The skinny: Volkswagen’s new Golf Alltrack wagon comes packing “a lot of car”.
With all-wheel-drive surefootedness, underbody protection and a raised stance for getting to those more out-of-the-way places, it has a lot to offer the family buyer.
Add in a spirited turbo-petrol engine, and a big, practical boot, and it starts to make the Tiguan – that other Golf-based small SUV – look a little dumpy and unnecessary.
We don’t much like the small 6.5-inch information screen; we also don’t like a space-saver spare in a car designed for excursions onto gravel roads.
But for getting to the snow swiftly, safely, and in comfort, the new reasonably-priced Golf Alltrack has a good story to tell.
Vehicle Style: All-wheel-drive wagon
Price: $37,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 132kW/280Nm 1.8 4cyl TSI turbo petrol | 6sp DSG sports automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.7 l/100km | tested: 10.2 l/100km
Over the past decade, sales of traditional wagons have plummeted as the Australian family-buyers’ love affair with the SUV has become ever-more passionate.
But Volkswagen, like Subaru before it, has an answer. These brands (plus, notably, Skoda and Audi) offer wagons that successfully bridge the gap between the traditional two-wheel-drive wagon and the 4x4 SUV.
All of which have special suspension settings and quite sophisticated four-wheel-drive systems.
While they are clearly not rock-hopping 4x4s, they are just the thing for families who travel to the snowfields or like a bit of explore a little way off-the-beaten-track.
Volkswagen’s new Golf Alltrack is built on a platform shared with one of its competitors - its Czech cousin the Skoda Octavia Scout.
We put the Alltrack to the test on the highway, over gravel road sections and even into some off-road forestry sections (where the descent control got a workout). This is how it fared.
Quality: Volkswagen does interiors well for both style and quality and the new baby Alltrack is no exception.
There’s a nice soft-touch dash, leather-appointed upholstery and what Volkswagen calls “dark magnesium” centre-console and dash accent-panels.
Like all of the cars in the VW group stable, the Alltrack’s interior is beautifully finished, if a little dark and sombre.
Comfort: The Alltrack’s front seats are excellent with plenty of hip-and-thigh bolstering to hold you in place off-road and a lumbar-support lever to help keep back-ache at bay.
The rear bench seat also has a bit of outer bolstering for the two outside rear-seat occupants.
It’s not all roses there. While accepting that the Golf is a small wagon, if taller front-seat occupants put the seats right back, there is limited legroom for those sitting behind them.
For the driver there is height-and-reach adjustment for the leather-wrapped sports steering wheel and while there is no electric adjustment for the front seats, it’s easy enough to get settled.
Equipment: Standard features include keyless entry, automatic dual-zone climate-control, satellite navigation, cruise control with a programmable speed limiter, front-and-rear grab handles, front-and-rear parking sensors and a rear-vision camera that projections onto a 6.5-inch colour screen.
There is also a comprehensive technology list that includes both Apple Car Play and Android Auto and it also has the ability to pair two mobile phones. Also on the menu are USB, SD card and AUX connectivity.
Storage: For a small wagon, the new Alltrack has pretty impressive cargo credentials.
With the rear seats occupied, there is space for 605 litres of luggage. Drop the 40/60-split-fold seatbacks down and this rises to 1620 litres. There is also a cargo-cover, a load-through provision for long items and shopping-bag and load-restraint hooks are also a great feature.
Other storage cubby holes include a good-sized glove box, a small but quite deep lidded bin at the base of the centre stack, a sunglasses holder, two behind-the-front-seat-backs map pockets, four good-sized door pockets, two front cup-holders and two in the drop-down centre armrest for rear-seat passengers.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: While offering all-wheel-drive capability (that a lot of the small SUVs can’t match), the Golf Alltrack is also very much a car for the driver.
With the Alltrack, it is easy to feel ‘as one’ with the car – there is a snug sporty feel to the driving position (helped by the eager engine under the bonnet), and an unfussed sophisticated way it goes about things.
With the Alltrack’s engine delivering its 132kW of power at 4500rpm and 280Nm peak torque from a low 1350rpm–4500rpm, it is hard not to be impressed from behind the wheel. It feels a lot more sprightly than your average SUV.
