2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Review

Subaru has long had the market cornered when it comes to vehicles competent enough to head off the beaten path and live to tell the tale, but aren’t hardcore enough to scare off Jeep owners.

From the Crosstrek to the Outback, the automaker’s lineup has few rivals when it comes to tackling trails, outperforming most crossovers and SUVs by a country mile. But with the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, a true equal has emerged, one whose utility is matched only by its off-road ability.

The Ideal Golf

There may not be a car on the market, compact or otherwise, more versatile than the Volkswagen Golf. But that versatility has generally been limited to the car’s cabin, with the loveable hatchback unfit to tackle anything tougher than a gravel road. That all changes with the wagon-based Alltrack. Everything that’s great about the seventh-generation Golf — roomy cabin, economical engine, and smooth drive — is here, with the added bonus of nearly seven inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Review

The fact it’s a wagon only adds to the Alltrack’s aptitude, with an impressive 30.4 cubic feet (860 liters) of cargo space behind the rear seats and a whopping 66.5 cu ft (1,883 liters) with them folded. By comparison, the Subaru Crosstrek, the Alltrack’s most obvious competitor, offers 22.3 cu-ft (631 liters) with the rear seats up and 51.9 cu ft (1,470 liters) with them tucked away, while the Volkswagen Tiguan compact crossover provides 23.8 cu ft (674 liters) and 56.1 cu ft (1,589 liters), respectively.

The Alltrack also benefits from 60/40 split-folding rear seats that can be released using handles near the tailgate, and an often-overlooked center pass-through for carrying longer items like skis.

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When it comes to carrying passengers, the Alltrack is equally up to the task, with rear seat headroom (38.6 inches) and legroom (35.6 inches) that’s on par with the Tiguan, and plenty of room up front for those riding in the standard heated front seats.

Other standard features include a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system that boasts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power windows and locks, leatherette seats (leather in Canada), a rearview camera, alloy wheels and heated mirrors, while remote entry, push-button start, and a panoramic sunroof are standard on SE and SEL models, with the latter also adding dual-zone climate control. (Canadian cars are only available in an equivalent to the loaded SEL guise, and sit atop the Golf wagon lineup.) Available features, meanwhile, come in a trio of packages, and include adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and lane keep and parking assist systems, along with a premium audio system, adaptive bi-xenon adaptive headlights, LED daytime running lights and automatic high beams.

Steady on the Streets

If you’ve driven a Golf in recent years, then the Alltrack will be all too familiar — and that’s not a bad thing. Powered by the same turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder found in every new Golf this side of the GTI, the Alltrack makes a healthy 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. All that torque comes online at engine speeds as low as 1,600 rpm, providing plenty of pep for passing on the highway or accelerating off the line.

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Power heads to Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, marking the first time the vaunted DSG has been paired with the 1.8-liter engine. A manual gearbox will be available sometime in early 2017 — except in Canada, where the Alltrack will remain automatic-only until 2018 at the earliest — which may be worth the wait if only for the slight uptick in fuel economy.

Opting for the automatic means smooth and fast gear changes, with the DSG a welcome addition to a non-performance Golf model (the gearbox is also available in the 2.0-liter-powered GTI and Golf R).

ALSO SEE: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Quick Take

Cruising the twisting roads of Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, saw the Alltrack perform like any other Golf model, proving itself plenty capable as a commuter car. The stilted suspension — ground clearance jumps from 5.5 inches to 6.9 inches — is soft enough to absorb bumps in the road while remaining stiff enough to avoid feeling bouncy, a problem that plagues the Crosstrek. The additional ground clearance also doesn’t add much in the way of body roll compared to standard Golf models, with the same 22-millimeter front and 19-millimeter rear anti-roll bars keeping the Alltrack planted on the pavement.

Terrific on the Trail

A quick detour off the road and onto one of the many trails snaking their way through Bainbridge Island proved the ideal environment to put the Alltrack through its paces. The car’s 6.9 inches of ground clearance falls short of the Crosstrek’s 8.7 inches, but it more than makes up for it with sheer ability, traversing any terrain the Subaru can with ease. The standard off-road mode, which optimizes the anti-lock braking and traction control systems for trail duty, as well as engages hill descent control, proved a handy companion, allowing the Alltrack to negotiate trails most crossover owners wouldn’t dare. The lack of a locking center differential, something standard on the Crosstrek, led to some wheel spin on inclines, but it wasn’t enough to deter the Alltrack, the wagon easily making its way over and around obstacles.

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The Verdict: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Review

Don’t look now, but Volkswagen is trying to beat Subaru at its own game. And it’s off to a good start. It may seem odd to call a Volkswagen Golf rugged, but that’s exactly what the Alltrack is. With tremendous off-road ability, it can easily go where most crossovers can’t, but it’s just as well-suited to regular life as any other compact car.