SEATTLE, Washington—It’s either you like wagons or you don’t—there’s no in-between. One side might speak of these elongated, versatile haulers as a thing of the past while the other corner can’t get enough of them.
Volkswagen is of the latter opinion, and it’s showing some wagon approval with a new top-of-the-line trim called Alltrack that’s been added to the Golf Sportwagen lineup.
And if you’ve just noticed how VW’s spelling “Sportwagen,” well, for 2017, it’s now in line with our American neighbours, a cheeky homage to the brand. But that’s where that shadowing ends. In the United States, the Alltrack trim is its own car without the Sportwagen name attached to it; while in Canada, as aforementioned, it’s treated as a top trim level.
Confused? You’re not alone. I was at first, but after a few days familiarizing myself with the Golf Sportwagen Alltrack (yes, it’s a mouthful) and its all-wheel-drive (AWD) capabilities in the Pacific Northwest, I’m ready to give you the goods.
The Alltrack is a more adventurous, off-road capable version of the regular Sportwagen (which can also be purchased with 4Motion AWD at a few thousand cheaper). What differentiates the Alltrack from the regular wagon is that it sits on 18-inch aluminum-alloy “Canyon” wheels and receives a ground clearance lift of 15 mm (1.4 inches). In addition, there’s a special off-road driving mode, but we will get into that later.
In terms of appearance, the Alltrack receives a custom front and rear bumper design that adds a little more flair to its makeup. The most notable change is a matte-aluminum low-profile radiator grille crossbar that extends into the wagon’s headlights, complementing the Alltrack badging radiating from its main grille.
At 180.24 inches long, the Alltrack resembles a goldendoodle dog, with a long body that extends to support all of its versatility. It may be long, but it’s still shorter and smaller than its soon-to-be main rival, the Subaru Outback, come October. The look of the wagon is rounded off by conventional roof racks that provide a silver shine and added ruggedness.
The interior of most Volkswagen products follows a simple formula: Comfortable sporty seating and a conservative design theme. The Alltrack is no different, with nothing flashy to see here. Volkswagen allows the car to be the star with an emphasis on comfort, starting with its leather sport seats with 12-way power adjustable driver controls and heating capabilities for the entire front row.
That comfort continues in the rear with ample head- and legroom for two adults. The middle seat is better suited for a child or a surfboard/snowboard that can be stowed using the centre pass-through. If more storage is needed, the Sportwagen Alltrack showcases its versatility with a total of 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded downward (30.4 cubic feet when the rear seats are in place).
Larger items such as a kayak, canoe or bike can be loaded onto the roof rails, as demonstrated by Volkswagen throughout this event. These cargo statistics trail the Outback and other crossovers, but Volkswagen feels the Alltrack provides more than enough for wagon consumers, and I would tend to agree.
For a fully-loaded vehicle, the Alltrack doesn’t have too many frills, but some nice touches that come standard are a panoramic sunroof, leather-wrapped gear shift and parking brake, and custom aluminum-look pedals that provide an elevated vibe.
The infotainment system in Volkswagen vehicles has been lacking for some time. The Alltrack, however, receives a slight improvement in infotainment with a more intuitive 6.5-inch touchscreen. It still possesses a weak navigation system that can at times confuse rather than assist, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be connected in order to sync your mobile device.
When you use the words “fully loaded,” you hope to receive everything in one package price. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the Alltrack, as you will need to add an extra $1,310 if you want the Driver Assistance package. We didn’t get to see any of these in action, but if technology aids are important to you, the package includes Front Assist Autonomous Emergency Braking, Park Assist (Parallel and Perpendicular), Park Distance Control, and Lane Assist.
There’s no surprise that under the hood is the standard 1.8-litre turbocharged direct-injected four-cylinder engine. It’s a staple in the Volkswagen lineup, but one that comes with its pros and cons. If power is your desire, you’ll not be enamoured by its 170 hp, especially when you try to power ahead of another before a lane merge. You can take my word for it.