There are selectable driving modes which alter the suspension, steering and drivetrain management modes. Importantly, for a car of this type, it has an Offroad selection (which alters the traction control and ABS, as well as softening steering and accelerator response), in addition to the highway modes, of Sport, Comfort and Eco.
The 4Motion AWD system, with electronic differential lock, works transparently off-road (shifting drive to the rear wheels, or selectively according to traction demands) and is a very sophisticated piece of hardware in a car at this price.
Refinement: Hard to find fault with the Alltrack’s refinement. On the wide range of road surfaces we encountered, road noise was noticeably well-isolated from the cabin.
While some four-cylinder engines can get noisy when at work, this one, with its clever dual-injection system that delivers fuel at both high and low pressures, is quieter and it seems happy to be taken to the tachometer’s red line.
Ride and handling: Like all Golfs, the Alltrack’s ride is on the firm side. The extra travel in the Alltrack’s suspension however does allow some more initial compliance (‘give’) that gives it a taut but elastic feel on road, and free of harshness on gravel.
The electro-mechanical power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is beautifully weighted and turn-in is impressive.
Try as we may on bitumen, even when pushing hard, we couldn’t bring on the understeer found in many all-wheel drivers.
On the gravel stuff, the Alltrack shines – the traction control electronics are there if you really need them but are not intrusive (and do not diminish the fun you can have behind the wheel).
While the Alltrack is no heavy-duty trail hopper, it is set 20mm higher than the standard Golf.
In the selectable ‘off-road’ mode, we tried a legendary super-steep hill on part of the Rally of Canberra forestry track. With the hill descent control engaged, all you need do is steer and the ABS system takes you safely down the hill.
Braking: Stopping power comes from ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear. The weighting of the pedal, typical of Volkswagen products, is 'just right'.
ANCAP rating: (not yet tested)
Safety features: The Alltrack comes standard with ABS brakes, brake-assist, electronic brake-force distribution, seven airbags including a knee bag for the driver, a driver-fatigue detection system, traction-and-stability control, an electronic diff lock and an extended electronic diff lock and of course, VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive.
Also on the menu are child-seat anchorage points and ISOFIX child-seat anchorage points. The front-seat head restraints are safety-optimised and those in the rear seats are adjustable.
All seating positions have three-point seat belts and the front two are height-adjustable with pre-tensioners and belt-force limiters.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
The Alltrack’s most logical competitor is its own cousin, the platform-sharing $38,590 Skoda Octavia Scout. The Czech wagon also has 132kW and 280Nm, but its claimed combined fuel-consumption is 7.1 l/100km compared with the Alltrack’s 6.7 l/100km.
The Alltrack’s cargo capacity with the rear seats occupied is 605 litres versus the Skoda’s 588 litres but with the seats folded flat, the Skoda’s 1718 litres trumps the VW’s 1620 litres.
The Scout also gives you nine airbags – two more than the Alltrack.
Subaru’s tried and true Outback is an all-new vehicle for 2015; its 2.5i CVT-equipped petrol variant has less power (129kW) and less torque (235Nm) than the new Alltrack.
At $35,990, it is a couple of grand cheaper than the Golf, and is very good buying for this robust, proven product.
With a combined fuel figure of 7.3 l/100km, it is thirstier than the Golf and its 512 litres of cargo space with the rear seats occupied does not match the Golf’s 605 litres.
Note all prices are Manufacturers’ List Price and do not include dealer-delivery and on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In summary, the Golf Alltrack is a welcome addition to the extensive VW family.
Its all-new engine is a delight and the combination of dual injection and electric wastegate completely does away with turbo lag.
You can’t fault the quality of the interior, the shape of the front seats nor can the marriage of the engine and DSG automatic be faulted.
In a week where it emerges Volkswagen has done a lot of things wrong, it has done a lot of things right in building this versatile family bus.
While paddles would be nice, you can of course play with the gears manually via the +/– stick shifter (which operates backwards – forward to change up, drag to change down).
For families thinking of the snow, or who just want a bit more adventure but don’t want an SUV, Volkswagen’s new Alltrack might be just the car for you.