Wagons are back!
Have you heard?
Small families and bachelors alike are rediscovering how easy, smooth and practical they are versus the endless line of mini SUVs. Wagons have better mileage, handling and — sometimes — even long-roof style.
There are places where the Golf Sportwagen’s low ride height is simply not ideal — even with that car’s optional 4Motion AWD system. For mountain states like Colorado or Vermont, there can never be enough tall, 4×4 wagons to choose from.
Subaru has had this market on lock for decades now with their big Outback and smaller Crosstrek wagons.
VW is late to the party but is bringing some genius party tricks to make up for lost time. Things to set it apart from Subaru — and its own Sportwagen sibling, in fact. Like what?
DSG double-clutch automatics, for one, and even an available stickshift for selfers. Fantastic Euro handling and VW’s still-stellar cabin and assembly quality are in the new Golf Alltrack’s favor, too.
So is an extra inch and a half of ride height really a game-changer?
Spoiler: it really is for many shoppers. The Golf Alltrack made its case during a week here — and we came away sold by its peppy performance and incredible value.
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Golf Alltrack is a pretty minimal exterior upgrade when you list it out. But the car definitely has its own presence on the road — even if it shares its whole silhouette with the Sportwagen.
A new lower front bumper is the most distinct design tweak. This brings standard foglamps, silver contrast element and matching silver lower bumper accent. Black plastic body cladding wraps the lower doors and wheel wells all around — helping the taller suspension look normal with standard street rubber and modest 17-inch alloy wheels. Silver side mirrors are another Alltrack touch, and the silver theme continues out back with a mock diffuser/skidplate between the dual exhaust pipes.
Silver anodized roof rack bars come standard, too, and these actual metal pieces are a near-match for the fake plastic silver jewelry below.
There is a front underbody guard fitted to the Alltrack. And its AWD system will churn you through impossible-looking gravel or snow. But be warned: the Alltrack’s long overhangs front and rear are what limit its ability off-road. If you are regularly on anything rougher than gravel, the new Tiguan will be far superior in coming out of trails unscathed.
We’re fans of the look in general, but are disappointed with the so-so lighting. No LEDs outside here whatsoever, and standard halogen reflectors for the low, high and foglamps. These not only look yellow-ish and cheap — especially the 70-percent highbeam DRL — but offer pretty lousy overall lighting in adverse conditions.
The adaptive front lighting option with LED DRL and bi-xenon cornering lamps is not available on the Alltrack S or SE — it is about $800 and only available on the Alltrack SEL. This is a bummer for those who want great lighting and style but can live without nav or the big moonroof of the uplevel trims.
Even as it stands, the Alltrack S has some handsomeness and classic lines that are impossible to ignore. The solid beltline pinch in this gen Golf’s metal bodysides looks even better when stretched across this wagon’s longer rear end.
The interior of the Golf Alltrack S is extremely good quality. You;ve probably read this so much about VWs that it seems like old news. But honestly, nobody else in the $20k segment makes a better base cabin. Even the cheap leatherette looks slightly chic in this tan color choice. The seats are part-power but mostly manual, and the steering tilt/telescope is manual too. You wont care: the driving position inside here is outstanding. You have a real sense of space and lightness inside, and what feels like a more natural, lower seat position than Subaru Crosstrek. Visibility is outstanding and little delights like auto-up/down windows all around remind you this is a Volkswagen. Very little cheapskate stuff in here for this post-scandal / highvalue VW.
Standard display audio with CarNet (VW’s connected services), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are impressive. No options needed to get useful media integration upgrades or a backup camera with guidelines.
The test car’s one option is the “Alltrack S and SE Driver Assistance Package.” So named because the SEL has this stuff standard?
Regardless, for $845 you get adaptive cruise, sonar parking sensors front/rear, Park Assist auto-parking and auto emergency braking. That’s a pretty comprehensive safety setup – but does lack blindspot monitoring or lane keep assist.
So what else are you missing from the SE and SEL trims? We noticed the lack of promixity doorlocks right away, as it also means you use the key for — gasp — starting the ignition. It is hard to get used to actually blipping the keyfob again to get inside. Spoiler auto tester quirk, perhaps, but also nice as an owner.
The giant moonroof is another thing the SE brings that we missed inside the Alltrack S.
The back seat and cargo areas are genuinely comfy and useful. For two in back, there is gobs of head, shoulder and hip room. Legroom is slightly tight versus any Subaru, though.
Nav is not something we missed much in the S trim. What actually seemed slightly downmarket is the LED dot matrix mid-cluster screen. Nice to have, yes. But much higher resolution screens from Fiat-Chrysler these days.
Two huge pieces of tech make this Alltrack S a snappy little performer — far better than you might expect. The first is the DSG automatic, which sets this Alltrack apart from Golf and Sportwagen with the 1.8T engine. Those cars use the Aisin torque-converter slushbox that is fine but not exciting.
The DSG in the Alltrack helps this 180-pony beast sprint to 60-mph in about 7 seconds flat — a half second faster than its siblings. The DSG also has flawlessly judged ratios, logic and performance chops.
The second piece of tech that is a game-changer? The drive modes! Sport, Custom, Off-road and Normal bring unique settings for the steering, throttle and driveline. In Sport, the Alltrack S has seriously satisfying thrust and feel. Far more engaging to drive than any Crosstrek, that is for sure.
The Offroad setting radically lightens the steering, loosens ESP rules to allow more slip, and sends more power to the back wheels by default.
Generally speaking, there is a big front bias in the VW 4Motion system. So forget tail-out fantasies and get real. This 4Motion does have that Subaru feel — of always being on and always helping stability. As a result, the Alltrack seems to really love hard corners. Just get to the apex, floor the throttle and weave your way out of the corner. Faultless traction and actually pretty good front-rear balance.
The Alltrack is a real gem on the road.
A major Alltrack advantage over any SUV is how cheap it is. The base price of about $26,950 on our tester rose to $28,615 with safety package and delivery charge. This is incredible value. It is less than a grand more than a Sportwagen 1.8T 4Motion — and has better transmission in its favor. [Another note: pricing on VW.com appears to be cut by a grand versus this original window sticker.]
Where the Sportwagen does best the Alltrack is highway mileage: mid-30s plays 30-mpg for the Alltrack. 22/30 with a 25 average is still better than most CUVs. But not by much.
Alltrack is the kind of car you could imagine driving and loving for years. Yes, it’s that good.
If you wonder why wagons are back in a bold way, it is cars like this. Extremely snow and mountain-capable Cars. Not stilted CUVs.
For anybody wanting a compact footprint but Do-It-All cargo area, the 2017 Alltrack S is a Yes.
It seems that an extra inch and a half really did do the trick.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.