By BJ Killeen and Ron Moorhead
Volkswagen has been in the news a lot lately, and as you know, it hasn’t been all good. We can fill you in on the business side when you read our Volkswagen Full Line Preview story, but here is where we’re going to focus strictly on reviewing the all-new 2017 VW Golf Alltrack, an AWD (or 4MOTION, in VW’s case) wagon that’s taking on the Subaru Outback in full force.
While manufacturers are turning their backs on wagons in favor of CUVs and SUVs, VW’s game plan is to continue to offer them alongside its sport utes. We — along with many other enthusiasts — are thrilled with that decision. VW has offered a SportWagen in its lineup for years, and fairly recently switch it from a Jetta moniker to the Golf nameplate. Why a wagon? They offer virtually the same amount of cargo capacity as a CUV/SUV, easily fit in a garage, plus have a sportier driving feel because of a lower center of gravity. Fuel economy advantages also drive home the wagon-versus-SUV comparison. The Golf Alltrack does an excellent job of delivering capability, great ride and handling on or off road, decent looks, and a good value.
Volkswagen does an excellent job of brand identification in its designs. You easily recognize the Alltrack as a VW by virtue of its sloping hood, gently raked windshield, large VW logo and sporty lower fascia. The Alltrack stands apart from the regular Golf SportWagen because it rides about a half inch higher for off-road ground clearance. The bumper has been redesigned for a more aggressive, rugged look, and there’s underbody protection when the rocks and trees start attacking from below. A matte aluminum trim piece in the lower fascia throw attention to the standard foglamps, and adds a nice touch of contrast to the dark honeycomb grille.
From the side, the Alltrack features standard roof rails, but they are so subtle they blend into the roof shape seamlessly. There’s more body cladding on the side than on the regular SportWagen, and 17- or 18-inch wheels round out the package, depending on trim. In back, the dark red taillights look great, and an aluminum trim piece below the bumper matches the front-end trim. Overall it looks smart and stylish.
We mentioned Subaru in the title because that’s this vehicle’s direct competitor: the Outback. And while the Outback has a loyal band of followers, most of them have no other option, so it’s always back to Subaru for the same model. With the Alltrack on the market, buyers now have a choice. One huge difference between the two is the roof. While the Subaru has a roof rack height of 5 feet 6 inches, the Alltrack’s is only 4 feet 11 inches, making it so much easier to put your bike or kayak on top.
Another advantage to Alltrack is that it has more standard features than the Outback. A great example is a rear-seat pass through. While both vehicles have 60/40 split-fold rear seats, the Alltrack gives you the pass-through option so you can still have four people in the vehicle and the skis, fishing poles, etc. The aforementioned foglamps also are standard here, but optional on Outback.
There are three trims for Alltrack: S, SE, and SEL. We drove the S and SEL, and both come nicely equipped. The Alltrack S features standard leatherette seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats with power recline, and 6.3-inch capacitive touchscreen. We singled these out because these are more competitive advantages over the Outback.
The Alltrack’s instrumentation is familiar to Golf, and is easy to read and use. The seats were supportive albeit a bit stiff (German driving and all), but the fit and finish and quality of materials are impressive and expected in a Volkswagen.