A VW Golf That Can Handle Light Off-Roading
Americans love crossover sport-utility vehicles, which had been a bit a problem for Volkswagen. While most full-line automakers had several crossover SUVs to choose from, VW had just two; the small Tiguan and the larger, now discontinued, Touareg. To plug the gap until the three-row Atlas arrived, the German automaker came up with the Golf Alltrack for the 2017 model year.
And just what is the Golf Alltrack? In a nutshell, the Alltrack is a made-over Golf SportWagen that has been slightly lifted, butched up with some body cladding, and includes VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system along with more standard content.
Sound familiar? That’s pretty much what Subaru did with the then Legacy wagon in 1994, morphing it into the Subaru Outback and calling it a “sport-utility wagon.” They haven’t looked back since.
The 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack has been redesigned, mainly focused on lighting elements. All models get LED taillights, and the top-level SEL gets LED running and headlights. Otherwise, the Alltrack’s design is the same as the debut model.
It’s unlikely that the Golf Alltrack will come close to matching the Outback’s sales numbers, but Volkswagen has high hopes that it can lure some customers from Subaru. To accomplish that, the Golf Alltrack is offered in three trim levels—S, SE and SEL. Each is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine capable of making 170 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 199 pounds-feet of torque coming on at just 1,600 rpm. Standard is a six-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission offered as an option for $1,100.
Fuel economy isn’t exactly a glowing star with the EPA saying you’ll get 30-mpg on the highway/22 city/25 combined. That 30-mpg highway, however, does earn the Golf Alltrack entry into Clean Fleet Report’s 30-mpg All-Wheel Drive Club. By comparison, the Alltrack can’t quite match the Subaru Outback’s 32-mpg highway.
The least expensive Alltrack S, $25,995 plus $850 destination charge, with a six-speed manual transmission, has an arm’s length of standard features. They include 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels; faux-leather upholstery; heated front seats, side mirrors and windshield-washer nozzles; eight-way power driver’s seat; rearview camera and a 6.5-inch touch-screen infotainment system with AM/FM/CD player/HD Radio/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The standard Car-Net system works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone apps.
A step up to either the mid-level SE ($29,765) or the SEL ($35,660) models get a new, larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with flush-mounted hard buttons on either side. The display is quick to respond to inputs and uses a proximity function to hide many of the controls until it detects a hand approaching. A Driver Assistance package bundles forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and park-distance.
Looks A Lot Like the SportsWagen
A side-by-side comparison of the 2018 Golf Alltrack with the 2018 SportsWagen revels that the exterior changes do give the Alltrack a tougher look. Up front, the Alltrack gets a matte black mesh grille, a different bumper with an underbody guard and standard LED daytime running lights. Black cladding has been added along the wider door sills and wheel arches, protecting the body from stray rocks and other projectiles kicked up along the dusty trail. Even the wheels exude a rugged yet sporty appearance. The rear of the Alltrack is now treated with LED taillights, a revised bumper and dual exhaust outlets. Ground clearance is also greater than the SportsWagen, growing from 5.5 inches to 6.9 inches.
Look up and you’ll notice standard silver roof rails. VW offers an array of roof-mounted “attachment kits” for the Alltrack that will help outdoor enthusiasts haul bicycles, skis, snowboards and even a kayak.
On the inside, the Alltrack nearly mimics the SportWagen, but distinguishes itself from its sibling with aluminum-look pedals and kickplates with exclusive Alltrack branding. Like most Volkswagens, the cabin is sensibly designed and ergonomically friendly with a clean and uncluttered dashboard. The gauge cluster is simple and easy to read, with two main dials for ground and engine speed and two smaller gauges for engine temp and fuel level. Controls for climate and audio are easy to see and use.
Like all Volkswagen Golf models, the Alltrack’s front seats are supportive and there’s an adjustable center armrest that does double-duty as a console lid. The glove box even has a cooling feature. Space in the front seats is just fine, but the rear seats are a little tight in shoulder and headroom. Legroom of 35.6-inches, however, is adequate for those over six-foot.
Although Americans tend to dismiss station wagons, we can all appreciate their versatility for carrying stuff. The 2018 Alltrack boasts more than 30 cubic feet of room with the rear seats up, and 66.5 with them folded. That’s more than some small crossover SUVs. The rear hatch opens nice and high, but you won’t find a power-operated option as you will on many small SUVs.
Driving the Golf Alltrack
Without a raised seating position or a tall roof, the 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack feels not even a little like a crossover SUV. The lift amounts to just 1.4 inches, and most of that comes from taller wheels and tires, though VW says the Alltrack does have longer springs and dampers.
More important is the upgraded powertrain. Volkswagen knows how to wring every last ounce of pleasure from a turbocharged engine. As for the Alltrack, VW married the base Golf’s turbo four with the Golf R’s driveline. That means the dual-clutch automatic transmission has an electronically controlled clutch that manages the front-to-rear torque split. The computer can apply the brakes individually to direct torque to the left- or right-side wheels on either axle.
VW’s 4Motion four-wheel-drive system powers the front wheels, saving fuel, until a loss of traction is detected, after which it can send 50 percent of the power rearward. Driving modes include normal, sport, custom and off-road. Manual gear selection can be made through paddle shifters on the steering wheel or manipulating the shift lever in the center console.
Around town, the suspension tuning favored comfort, giving me a silken ride quality. The car glided over bumps in the road and soaked up harshness like a mechanical sponge. It was compact enough to slot into urban parking lots, comfortable and spacious enough to carry three friends and their gear to the airport.
The engine itself was free-revving, low on noise, and got the Alltrack up to speed swiftly enough that I didn’t find myself wanting it to pick up the pace. The invigorating engine easily pushed the Alltrack and happily drank regular unleaded while doing so.
On the highway, the suspension competently ironed out pothole-ridden stretches and offered a comfortable cruise on smooth portions. Refinement was typical Volkswagen—civilized. There were low levels of wind noise, though on some surfaces road rumble made its way into the cabin. On occasion, I picked up the under-hood signature of the turbo as it spooled up.
The 2018 Vollkswagen Golf Alltrack was fun to throw into corners, and its steering firmed up nicely after initial softness at lower speeds. While body roll did make its presence known, a combination of light and precise steering, beefy brakes and a taut chassis gave me a sense of confidence.
I didn’t test our Allroad SE on terribly rugged off-road terrain, but I did find the sort of rutted, muddy, slippery and generally boggy trails that can give two-wheel drive cars, as well as some all-wheel drive vehicles, a headache. On slick surfaces that varied from loose gravel to sloppy mud washes, the 4Motion system kept up with conditions, giving the Alltrack a secure feel. Using the Off Road setting, the AWD system aptly put power to the wheel where it was needed, and the built-in hill-descent control helped ease the car down steeper grades.
When I handed the Golf Alltrack back to Volkswagen, the odometer showed we had driven 213 miles, including city, highway and freeway driving plus our off-road excursion. As for fuel economy, we were spot on with the EPA’s 24 mpg combined rating.
In the Marketplace
Our test 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, the SE with manual, wore a sticker price of $30,615 including the $820 destination charge. That’s comparable to its direct competition, a Subaru Outback that is well-equipped and also powered by a four-cylinder engine.
Unlike the Outback, the Alltrack offers a manual transmission and comes standard with a turbocharged engine. However, the slightly larger Outback offers more ground clearance for improved off-road capability, has more interior space and earns better fuel economy. The Outback also offers an optional stout six-cylinder engine.
The 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is worth a long hard look if you’re shopping for a small utility vehicle that is fun to drive and has some off-road moxie on backcountry roads. However, the Subaru Outback is tough to beat. Plus, these two aren’t the only carmakers betting on this formula. Volvo’s V60 comes in Cross Country flavor, while Audi thinks that the A4 Allroad will whet your appetite. If none of these are your cup of tea, the more traditional crossovers such as Honda’s CR-V and Toyota’s RAV4 may best meet your needs.
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