THE 2016 GOLF ALLTRACK IS HERE TO SAVE THE DAY FOR ITS MAKER IN THE SMALL SUV SECTOR.
Australian buyers might be embracing SUVs, but they aren’t buying the ageing Volkswagen Tiguan or expensive Touareg in great numbers. And there is no new small or medium SUV coming anytime soon from Wolfsburg.
The Alltrack is not a ‘proper’ SUV, but rather a jacked-up wagon with a light-duty all-wheel-drive system. It's suitable for the occasional trek, provided you don't get too far off-road - a concept that certainly works for Subaru with its Outback.
So, does this high-riding Golf wagon also deserve to find fortune in this market?
Vehicle Style: Small wagon
Price: $37,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 132kW/280Nm 1.8 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.7 l/100km | tested: 7.7 l/100km
The great thing about the Volkswagen Golf range is how broad it is – yet every Golf drives essentially like a Golf (which is a good thing) only with slight attitude adjustments.
Priced from $37,990 (plus on-road costs), the Golf Alltrack is equipped much like the Golf 110 TSI Highline Wagon, except it costs $3500 more for the all-traction 4Motion all-wheel drive system down below, and comes with a bigger engine.
The 17-inch alloy wheels remain, but the Alltrack adds 20mm extra ground clearance under its side skirts.
It also adds bi-xenon headlights and leather interior trim with front seat heating as standard, which actually costs $3000 extra on the 110 TSI Highline (bundled with an electric sunroof), largely eliminating the pricing impost.
There isn’t much in it. The Alltrack utilises a more powerful 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing 132kW of power and 280Nm of torque compared with the 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre 110 TSI Highline.
With a kerb weight of 1479kg, however, the all-wheel drive wagon is 167kg heavier than the front-wheel drive version, though the penalty isn’t enough to slow the Alltrack down – with a claimed 0-100km/h of 7.8 seconds, it’s 1.1sec quicker than the regular Golf Wagon.
It makes the decision about whether to go Golf Wagon or Golf Alltrack even tougher.
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel and seat trim, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry and push-button start, multi-function trip computer, automatic on/off headlights and wipers and auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Infotainment: 8.0in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto software, AUX input, voice control and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming
- Options fitted: None
- Cargo volume: 605-litres minimum, 1620-litres maximum (seats folded)
Every Volkswagen Golf boasts among the best interior layouts in the small car segment, however these days it is more convincing when priced south of $35k.
The loftier pricing of the Golf Alltrack – heading towards $40k – the interior remains impressive but not outstanding. It is, after all, a small wagon that’s starting to play in the territory of the size-larger Outback 2.5i Premium at $41,490 (plus orc).
A sunroof and 18-inch wheels are standard on the Subie but are packaged as a $2500 option on the Volkswagen.
Likewise adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning are included on the 2.5i Premium but are part of a $1300 package on the Golf Alltrack. Add those features, and you’re at $41,790 (plus orc).
Meanwhile a similarly specified medium SUV such as the Hyundai Tucson Highlander isn’t far away at $43,490 (plus orc).
And, the more upright SUVs magnify the Golf’s lack of rear shoulder-room and legroom. Spanning 1.8 metres wide, the body of this Volkswagen is 50mm narrower than a Tucson and 40mm thinner than an Outback.
While rear passengers are well accommodated with a comfortable bench and air-vents, this isn’t a three-across-the-back family car.
That’s especially the case as the centre tunnel is intrusive. The bench is also positioned quite low, especially by SUV standards, causing crimped knees for taller passengers.
Greater focus is placed further behind. Getting the tape measure out again, the Alltrack stretches 4.58m from tip-to-toe, a full 100mm beyond a Tucson but 237mm behind an Outback. Yet the massive 605-litre boot beats both for sheer volume (versus 488-litre Hyundai and 512 litre Subaru). The cavity itself is nicely square and usable, too.
