Review: The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack swings at a growing niche and hits the nail on the head

We take the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack right into the heart of its ideal market: Vermont.

What is it?

In a market saturated with crossovers of all sizes, the wagon has seemingly disappeared into the background. Buyers are after car-based SUVs. And just as we thought wagons are dead, several automakers reintroduced some new long-roof offerings, indicating otherwise. Volkswagen is one of those automakers, and they just recently introduced a new version of the Golf Sportwagen. It’s called the Golf Alltrack. It follows Audi’s allroad recipe of increasing ground clearance and beefing-up the undergarments to make a more versatile vehicle. Given how I find myself as part of the ideal demographic and potential buyer base of the Alltrack, Volkswagen offered us one for review.

The US outdoor industry comprises of $887 billion of consumer spending annually. Part of it involves the National Park system managing over 420 sites spread over 84 million acres where humans can indulge in outdoor activities. Americans certainly didn’t invent the concept of having fun in the wild. But they’ve done their hardest to make it accessible to all. Ranging from $25-35K, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is for those longing for the European ‘everything’ wagon. This includes your recreational climbers, campers, anglers, bikers, hikers, skiers, hunters, backpackers, geocachers, and many others, just to name a few.

Comparisons to Subaru’s offerings are inevitable, but the VW offers a different experience. Playing over the mountains and through the valleys of Vermont, the white VW sticks out despite its attractive but subtle lines. This clearly proves it’s not a ‘Subie. So Volkswagen stands a solid chance of making a dent in the Outback/Crosstrek market. Here’s why.

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2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Specifications

Style: Compact Wagon Crossover
Seating Capacity: Five passengers
Base Price: $25,850
Price As Tested: $35,705
Engine: 1.8L DOHC TSI EA888 turbocharged and intercooled 16-valve I4 with direct injection – 170hp @ 4500 rpm; 199 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic (six-speed manual opt.) with 4MOTION part-time all-wheel drive
0-60 MPH: 7.5 seconds
Top Speed: 129 MPH (electronically-limited)
Curb Weight: 3,499lbs
Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Combined): 22 / 30 / 25 mpg w/ 13.2 gal. tank

Desired features:

Like either Subaru wagon option, it has desirable features that the typical New Englander finds superfluous. The Alltrack brings an alternative to the table and it (mostly) avoids fluffing up the insides with things that functionally-minded people don’t quite need. But the Alltrack does have 7.5 inches of functional, ground clearance. Couple that with part-time 4MOTION all-wheel-drive, lane keeping assist, radar-guided cruise control and virtually continuous plastic skid plates underneath, and it’s easy to tell this Golf means business.

Over a weekend filled with torrential rain, the car trounced steep class IV, unpaved and hardly maintained single-lane thoroughfares. Water bars, intermittent streams, and soft surfaces presented no challenge. Riding 1.2″ higher than the standard Golf Sportwagen, the Alltrack can reach trailheads, portage sites, and rugged camps where a Sportwagen, or even a standard Subaru Impreza couldn’t even dream of. It does everything a Crosstrek or an Outback sets out to do in terms of four-season off-road abilities.

The rear seats fold flat and cargo space is down only by seven cubic inches to the Outback’s. That makes camping out in the boot a possibility for those wanting to get a head-start on their outing. Though seemingly obvious things you’d expect to find in an outdoorsy vehicle, like one-liter Nalgene bottle-compatible cup holders, are non-existent. Thankfully, there’s other apparent attention to detail, such as the inclusion of rubber floor mats that extend up the rear seat backs. So there’s no guilt in popping the seats down and throwing a moistened mountain bike or two in the back.

The infotainment system with the Fender speaker package sounds great for all occupants. The memory-based nav interface is intuitive and the touch screen offers near-smartphone levels of responsiveness. Apple CarPlay works as advertised, making porting communications, navigation, and audio seamless.

What makes an outdoor lifestyle wagon have human qualities:
Photo provided by Volkswagen Americas

On long trips, our testers varied in size and all occupants confirmed their love of both the front and rear seats. This is something that Subaru continuously failed to gain our trust on for decades. In the VW, aspirin is not required before or after 50 miles. Subaru’s interiors have grown up by leaps and bounds, but VW dabbles in the Audi parts bin. That sets the tone for the rest of the experience and nails it on the head. Warm-blooded humans can enjoy the soft touch surfaces abound. Wheelie-bin plastic is smartly shunned to areas that are lacking in finger trafficking.

Photo provided by Volkswagen Americas

Outside of a WRX or a BRZ, Subaru’s line is not driver-focused—including the CVT-only Outback. The Alltrack offers six-speed transmissions in either manual or dual-clutch DSG flavors. But the best detail of them all: the center console is angled towards the driver, reminding me of my love for drivers’ cars like vintage BMWs. Equipped with the DSG, our tester was at times indecisive regarding shift points. But 90% of the time, the Drive, Sport, and Manual modes worked as you’d imagine them to. Whether the piece of meat at the controls wishes to relax on the way back home, or fire the car around hairpins up mountain passes with quick, sonorous, perfectly blipped downshifts, the ‘veedub abides.

At 3,400 lbs, the Alltrack is heavier than the Outback by 100-300 lbs, depending upon configuration. The Subaru’s suspension setup is honest about its gravel road focus, while the VW throws out its chest, providing positive feedback when wound tightly on a paved surface. The Alltrack is not flummoxed by buckling tarmac and offers more than adequate suspension travel. But when presented with a washboard dirt road or loose gravel, its suspension becomes incandescent—writhing around like an angry child does after it has projected its cereal onto the nearest wall. It’s not unusable, just an irritation compared to decades of dirt road brilliance from Subaru.

What this car can’t do:

The reliable Subaru Outback is oddly classified as a truck by the EPA. It can tow 2,700 lbs and gets slightly lower fuel economy. The EPA on the other hand, classifies the Alltrack as a car, especially one not set up for towing. This obviously results in the Alltrack offering better economy. Our copy of the VW had electrical issues. The infotainment system opted for a career change for six hours that didn’t involve electricity, an issue dating back to 2014. To add, three of the four lights on the front of the car chose to take in water on a particularly rainy weekend. Both issues suggest Volkswagen might have some issues with quality-control oversight.

Conclusions:

The Outback and the Alltrack are priced similarly. The Outback caters to an interesting range of beings: those that are so outdoor-biased, they barely know the inside of their car. Then, there’s those that long for the L.L. Bean catalog for needlessly impulsive buys, for the two day outings they experience out of the 365 days in the year.

For us humans, there’s really only one choice–the Alltrack. After a multi-day cold and wet slog of a backpacking trip, the VW was a welcome sanctuary of durable and attractive surfaces. Its heated seats, available on all trim levels, were much appreciated given that they heat up in under two minutes. It’s easy to glide your way home, or continue to seek thrills in the twisty bits. Yarding on the car produces an enjoyable noise and loading the suspension up is thoroughly satisfying. Until Buick joins the party with their Regal TourX and others follow suit, the Alltrack is proof that the wagon segment has a ever-growing pulse.

– By: Sawyer Sutton


2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Breakdown

Pros

Cons

·         Excellent compromise of comfortable and fun-to-drive handling combined with remarkable off-road capability ·         The ride can be stiff on some of the rougher surfaces
·         Comforting, functional, and smartly designed interior ·         Some minor reliability issues
·         Still offers a manual ·         Cup holders can’t hold water cans that outdoorsy people love
Would I recommend one? Yes. The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack provides a hugely compelling alternative to the Subaru Outback and Crosstrek lot. The Golf Sportwagen is already an excellent automobile all around and the Alltrack finds itself in a niche where it clearly has the potential to sway many buyers its way.

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Gallery

Photos Copyright 2017 © Sawyer Sutton  for egmCarTech.


18 inch winter wheels original VW Passat 3G B8 Alltrack Kalmata Rims DOT: 3715 picture
18 inch winter wheels original VW Passat 3G B8 Alltrack Kalmata Rims DOT: 3715
2015+ VW Base Carrier Bars & Cargo Box for ALLTRACK & SPORTWAGEN ***NEW OEM*** picture
2015+ VW Base Carrier Bars & Cargo Box for ALLTRACK & SPORTWAGEN ***NEW OEM***
BBS Wheels CI-R 8.5x20 ET32 5x112 PLATSIL for VW Passat Passat Alltrack Phaeton picture
BBS Wheels CI-R 8.5x20 ET32 5x112 PLATSIL for VW Passat Passat Alltrack Phaeton
VOLKSWAGEN 2015 2016 2017 GOLF dashboard AIR BAG alltrack sportwagon black picture
VOLKSWAGEN 2015 2016 2017 GOLF dashboard AIR BAG alltrack sportwagon black
BBS Wheels CI-R 8.5x20 ET32 5x112 PLATSIL for VW Passat Passat Alltrack Phaeton picture
BBS Wheels CI-R 8.5x20 ET32 5x112 PLATSIL for VW Passat Passat Alltrack Phaeton

Sawyer Sutton

Sawyer Sutton is a long-time Vermonter and lover of cars, big machinery, and photography. These are his words on cars as Senior Editor of egmCarTech.

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