VW Golf Alltrack offers a wagonload of fun — but there's a price

The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack gives potential VW buyers a chance to go offroading. But the Alltrack may be a little too low-profile for U.S. buyers.

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI SE with 4Motion: A little SUV from Volkswagen? 

Price: $32,195 as tested. The only option was Alltrack S and SE Driver Assistance Package, which added adaptive cruise control, park distance control, and front assist with autonomous emergency braking, all for $845.

Marketer’s pitch: “Tread happily.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked the “enjoyable, refined driving dynamics, handsome looks,” but not the body cladding or price.

Reality: A little station wagon from Volkswagen.

 A matter of taste: Volkswagen has been pitching the all-new Golf Alltrack as a little Subaru-fighter geared for American tastes — with 4Motion all-wheel drive and the ability to traverse mountain streams with the best of them. 

Upon first entry in the Golf Alltrack, I fell in love — with the seats, with the interface, with the height. That can only mean two things: It’s not nearly a crossover, and it’s not going to rescue Volkswagen’s American sales.

My fellow Americans and I tend to disagree in automotive tastes; SUV sales are hot, while a station wagon or hatchback will have a tough time of it on this side of the Atlantic (0.9 percent of the total 2016 market, according to Edmunds.com). And those remain two of my favorite body styles, for both practicality and for looks — and the Golf Alltrack doesn’t disappoint fans of boxes like myself.

On the road: The Golf Alltrack incorporates the best handling components of German cars. Winding roads are a blast, and highways are a breeze. I confess I just had an absolute fun ride zipping along the four-lane highways around the Philadelphia region. The Golf Alltrack lets you rocket past cars whose operators may have just worn on your last nerve.

Up to speed: The 1.8-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder creates just 170 horsepower, but it’s enough to get the Golf Alltrack moving in a hurry — 0 to 60 in 7.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

Shifty: The six-speed automatic transmission robs some of the engine’s spunk, though. In shift mode, I found I had to knock it down to second gear just to get a good start on the entrance ramp. But that was only a minor nuisance; otherwise, the car had plenty of passing oomph on the highway.

Drive, Sport, and shift modes are also operated through the shift lever, as with other Volkswagens. I found Sport mode to run at far too high an RPM — it felt as if it were stuck in low gear or something. 

Driver’s Seat: The Marrakesh brown leatherette interior hearkens back to Volkswagen’s classic air-cooled Beetle years. Fortunately, this is in looks only; comfort is far superior than it was in the Beetle formerly known as Mr. Driver’s Seat’s. The Golf Alltrack’s seats have enough bolster to hold drivers in, but aren’t harsh.

Adjustment is unusual, for those uninitiated into the world of Volkswagen — the seat-back adjustment is power operated, but up-and-down and back-and-forth require human effort. A manual lumbar adjustment also surprises.

Play some tunes: The standard 6.5-inch touchscreen is small by today’s standards. Knobs control volume and tuning, and buttons change the source, so operation is extremely simple.

An equalizer helps fine-tune the sound, which ends up being really solid — about an A. The Fender stereo system kicks it.

Keep warm — and cool: Speaking of simple, the Golf Alltrack featured Volkswagen’s delightfully easy HVAC controls — knobs for temperature, fan speed, and blower location. Other automakers should offer this simplicity. 

Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers will also be under no illusion that they’re in a crossover or SUV, small or otherwise. Rear legroom is snug, although not terribly uncomfortable.

But that legroom is only for corner occupants. The center hump is tall and intrusive, so the center seat might be for car-seat occupants only. The console intrudes into center-passenger foot room fairly distinctly.

 Cargo space is 66.5 cubic feet with the rear seat folded, not bad for its size. 

Night shift: The headlights sit a tad low for clear nighttime vision. The interior lights provide a soft glow that doesn’t worsen the lighting situation up front.

Fuel economy: There’s a price to pay for all that fun. This little piggy went to Wawa — a lot. An average of 24 mpg is pitiful for a Golf station wagon.

Where it’s built: Puebla, Mexico. 

How it’s built: Those following Volkswagen reliability know Puebla can be the kiss of death. Consumer Reports puts the Golf Alltrack reliability on the “much worse than average” track.

In the end: If you like the kind of station wagon I like — and I expect you don’t — this is a worthy contender. But, ow, that fuel economy, and reliability.