Curiously, however, the Golf Alltrack isn’t available with an electric tailgate nor electrically adjustable front seats (standard on both rivals).
The Volkswagen is otherwise focused on the passengers up front, leaving them plenty of luggage space to head from the Blue Mountains to Noosa, the bush or somewhere off the beaten track.
The 6.5-inch colour touchscreen is also untouchable in the class for graphics quality, ergonomics and features such as Apple CarPlay/Android connectivity.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 132kW/250Nm 1.8 turbo petrol inline four
- Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, AWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.9m
- Towing capacity: 750kg (unbraked), 1500kg (braked)
There are two schools of thought about how a jacked-up wagon should drive: the first says the higher suspension should deliver extra travel and smoother ride quality; the second says that it should be tougher and ready to tackle rough roads.
Place the Golf Alltrack firmly in the second camp. The regular Golf Wagon rides with beautiful compliance, but the Alltrack is surprisingly more rigid.
It’s still nicely resolved, but the soothing highlights have disappeared. True to the script, on a dirt track the Volkswagen maintains composure even when manhole-cover-sized potholes are encountered at speed.
The all-wheel-drive system is the same as that used in the performance Golf R model.
The Alltrack gets an offroad mode that enables hill-descent control and changes ABS modulation, but otherwise it’s identical – and this means power goes to the front wheels, until slip is detected, and it then transfers drive to the rears.There is no ‘lock’ button, as in a Tucson, that can maintain 50:50 front/rear axle split.
The upside to firm suspension is handling that is superior to any medium SUV competitor, and better than the Outback.
There’s even a hint of Golf R in the way the Golf Alltrack can power away from a bend without the ‘scrabbling’ that affects the front-wheel drive versions. Instead replaced by a feeling that there’s genuine push coming from the rear.
The 1.8-litre turbo engine is simply best-in-class in terms of its wonderful refinement and zingy elasticity.
It’s worth mentioning that the Alltrack gets a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, called a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), shared with diesel and performance Golfs rather than the seven-speed version in the Golf 110 TSI Highline.
This is because, in technical terms, the six-speed ‘wet clutch’ unit can pair with all-wheel-drive and engines producing more than 250Nm, while the seven-speed dual-clutch is for front-drive applications of less than 250Nm.
The upside for the Alltrack buyer is the six-speed is known for its reliability, where the seven-speed isn’t – it’s the problematic DSG, historically.
The drivetrain combination is convincing for economy, too, drinking 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres on our mixed test loop including light off-roading – just 1.0 l/100km higher than the claim.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.89 out of 37 possible points
Safety features: Seven airbags including dual-front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee, ABS, ESC, multi-collision brake, front and rear sensors, reverse-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
It depends how much you need all-wheel-drive and extra ground clearance. A cheaper Golf Wagon or Hyundai i30 Tourer can offer just as much space as the Alltrack, while the Subaru Outback scores for space and features, if not great dynamics.
But, hang on a minute, Skoda has the appealing (and equally capable) Octavia Scout Ambition with 110kW TDI diesel at $37,000, driveaway, and the 135TDI Scout Premium at $46,000 driveaway.
Mazda's CX-5 GT also offers competitive driveability, as does the Hyundai Tucson. And each offers a more capable and useable AWD, thanks to their SUV ground clearance.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There are so many options in the Volkswagen Golf range, and the Alltrack is just another notch in the belt.
If you don’t need all-wheel-drive and that occasional offroad capability, there are lighter and sweeter Golf Wagon versions in the range; or for similar money, the iconic Golf GTI hot-hatchback.
Likewise, if you’re spending $40k-plus on a family car and need to fit people in as well as luggage, the above SUV and wagon alternatives are calling.
The Golf Alltrack handles beautifully, if a little firmly, and the bigger engine, 4Motion grip and robust drivetrain are all worthy attributes. As is the leather interior.
In fact, what the Alltrack does is play a trading game of virtues to suit a specific buyer profile. And it does that rather well.
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