Volkswagen Golf Alltrack — Go-anywhere wagon

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If you desire a car-like driving experience, but need extra cargo capacity and desire the light-duty off-road capability necessary for traversing such things as snow-covered roads, then we have the ticket. It's the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.

Volkswagen has decided to take Subaru’s dominating all-wheel drive crossover wagon market head-on using the attractive and affordable Golf SportWagen and raising up its road clearance by 1.4 inches, equipping it with some modest off-road under chassis protection, adding the Golf R’s extra traction grip of the 4Motion all-wheel drive system, which shifts 50 percent of torque rearward when needed, and dressing it up with some exterior plastic body cladding on its lower extremities.
Mechanically, the Alltrack and its SportWagen sibling are nearly identical with both using the same 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s turbocharged to produce 170-horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque and paired with a choice of either a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. All-wheel drive is standard with the Alltrack, but is offered as an option on the SportWagen model.

We have been pleasantly surprised at the performance from the 1.8-liter engine each time we've driven it in the standard Golf, the compact Jetta sedan and the bigger Passat. And it didn't disappoint this time around in the Alltrack. In addition to its published time of 7.5 seconds from 0-to-60, it's rated at 22 mpg city, 30 highway and 25 overall on regular gas.

Combine the decent performance with the quick-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch automatic — which we think is a step up over the standard six-speed in other Golf models — with the wagon's excellent body control in the curves and its light and accurate steering and you've got an outstanding package. For those desiring an even firmer feel, switching the car to the sport drive mode sharpens throttle response and holds gears longer. There are three other modes —normal, custom and off-road.

On the road, the Alltrack is a sweetheart to drive, quick, fun, solid and especially comfortable. We drove the Alltrack at an off-road course in the Tahuya State Forest on Bainbridge Island just across from Seattle. While one shouldn’t expect the Alltrack to be a hard-core off-roader, we were really surprised at the degree of ease it handled the rugged, rutted, rock strewn trails and over and around obstacles. Snow covered and icy roads should be a snap.

One issue we had going into the week was whether the Alltrack would offer enough room to really be a serviceable wagon, a worthy choice over the Subaru contingent, since it does carry the compact Golf nameplate. We found that it does — with adequate rear-seat leg room for second-row passengers together with luggage capacity measured at 30.4 cubic feet. Cargo capacity with the rear seats folded is a small-crossover-like 66.5 cubic feet.

Some people may not like the uncomplicated look of the instrument panel, but we like the conservatively handsome layout with all controls and switchgear right at hand. All climate controls can be operated without going into the touchscreen, but radio presets and other infotainment controls must be accessed through the touchscreen. We also like the very intuitive adaptive cruise controls located on the left side on the steering wheel. VW's new infotainment system comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. We had no problem connecting an iPhone 6. On the downside, there is only one USB port in the car — an oversight in our electronic world.

The Alltrack comes in three trim levels — S, SE and SEL — and can reach a rather lofty purchase price in a well-outfitted SEL trim, which carries a bottom line of $33,710 without options. We discovered that you can drive a very-well equipped vehicle in S trim — sans a few bells and whistles such as a panoramic sunroof, power seats and 18-inch wheels — for a base price of $26,670.

Standard equipment at that price includes roof rails, heated side mirrors, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, leather-trimmed tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, rearview camera, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, audio system with eight speakers and a CD player and satellite radio. Our S trim test car came with the optional Driver's Assistance Package for $845 that includes adaptive cruise control bringing the bottom line to $28,615 including destination charge.

The SE starts at $31,350 and adds such things as automatic headlights, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and ignition and the Fender Premium audio system. The SEL trim adds 18-inch alloy wheels, 12-way power driver's seat, and upgraded infotainment with touchscreen navigation.

Base price: $26,670; as driven, $28,615
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 @ 4,500 rpm
Torque: 199 foot-pounds @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.5 inches
Length: 179.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,422 pounds
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 30.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 66.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 city, 30 highway, 25 combined
0-60: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Subaru Outback, Subaru Crosstrek, Mini Countryman

The Good
• Energetic 4-cylinder engine
• User-friendly controls
• Light-duty off-road capability

The Bad
• Only one USB port

The Ugly
• Pricey at upper end