But horsepower isn’t everything and the Alltrack’s torque numbers are respectable at 199 lb-ft at only 1,600 rpm. If you couple that with its smooth shifting electronically-controlled dual-clutch automatic transmission, the Golf Sportwagen Alltrack is as smooth as butter, most noticeably between 40 and 80 km/h.
Early next year, the United States will be receiving a six-speed manual transmission, but Canada will have to wait until maybe 2018 for the stick, and that’s not even a guarantee. The story our group heard was that more 2017 Alltracks could be produced for the country if they were all fitted with DSGs.
During the drive, we were able to challenge the Alltrack on both regular and unpaved roads. It’s here where the wagon exceeded expectations, with exceptional grip. Whether it was a sloping road or steep incline, the Alltrack powered ahead thanks mainly to three components: its firm, yet direct handling; its transmission, which always knew which gear to shift in to; and its stabilizing 4Motion AWD. For additional oomph, you can change the drive mode to Sport, adding longer gear stretches and plenty of engine noise.
If you scroll further through the drive mode settings, you’ll discover Off-Road—one of the characteristics that distinguishes the Alltrack from the regular Golf Sportwagen. It’s in this setting that the Alltrack puts its ground clearance to good use. But it’s much more than that, and we got to experience it on a small off-road setting on Bainbridge Island, a ferry ride west of Seattle.
A lot of automakers create certain driving modes, but in them, you don’t experience a significant change. That’s not the case with the Off-Road in the Alltrack, as there’s a lot going on when you start hitting those hilly paths, and you feel it instantly.
For starters, the system deactivates traction control, creating the ability for additional wheel spin when needed. In addition, the wagon is able to brake each wheel individually. All of those are impressive features, but the one that makes the biggest impact is hill descent, where the driver can take their foot off the brakes and let the system brake and control the wagon through some steep terrain. All you would need to do is control the steering wheel.
The technology is brilliant, but you still have to keep in mind that the Alltrack is no Jeep Wrangler. It’s still diminutive in size compared to those off-road warriors and other SUVs; in a nutshell, it comes with limitations. The wagon can come out to play with the big boys for a camping adventure where a few wheels need to be lifted in certain areas, but don’t be taking it on larger trails.
Even with this minor off-road course setup, the Alltrack got bogged down in a bumpy area due to the slow pace I was carrying. Unlike a true off-road vehicle, you will need to go a touch quicker in order to keep momentum up. Once you master that craft, the Alltrack will reward you with a clear path to safety.
As you might expect of an AWD vehicle, the Alltrack weighs 118 kg (260 lbs) more than the base Golf Sportwagen. You don’t feel the extra poundage on the drive, and Volkswagen has done a fine job in not making you feel it in the wallet either, with a fair fuel economy rating of 10.6 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 L/100 km on the highway.
With very few challengers in this segment, the Alltrack’s direct competitor may very well be the Outback. That said, you need to keep in mind that the Alltrack is considered a top trim of the Sportwagen, and it rings in at $35,295. If you’re not interested in off-roading, but still want the versatility and driving balance of a wagon, the Golf Sportwagen with AWD begins at $26,045 in the Trendline trim.
The $35K price tag is in the same range of the 3.6-litre Outback, which makes 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. That Outback already comes with a leather steering wheel and gear shift, as well as heated seats; the only thing that would need to be upgraded for $4K more would be leather seating.
Volkswagen has had a tumultuous year with Dieselgate, but it’s moving forward with product and the 2017 Golf Sportwagen Alltrack trim is the first to market.
The Alltrack has all the comfort and versatility of the regular Sportwagen with the added excitement of all-wheel-drive, a few unique design touches, and off-road capabilities. If you’re wanting something different from a typical SUV, all of that desired size is not lost on the Alltrack, and you’ll receive the daily bonus of enjoying Volkswagen’s exceptional handling and grip that many SUVs can only dream of.
As it always does, the purchase decision comes down to preference. And if you’re choosing between the Outback and the Alltrack trim, it may simply come down to ride height or driving prowess. Regardless of your preference, it’s nice to see that there are additional choices in the wagon department.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.