Not that long ago, it stood to reason that if you wanted an all-wheel-drive hatchback that wasn’t a crossover or an SUV and had a budget of roughly $30,000, you found yourself pretty firmly in Subaru country.
Mazda, Honda, and VW would all gladly sell you a compact five-door car, but if you needed all-wheel-drive with wagon-like utility, you had to either step up to a taller CX-3, CR-V, or Tiguan or raise your budget for a premium vehicle from the likes of Audi, BMW, and others.
The Golf Alltrack is now another option in a niche market that caters to those who have people and gear to haul in weather-prone corners of the U.S., but don’t need a vehicle that towers over others on the road or prefer the sportier driving feel that comes from a lower center of gravity.
Based on the Golf Sportwagon, the Alltrack version swaps the Sportwagon’s front-wheel-drive setup for VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, while adding 1.4 inches of ground clearance and some rugged-looking, contrasting cladding around its wheel wells.
The lift is courtesy of a taller suspension unique to the Alltrack and allows for nearly seven inches of ground clearance in case you’d like to tackle some minor off-road trails (soft-roading, as it’s often called).
We stayed on paved roads with our Golf Alltrack tester, a middle-of-the-road SE trim level vehicle, but those who think they’ll find themselves off-road frequently might want to look into the optional Off-Road Monitor package which gives data such as steering angle, altitude, and a compass, among other information. All Alltracks have an off-road drive mode and a 1.8-liter turbo-four under the hood, making 170 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque.
Our tester was paired to a six-speed manual transmission. Base S models include a 6.5-inch touch screen infotainment system and heated front seats in the $26,850 base price but stepping up to the SE trim at $30,910 gains an 8.0-inch touch screen system, VW’s Car-Net App-Connect system (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), an 115V power outlet in the cargo area, a suite of driver assist systems (blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, and autonomous braking), and a panoramic sunroof. Most of the roughly $4,000 difference in cost can be attributed to the safety tech, we’d guess.
The Alltrack has a cabin that stacks up well with its competitors, offering a fairly high-quality appearance relative to the car’s price. There’s sporty aluminum trim around the dash vents and on the textured pedals, vibrant backlighting for switchgear and instruments, and a small, low-res information display in the instrument panel between the tachometer and speedometer.
Volkswagen’s V-Tex faux leather seats are comfortable, have a quality look and feel and appear ready to stand up to years of wear, while the dash and door tops are all soft-touch, textured plastic. Cargo capacity is of course an Alltrack strong suit, with 30.4 cubic feet of space available with the rear seats upright 66.5 cubic feet with them folded down. The Alltrack’s cargo cover is initially a little difficult to retract but the seats themselves fold down quickly and easily.
On the road, the Golf Alltrack is clearly engineered to be an engaging, sporty driver. While it’s longer and heavier than the Golf GTI or Golf R, that same fun-to-drive DNA exists in the Alltrack’s chassis, with sharp but somewhat light steering, strong brakes, and little body roll for a vehicle of this class. The ride is perhaps firmer with more road feel than you’d find in a Subaru Crosstrek, but we didn’t consider that a downside.
We appreciate the manual transmission being standard and happily rowed our own gears with the light-effort gearstick and clutch. On level ground from a stop, the Alltrack almost won’t let you stall unless you drop the clutch without any gas. Ease off the clutch slowly without applying throttle and the car will move away (very slowly) on its own, which should make it an easy car for those new to manual gearboxes to learn on. Power from the 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-four is good, but this is no rubber-scorcher. Figure 0 to 60 mph in the 7.0-second range with enough power to scoot by slower traffic, though you may need a downshift or two to do it.
We came away impressed with the Golf Alltrack and its mix of rugged yet sleek style, Teutonic practicality and polish, and seemingly high build quality. Do you need an Alltrack over the similar front-wheel-drive Sportwagon? We’d be inclined to opt for the Alltrack if we lived in a snowy climate or a rural area with frequently traveled dirt roads, but for everywhere else we’d likely prefer the increased efficiency and reduced mechanical complexity of a Sportwagon. As they say, your mileage may vary.
2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE Specifications
|PRICE||$30,910 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||1.8L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/170 hp @ 4,500 rpm, 199 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD wagon|
|EPA MILEAGE||21/30 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||179.6 x 70.8 x 59.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.0 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|