shaped, it is more useful than its measurements might suggest.
Alltrack SEL models come with Volkswagen’s top infotainment system, which it calls Discover Media. It includes a whole bunch of stuff, like smartphone projection, satellite radio and data services, Car-Net apps and subscription services, and a navigation system.
Unfortunately, the navigation system isn’t terribly useful unless you know exactly where you’re going. Want the system to direct you to the nearest location of your favorite burrito chain? It won’t. Know the name of a point of interest but not the address? You’re out of luck. My recommendation is to connect your phone to the system and use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to find your way around. I’m an Apple guy. Siri knows everything.
Also, you should know that the Fender-brand premium audio system that is standard for the SE and SEL trim levels sounds terrific. In all honesty, I am not an audiophile. My hearing isn’t all that good, either. But to me, Fender systems rock.
In addition to these technologies, the Alltrack has an Off-road Monitor that shows current altitude, steering angle, and a compass. Adaptive LED headlights are available for the SEL model, helping the driver to see around dark corners, while Park Pilot parking sensors make it easier to tuck the car into tight spaces.
Opt for the SEL’s Driver Assistance and Lighting Package, and Volkswagen installs a semi-autonomous Park Assist system. It identifies a parallel parking space that will accommodate the Alltrack, and then steers the car into it while the driver operates the pedals and transmission. I don’t find this useful, but know that lots of people might.
Volkswagen equips the Alltrack with technologies that are designed to prevent a collision, combined with a structure that is engineered to protect you from a collision.
An automatic post-collision braking system is standard equipment. An unusual feature, this is designed to bring the car to a stop as soon as possible following a collision. Otherwise, secondary impacts would occur after the airbags had deployed, increasing the potential for injury. Volkswagen wants to maximize your chances of survival.
Also, Car-Net’s Security and Service subscription package includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency calling, and Family Guardian speed and boundary alerts, which are useful for teenage drivers. Though not as comprehensive as what some automakers offer, these are important safety features you may wish to pay extra for once the free trial subscription expires.
Adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, and automatic emergency braking are offered on all versions of the Alltrack. The SEL is also exclusively available with a lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist system. Unfortunately, a blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert, two features I find incredibly useful, are unavailable for the Alltrack.
During testing, the automatic emergency braking system engaged as heavy traffic came to a swift stop. This was a legitimate activation, as I had momentarily looked away from the road to check a cross-street sign. Grateful for the intervention, it also concerned me, because the car left lots of space between it and traffic ahead while causing the person behind me to slam harder on the brakes than he or she might have otherwise.
Crash-test ratings impress, too, with the Alltrack earning top scores from the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Volkswagen has two challenges to overcome with regard to the Alltrack’s value equation.
First, you can’t touch one equipped with a DSG for less than $27,770. That’s almost a grand more than a larger Subaru Outback 2.5i, and Buick is about to drop the bigger German-built Regal Tour X into the segment at a starting price of less than $31,000.
Second, according to J.D. Power data, people value reliability as much as or more than they value anything else when choosing a new vehicle. A glance at the Consumer Reports reliability history of any Volkswagen product demonstrates that risk exists when choosing one.
Aside from these factors, a cramped rear seat, and the lack of a blind-spot warning system option, it is hard to fault the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. In fact, it’s exactly the type of car I would buy for myself. Small, fun to drive, fuel-efficient, safe, practical, and affordable, the Alltrack adds just enough off-roading capability to accommodate a bit of extra adventure.
Plus, it still comes with my favorite kind of a transmission: a stick.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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