Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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My friends are rubbish. All I wanted was someone to want to go to Ikea – transport and Swedish meatballs on me! Want a bookcase? Don’t you need a coffee table? What if I smash this one?

Somehow, stretching the Golf longitudinally makes its line appear sharper, cleaner, and cooler.

“But I have a wagon!!!”

Nope. Nobody. Not one. All I wanted to do was cart something long and flat in the spacious, 861 L of cargo space on offer. Better yet, something to fill the 1,883 L on offer when I fold down the rear seats.

Never mind, because driving the $38,385 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack was fun even without a mission to suit its practical body style.

First, the engine: 1.8 litres, four cylinders, one turbocharger, 170 hp, and 199 lb-ft of torque. It’s a peppy, eager little powerplant with a joyous, potent note that made me wonder if it was enhanced (It isn’t).

The mid-range of this unit is strong, and its responsiveness makes short work of the cut-and-thrust of downtown traffic. My morning commute involves a labyrinth of short interchanges, multi-angle intersections, and inconsiderate cabbies – all of which I dispatched with a ruthless efficiency befitting the German marque.

And the best bit? Six wonderful slots in which to place the completely manual gear lever. Clutch down, gear change, clutch up, smile. Clutch down, gear change, clutch up, smile.

Until traffic jams, that is: Clutch down, gear change, clutch up – nope, down again – wait, no, u–, oops, stall, cry.

I kid, of course. I didn’t stall. I did cry, but that’s par for the course on a Toronto commute.

Official fuel efficiency numbers for the manual come in at 11.1 / 7.8 / 9.6 L/100 km, city / highway / combined, while automatic trims of this Alltrack are rated at 10.7 / 8.0 / 9.4. Curiously, I finished my snowy, frigid week with an average of 9.4 L/100 km, despite throttle inputs and heaters sucking fuel. Well, heaters don’t suck fuel, but the extra idling does.

That solid-yet-smooth gearbox and its well-defined clutch are in this case connected to all four wheels via Volkswagen’s Alltrack all-wheel drive system. It is a front-wheel-based slip-and-grip system that is reluctant to put too much of the emphasis on the rear axle, but it is well balanced, especially in deep snow. The Cross Differential System is never really noticeable, but spends its time doling out torque to the wheels that need it, while holding it back from those that don’t.

If you want something that will let you do lurid power slides, get something rear-wheel-drive, or at least RWD-based. If you want an all-wheel drive system with a decent amount of balance that feels a lot like the FWD rigs you’re used to – stop here.

Handling-wise, the Alltrack is all Golf. Strong on ride comfort, high on compliance and great on handling, the same poised agility of the hatchback is readily apparent here. Road noise and wind noise was slightly higher than I expected, but road comfort was strong.

This is one of the best interiors on the market too. I have a friend who has now leased five Golfs in a row. Whenever he sits in something else, he decides the Golf has a nicer interior and just gets another Golf. I can see the point. The 12-way power-adjustable and heated seats are comfortable and supportive, the lighter-shade interiors are beautiful and tactile, even the smell is better than most of the Golf’s competitors.

The massive panoramic sunroof filled the cabin with light, and enhanced the already spacious sense of the interior. Keyless access, leather everything, dual-zone climate control plus the 115V power supply are all standard.

You can get things like adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking, automatic high-beams, park assist, blind-spot alert, lane assist and a back-up camera – but you need to select the $1,750 Driver Assistance Package box to do so. Our tester was fitted with that, and the only other option, a $795 Light package that adds dynamic cornering lights, LED headlamps, and headlight range adjustment.

On the subject of rear-view cameras, Volkswagen has perhaps the most winter-perfect back-up camera on the market. It’s cleverly concealed behind the VW badge on the tailgate, protecting it from snow, rain, muck, bird poop, or your ex’s spray-paint revenge. In any and all conditions, when you reverse in a Volkswagen, you do it with a clear view from the camera. It’s not new, but that doesn’t make it any less cool.

About the only thing you can’t get – and one I sorely miss – is a heated steering wheel. Dear Volkswagen: It’s cold. My hands are cold. Give me heat, please. Love, Jacob.

Did I mention the infotainment? Volkswagen’s system is one of the best on the market, and in fact puts its more expensive Porsche and Audi stablemates to shame. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is rich in colour and features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Large, easy-to-reach touchscreen buttons are complemented by hard buttons, plus knobs for volume and tuning control. The SiriusXM channels can display a range of information including now playing, which I find really valuable. Especially when I want to know which channels to skip over. No Maddie, we are not listening to Shake It Off again.

Aesthetically, the Alltrack is counter-intuitive. Given that I criticize the Golf for being too pedestrian in styling, you’d think that a station wagon variant would be even more “brown trousers”. But it isn’t. Somehow, stretching the Golf longitudinally makes its line appear sharper, cleaner, and cooler. Fair to say the standard 18-inch alloys help in that regard.

Personally, I would list the 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack as my pick of the non-R Golf lineup. But it comes at a price. If your eyes land on this side of the equation, think carefully about whether all-wheel drive is important to you. If not, maybe the Golf Sportwagen is a better option. It starts at $24,195 versus $34,345 for the Alltrack – albeit at lower trim levels. If you want the same equipment, the difference between a Highline Sportwagen and the Alltrack is only $1,900.

But wait, there’s more! If you don’t need to cart big things very often – and none of your friends want to come with you to Ikea anyway – you probably don’t need a wagon. In that case, the regular hatchback Golf might be a better, less costly, easier-to-park option.

For me though: I dream of trips to Ikea on treacherous snow-filled nights – in a manual, turbo wagon.

Engine Displacement 1.8L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 170 hp
Peak Torque 199 lb-ft
Fuel Economy 11.1/7.8/9.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 861/1,883 L seats down
Model Tested 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
Base Price $34,345
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,645
Price as Tested $38,635
Optional Equipment
$2,545 – Light package $795; Driver Assistance Package $1,750