REVIEW: 2017 VW Golf Alltrack S – The Subaru Outback’s New Peer, Or Something Else?

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The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack looks familiar to any Subaru Outback owner in VW advertisements, but it has its own personality.

What is it? 

The 2017 Golf Alltrack is a wagon that skirts the line between midsize and compact by today’s size standards. Although it will most certainly be cross-shopped against the Subaru Outback, this new Golf Alltrack has a very different vibe – and size. It is marketed as an “all-road” and “all-weather” vehicle, though it falls in between a wagon and a crossover in terms of road clearance.

Pricing and trims

The Golf Alltrack comes in three trims, starting with the S at $27,770 (our tester), moving up to the better-equipped SE for $31,350 and ending with the fully-equipped SEL for $33,710. These prices closely match the Subaru Outback’s 2.5-liter-equipped trim offerings.

Our test vehicle has the official name “Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI S w/4Motion.” We’d like to shorten that to the Golf Alltrack in our story. Every Volkswagen is a TSI now since the diesel engines are off the market. “S” denotes the base trim and Alltrack and 4Motion are both VW marketing terms for all-wheel drive. So what we have as our tester is a base model wagon with a gasoline engine that is equipped with AWD featuring a dedicated off-road mode.

Safety

Our 2017 Golf Alltrack was the base model, so it was devoid of any active driver safety systems like forward collision prevention. It did have a backup camera and variable drive modes. We consider AWD a safety feature (here’s why) and all Golf Alltracks come standard with this key feature.

The 2017 Golf Alltrack is an IIHS Top Safety Pick having scored Good on all crash tests. It cannot earn the highest, “Plus” designation because its headlights are rated Poor by the testing group. Our test vehicle also did not have any forward collision prevention system, and thus, it was not eligible to earn the Plus for that reason as well. By comparison, the Subaru Outback does have trims that earn the highest rating, including the Plus.

Performance

Every 2017 Golf Alltrack comes equipped with a 1.8-liter, turbocharged engine using regular unleaded fuel.

With 170 horsepower, the Golf Alltrack has typical power for the vehicles it competes with. However, the turbo adds low-end torque. Power feels plentiful, and the Golf Alltrack is quick around town. It’s a wonderful engine and the fact that VW’s can now use regular unleaded fuel makes them more economical.

The only available transmission in the Golf Alltrack is the VW 6-speed DSG automatic transmission with Tiptronic and Sport mode. It works very well and most users would choose this option over a manual. Small paddle shifters offer involvement and Sport mode helps to spice up back-road drives. VW made the smart business move here, but those looking for a manual will have to look elsewhere in the VW line.

We were surprised the Golf Alltrack wasn’t rated higher for fuel efficiency.

Ride and handling

The Golf Alltrack is marketed as an outdoor adventure vehicle, but his is no Jeep Wrangler. With about 6.5 inches of ground clearance, it’s no Subaru Outback either, which offers two more inches. Also, the front bumper is too low for this Golf Alltrack to be considered for off-road driving.

That said, this car has the technology required to handle dirt roads in the worst of conditions and would likely handle sand with ease. Snow should be a piece of cake for such a vehicle, though as always we suggest winter tires, even on AWD-equipped vehicles. VW’s 4Motion system has earned our respect in the past, though we didn’t get to drive in snow during our testing week. During the slushy rainy days we did see, the system worked perfectly to keep all four wheels from slipping.

In normal driving, the Golf Alltrack is splendid. Comfortable, but with sharp steering and no body lean. It is a very fun car to drive in comparison to mainstream sedans, and with its low roof height (and center of gravity) it never feels tippy like an SUV can. This is a big advantage for the Golf Alltrack when compared to such vehicles as the Subaru Outback or Toyota RAV4.

Seating

As VW’s image above shows, the Golf Alltrack’s interior is classic VW. Our tester had manual adjustment for lumbar and fore and aft seat adjustment up front coupled with a power recline button. We found the leatherette front heated seats to be very comfortable.

The Golf Alltrack has ample interior space for rear passengers. The front seats slide back a bit further than they really need to, which we see here. Adjusted for comfort up front, there is still lots of leg room for adults in back. We compared the Golf Alltrack to the Subaru Outback and confirmed our suspicion that the VW is smaller. Total interior passenger volume is 94.3 cubic feet for the Golf Alltrack and 108.1 cubic feet in the Outback. The Subaru has about two more inches of front legroom and about three more in the back.

Cargo

The Golf Alltrack’s rear hatch opens to reveal a large square cargo area with a fuzzy cargo floor. Cargo area is 30.4 cu ft with the seats up and 66.5 cu ft with the rear seatbacks folded down. The Outback, by comparison, offers 35.5 cu ft and 73.3 cu ft respectively. Under the Golf Alltrack’s cargo floor is a compact spare and a very large area in which emergency items could be stored.

Infotainment and controls

Our test Golf Alltrack S came with a screen that’s typical for the price category and just one usable USB port. There was no navigation system, but we put the Android Auto feature to full use. The integration was simple and excellent. Apple CarPlay is also available.

With our phone’s Google Maps displayed on the screen and our apps like Pandora available, the system worked wonderfully and negates the need for an expensive optional system.

Overall

To answer our title question, there is very little in common between the Golf Alltrack and Subaru Outback besides the fact that both seat five and have an overall wagon shape (though we consider the Outback a crossover). The Outback seems more utilitarian, whereas the Golf Alltrack is more urbane.

The Golf Alltrack is, in fact, closer in size to the Subaru Forester. In terms of soft-roading, the Golf Alltrack will get you there, and we are sure there are some great marketing videos of it using its hill descent control and Off-Road settings.

However, with such low front and rear overhangs and only about a half foot of clearance underneath, it is not an “off-road” vehicle. It will excel at taking four people to the ski slopes, or two adults and three kids to the shore. When the snow falls and the roads ice over it will not be stopped like a front-drive hatchback might.

The Golf Alltrack offers plenty of capability on rough or snowy roads coupled with a classy, modern, and stylish interior. Truthfully, Americans buy much more capability than they need in their vehicles. The Golf Alltrack will be more than tough enough for any on-road requirements in bad weather.

VW has found its own niche with this wagon and any family who skis, fishes, or enjoys the outdoors will appreciate its abilities.

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI S w/ 4Motion 

Base price: $26,950

Price as tested, $27,770 including $820 destination charge  

Options: None

Likes:

  • Good Engine Choice
  • Right-sized
  • Android Auto Integration

Dislikes:

  • Lack of full power seats at price point.

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham