Test Drive: 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Alltrack

What’s in a name? A name could tell you a lot about a vehicle: a name can be powerful and elicit emotion, tell a story or represent a way of life or culture. Or in the case of the 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Alltrack... it could just be thirty-two letters that mash together to make a super long name that needs explanation.

Thirty-two letters that mash together to make a super long name that needs explanation.

When asked what vehicle I was driving, I replied, “a Golf,” because I like to be short and sweet for the most part. Then I had to clarify, because really, that was shortchanging this new model. The SportWagen portion instantly tells more of a story to my listener: “Oh it’s a wagon? Cool!”

No, it’s actually a “Wagen” (though there was the 2015 SportWagon). It’s one of the few choices of compact cars on the market today that offer all-wheel drive in every trim. That means you can get yourself into an all-wheel-drive “wagen” for the low starting price of $26,045.

But the “Alltrack” is probably the most important piece of the puzzle to a lot of shoppers these days: on top of the features offered in the high-end Highline trim, the Alltrack adds body cladding, selectable drive modes (Normal / Sport / Custom / Offroad) – and an all-important 15 mm increase in ride height that allows it to brush up against the lucrative crossover category. It’s the most-loaded level of SportWagen available on the Canadian market, with an MSRP of just over $38,000. It’s certainly not inexpensive, but it does offer a lot of features and a lot of car for the money.

All 4Motion all-wheel-drive SportWagens are powered equally: a 170 hp 1.8L four-cylinder TSI engine mated to VW’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic DSG with Tiptronic. The front-wheel-drive SportWagen features the same engine but is equipped with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed regular automatic, leaving the dual-clutch transmission solely for those who choose 4Motion.

Back to my tester and its equipment: starting at the Highline trim at $33,795, the Alltrack builds upon an already loaded foundation. Standard items include: 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, cruise control, back-up camera, leather sport seats, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless access with push button start and much more.

In addition to the long list of standard features, my tester was optioned with the driver assistance package which adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, park assist and park distance control (PDC); as well as the light and sound package which adds bi-xenon headlights with adaptive front light system (AFS), Fender premium audio with eight speakers plus subwoofer and LED signature daytime running lights. Having all these features in a solidly built vehicle certainly blurs the line between luxury make and “the people’s car”.

But enough trim and spec babble, let’s see how it all comes together.

From where I sit, the interior of the Golf Sportwagen is one and the same as the regular Golf and that’s a good thing. If I’m totally honest, I was never a huge fan of the Golf, but its recent redesign has swayed me. I drove the 2016 Volkswagen Jetta a few months back and it really impressed me with its improvements and level of refinement and the 2017 Golf SportWagen is no different. Although not the most exciting of interiors, Volkswagen offers an elegant timeless design that is stark but classy.

The current-generation infotainment system is a joy to use, one of the best in the industry – especially impressive considering its predecessor was one of the worst. It is easy to use, is quick and responsive and clear and easy to read.

The little quirks are still there, like the fact that it took me a few trips to figure out how to get to the trip indicator. But other interface quibbles have been resolved, like the complicated cruise control switch now replaced with buttons directly on the steering wheel.

The leather sport seats are comfortable, though a little on the hard side. Notably, they can be darn cold in the morning – thankfully the seat heaters work quickly and lean on the literal side of “toasty” if you leave them on high.

Another interesting quirk: the SportWagen comes with an old-school manual handbrake rather than the electronic handbrake now found in most Volkswagen vehicles.

Interior cargo volume for the Golf SportWagen is 860 L with the seats down and 1,880 L with the rear seats folded. The “Wagen” is truly massive and with a large-opening rear tailgate and 60/40 folding seats activated by pull handles in the cargo area, your haul from the big box store will catch everyone by surprise.

Of course, day in and day out, the important bit is what it feels like from the driver’s seat, and – spoiler alert – my praise does not end here.

On the road, the SportWagen is low on road noise and engine noise. At highway speed, the tachometer sits just above 2,500 rpm thanks to the six-speed DSG transmission. Once up to speed, if you turn the radio off and concentrate you can hear some wind noise, but it is minimal.

Around town, you do hear the engine rumble a little on acceleration but it happens briskly and it is a pleasing sound. The turbo kicks in quite early in the rev band and power is smooth and effortless to get you up to speed or to pass. The chassis feels very stiff yet the ride is compliant and smooth; this car really is a joy to drive, whether casually or aggressively. However, the fun factor that the DSG brings is dampened due to the lack of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Even though the Alltrack is equipped with off-road suspension, it handles remarkably well and can perform well beyond the capabilities of the average driver. The brakes are similarly well-behaved, with no drama and good feel.

After travelling over 400 km over the course of the week I managed to achieve a respectable 8.7 L/100 km with the Golf SportWagen. One has to remember this is an all-wheel-drive vehicle so it does have a penalty in terms of fuel economy, but achieving under 9.0 L/100 km is still good in my books.

Overall, the SportWagen delivers both practicality and excitement rolled up into a maneuverable package. With SUVs and CUVs lining the landscape, the SportWagen stands out as the more practical and efficient solution – and more fun to drive!

2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen AllTrack
Engine Displacement: 1.8L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 170 hp @ 4,560–6,250 rpm
Peak Torque: 199 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,440 rpm
Fuel Economy: 10.6/8.0/9.4 (L/100km, cty/hwy/cmb)
Cargo Space: 860 / 1880 (L, rear seats up/down)
2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen AllTrack
Base Price $35,295
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,625
Price as Tested $39,790
Optional Equipment $2,770 – Driver Assistance Package $1,310; Light and Sound Package $1,460
Optional Equipment
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
9 Quality
8 Comfort
9 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
9 Features
7 Value