Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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If you’d rather lick a bug zapper than drive a beige crossover like everybody and their uncle, VW has your back. As an alternative to a “me too” crossover, the German automaker has just tripled the number of AWD wagon options from which wagon fans shoppers may now choose. Once occupied almost exclusively by the Subaru Outback, the AWD wagon segment now includes the available Golf Sportwagen AWD, and the backwoodsy new Golf AllTrack, which is heavily based on it.

If you’re a cold-blooded Canadian longing for a handsome and rugged station wagon with AWD, VW has just done you a solid.

Here’s your German anti-crossover: the AllTrack is a Golf SportWagen with a mild suspension lift, some rugged body cladding, unique cosmetics, and all-wheel drive (AWD) for traction like a crossover, but in a package that rides and functions like a car. It’s built to scratch the itch of shoppers after space, grip, versatility and ruggedness, all on offer in a vehicle that’s unique and upscale and styled to stand out in a sea of crossovers. If you’re a cold-blooded Canadian longing for a handsome and rugged station wagon with AWD, VW has just done you a solid.

Best bit? A manual transmission, apparently, is en route for both of VW’s new AWD wagons, in the not-so-distant future. Know who drives AWD wagons with a manual transmission? Total bosses, that’s who.

The AllTrack is easy to get in and out of. You drop down into it, rather than sliding over, or up. The cargo area load floor sits around knee height, making it easier to load certain types of gear, and certain types of canines. There’s room galore for an average-sized family of five, or four big adults, and their things.

Front seats are comfortable, seeing both occupants surrounded by adequate space in all directions, and provided with numerous at-hand storage facilities nearby, including deep, wide and carpeted luxury door pockets. Rear seats are adult friendly with adequate room for two of average size, or three kids. Said rear seating provisions are easily accessed without undue gymnastics, though headroom tightens up fairly quickly for taller folks.

The cargo hold is wide, flat, largely square to the edges, and easily jammed full of gear. Small rear corner pockets are perfect to keep a jug of washer fluid in place, and when needed, rear seatbacks fold nearly full-flat with a tug on a lever in the cargo area. Alltrack’s cargo capacity measurement is in the ballpark of many a small crossover. There’s a small under-floor storage area above the spare tire provisions, accessed by a lift-away floor panel that cleverly doubles as a folding cargo divider to partition the cargo hold, as needed. There are roomier machines available for the money, but the AllTrack’s thoughtful and cleverly executed cargo bay should impress nonetheless. Need more room? The adventuresome looks of this machine seem to beg for an accessory roof box or ski rack.

The ride is sportier than you’d think, characterized by a healthy slab of stiffness beneath a thin layer of softness to the dampers. Some will find the ride stiff, and your writer found AllTrack to feel more luxury sports sedan than burrito truck, even calling the ride of something like the Audi A4 S-Line to mind at times. Here’s a wagon that’ll connect nicely with shoppers after an elevated level of responsiveness and handling.

The AllTrack feels light on its feet, as well. In Normal drive mode, the steering is one-finger light, and quick in ratio, even more so at lower speeds. It moves with ease through parking lots and city traffic, and feels relaxed but eager to respond, directionally, on the highway. While there, noise levels disappointed slightly – particularly from the factory Continental tires. I had to raise my voice, just a smidge, to have a conversation with a nearby passenger. Further, the rich and upscale look to much of the cabin makes the higher-than-expected noise levels tougher to swallow.

Said cabin as a distinctively upscale VW flair to it: elegant, simple, sophisticated, very nicely built, and flaunting quite the styling theme.

Where the Subaru Outback’s cabin design seems more cluttered and disorganized, thanks to numerous interfaces and consoles and displays showcasing different themes and colors and fonts, AllTrack’s cabin boasts more premium materials, styling elements that all tie in and play off one another, and controls that are better integrated with their surroundings.

