Volkswagen isn’t the No. 1 automobile company in the world for nothing. It’s the biggest because it makes great cars.
VW may be guilty of heinous crimes – faking emissions tests, making us all learn how to pronounce and spell “Fahrvergnugen” – but year after year, model after model, Volkswagen turns out handsome, dependable vehicles that are easy to operate and fun to drive.
The 2017 Golf Alltrack is one of them. Designed to steal young, adventure-minded drivers from the Subaru Outback, it’s a comfortable, capable car appropriate for a lot of people with active lifestyles.
And it’s almost as much a marketing ploy as a new machine.
The Alltrack is a four-door station wagon, powered by a 1.8-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque.
The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A manual six-speed version will go on sale soon, but other engine versions will not, though a diesel TDI engine is available in Europe.
Driving modes include normal, sport and off-road, and manual gear selection can be made through toggling the Tiptronic paddle shifters on the steering wheel or manipulating the shift knob in the center console.
Those modes help maximize power from the small engine. So does the Alltrack’s “4Motion” system, which automatically shifts the car from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive when the vehicle needs more torque or traction to the rear wheels.
Like most VWs, the cabin is sensibly designed and ergonomically friendly. The steering wheel and dashboard are clean and uncluttered. Everything required for safe and happy driving is within easy reach.
Charmingly analog in some respects – it has a hand-operated emergency brake, rather than a push-button electronic one – the car feels solid and planted.
The Alltrack is part of the Golf line, and it’s so similar to the SportWagen that a prospective buyer could be forgiven for wondering how they’re different.
The answer is – not all that much. The SportWagen, like the company’s Tiguan, Touareg and upcoming Atlas cars, also features the 4Motion system.
It’s powered by the same engine as the Alltrack _ though the Alltrack is tuned for more torque – and features the same Tiptronic six-speed transmission. It’s a four-door, five-passenger wagon with the same cabin room and cargo space as the Alltrack.
That’s good news for the cargo, but not necessarily for the passengers. Headroom in the rear seats is adequate, but legroom a little less so.
(VW did include a pair of reading lamps that light the back-seat areas. A good book may distract tall passengers from their cramped legs.)
They differ in subtle ways. The Alltrack offers more ground clearance than the SportWagen – more on the Alltrack SEL version, which replaces the standard 17-inch wheels with 18-inch ones – has different front and rear bumpers and includes side skirts and decorative arches over the wheels.
The Alltrack adds some features that should encourage the bold driver to leave the pavement and explore. Unlike the SportWagen, the Alltrack comes with a “hill descent” feature that controls downhill speed on uncertain terrain.
The off-road mode, too, manipulates torque and ABS to ensure increased traction in sandy, rocky, muddy or icy conditions.
I had a spin around town on a day that offered wet pavement, sandy dirt, slick mud and some nasty ruts dug by the recent rains.
The Alltrack handled it all very well, but seemed hampered by the ground clearance. At 6.65 inches, it sits more than an inch taller than the SportWagen, but a full 2 inches shorter than the Subaru Outback.
The TV ad campaign may say the Alltrack is “soon to be seen everywhere,” but that may be a slight exaggeration. This is no rock crawler.
Volkswagen offers other aftermarket appurtenances. An array of roof-mounted “attachment kits” will help outdoor sporty types haul bicycles, skis, snowboards and even a kayak.
For some buyers, the most attractive element of the Alltrack will be the MSRP. Compared with similar offerings by Subaru, Audi and Mercedes-Benz – all of whom build sturdy, four-wheel-drive station wagons – the Alltrack is a relative bargain.
The entry-level Alltrack goes out the door at $27,770. A loaded SEL version outfitted with 4Motion will cost $35,705.