The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is the only wagon you can buy new right now that doesn’t come from a premium brand, but even that isn’t enough to send enough fans to dealerships. Hence the 2017 VW Golf Alltrack, the wagon that wants to be a crossover.
It’s a proven formula that’s worked for several companies over the years. Take a traditional wagon model – practical and maneuverable, but looked down upon by the mainstream – and make it look and act more like an SUV, with all-wheel drive and a more rugged appearance. Audi and Volvo have found success with it on the more expensive end, but Subaru has scored the most. The Alltrack is most clearly gunning after the extremely popular Subaru Outback for a slice of the not-quite-a-crossover pie.
Fundamentally, the Alltrack differs from the Golf SportWagen that’s been on sale for the last couple of years by offering a 0.6-inch increase to the ride height, plastic cladding around the bumpers and wheel arches and its standard all-wheel drive system.
Other than that, there’s little different about the Alltrack in the way it looks and feels. The added ride height isn’t noticed much when you climb inside, but Volkswagen says shorter people will appreciate that the car isn’t raised so much that it makes putting bikes or boards on the roof as difficult as on many SUVs. With 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, however, there is a flat, square area to load plenty of items in. It’s roughly as much space as most compact SUVs, but well short of the taller and wider Outback.
The story is the same for the front and rear seats, which are respectable for a car that’s relatively compact on the outside, but the Alltrack doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of space inside. Nevertheless, four adults should be content on a long trip, as would a family with one or two smaller children.
Like the SportWagen, the Alltrack comes only with a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 170 horsepower. It’s paired to either a six-speed manual on S and SE models, or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that’s standard on the highest SEL grade and optional on the other two. Some of the liveliness of the engine has been strangled by the added weight of the all-wheel drive system, but the Alltrack will seem positively athletic compared to the Outback.
Fuel economy for the automatic Alltracks is rated at 22/30 mpg city/highway. During our drives in both highway and off-road conditions, the trip computer consistently showed above 25 mpg. That’s on par with some of the more efficient all-wheel drive compact crossovers like the Mazda CX-5, but not particularly stellar.
Where the Alltrack truly shines is in how it drives on pavement in relation to a normal compact crossover. Move over from a traditional car and the Alltrack feels remarkably similar, with steering and braking responses giving up little despite a higher center of gravity. Yet there is still enough ground clearance for moderate off-road situations. All models come with a dedicated Off-Rode mode that changes traction control and antilock brake settings, as well as offering a hill descent control for keeping a slow and steady speed when traveling down a steep slope. Some SUVs around the same price don’t offer a system as sophisticated as this.
You might give up a little space over the Outback, but prices are similar. The Alltrack will have a starting price of $27,770 (including destination) when it goes on sale in October. Models with a six-speed manual will shave $1,100 off that price when they reach dealerships in early in 2017. A fully equipped SEL model with upgraded lights and driver assistance programs tops out at around $36,000, about the same as a loaded four-cylinder Outback.
Additionally, VW will offer the standard Golf SportWagen S with all-wheel drive. That model doesn’t come with the Alltrack’s off-road pretensions, but it is more than $2,000 less expensive than a base Alltrack. If all you need is extra grip to get up a steep and icy driveway, a SportWagen with all-wheel drive looks like a cost-effective way to go.
But for those who still think they need an all-wheel drive crossover to handle a winter storm, the Alltrack is a return to sanity. It’s all of the Volkswagen Golf’s functionality without the bulk of an SUV, and at a decidedly mainstream price.