The central command interface is notable, too. AllTrack offers Android Auto, vivid graphics, fast responses, logical menu structures, and even proximity sensors that activate a cluster of additional on-screen controls only when your fingers approach.

So, a great cabin, and a techy one, but you do pay for it.

At writing, the AllTrack came in a single trim grade priced around $35,000. My tester included two optional packages (Driver Assist and Light and Sound package), making it a tick over $38,000. That’s hefty for a four-cylinder wagon, even if it has self-parking capability, a Fender stereo, and some of the best headlights in the business.

Apparently, lower-cost versions of the AllTrack are incoming, if that’s your thing. Offer me one of these with a six-speed stick and no radar safety gizmos for $34,000 or so, and I’d trade my Forester in tomorrow.

Under the hood? A 1.8L turbo four-cylinder, with 170 horsepower and the better part of 200 lb-ft of torque. It’s liquid smooth, quiet and pleasingly responsive from very low revs: a torque-rich engine that’s happy to glide through city traffic all but noiselessly, and without breaking about 1,800 rpm. Hammer down, and full torque is dispatched fast, as the shapeless power curve keeps things hustling along with admirable and consistent urgency, and little more than a restrained hum seeping in from the engine room. This engine impresses more with low-rev effortlessness and torque, less with all-out firepower.

The VW Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission adds to the smoothness of this driveline, since you can’t really ever feel it shift, though it does shift, quickly and precisely, at all times. Ultimately, here’s an impressive driveline where refinement is concerned.

Other notes?

The adaptive cruise control system functions as well as the best I’ve ever used. It’s intuitive, smooth, seamless and nearly invisible, while responding quickly and consistently, at all times, and never getting startled or missing a beat during nearly 18 hours of highway driving. It works as well as the systems in thrice-the-price luxury flagships, as I know them.

Next, the dual-xenon fired headlamps helped keep my eyes fresh and alert, thanks to reduced straining, even hours into a late-night drive. Best of all, engagement of the high-beams doesn’t affect the lighting in your foreground: click the brights, and more light is added to the road far ahead, with nothing lost just ahead of the car.

Maneuverability is top notch. The turning circle is small enough to pull a 180 on a two-lane road in a single maneuver, provided you can take just a bit of the shoulder. The ultra-light low-speed steering and wide-angle, high-resolution back-up camera ease tight-quarters movement, and since the back-up camera hangs out in a sealed space behind the trunk emblem, it’s always clean when you need it.

Finally, should you hit the road less travelled, the off-road mode puts the AWD system on high alert for signs of slippage, and the added ground clearance reduces the likelihood of playing oil-pan roulette when the terrain gets craggy. You won’t be following any 4Runners too far into the woods, but the added confidence should prove easy to appreciate on a rough camp road or trail.

Note that on rough surfaces, and especially paved ones, the AllTrack feels remarkably dense, solid and durable, with absolutely no detectable body flex. You can feel the rigidity of the new body structure over every bump mogul and pothole. Numerous passengers even commented on the solid feel to the doors, tailgate, and the like.

Gripes? The driver computer screen’s pixelated, single-colour readout looks a little low-budget next to the vivid central command touchscreen interface, and on even a moderately rough trail, the AllTrack feels more solid and durable than it sounds, since the suspension can get noisy as rougher trail surfaces pass beneath.

End of the day, here’s a unique alternative to a common crossover driving experience, in a pricey but compelling package that’ll easily scratch the itch to stand out, enjoy a great cabin, a great driveline, tremendous versatility, and a downright handsome and rugged look. If those attributes are on your new-vehicle wishlist, the AllTrack is worthy of a close look.

Engine Displacement 1.8L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 170 hp @ 4,650–6,250 rpm
Peak Torque 185 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy 10.6/8.0/9.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 861 L
Model Tested 2017 Volkswagen Golf AllTrack
Base Price $35,295
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $40,110
Optional Equipment
$2,920 – Driver Assistance Package $1,310; Light and Sound Package $1,610