It's hard to argue against a vehicle as well-rounded and useful as Volkswagen's Golf Alltrack. It might not take a traditional SUV shape, but it'll do everything your crossover will do -- and in some cases, it'll do it better.
The Alltrack joined Volkswagen's Golf range in late 2016 as a 2017 model, so it soldiers on into 2018 with no major mechanical enhancements. Instead, improved onboard tech and better equipment packaging across its various trim levels result in a Golf Alltrack that's somehow even more appealing than before.
Butch style, useful shape
You'll be able to spot a 2018 Alltrack thanks to its redesigned lighting elements. All models get LED taillights, and the top-level SEL gets LED running and headlights. Otherwise, the Alltrack's design is the same as it ever was. No complaints here.
The Alltrack brings a sort of faux-SUV appearance to the Golf Sportwagen, with gray cladding, stylized side sills and polished roof rails. You also get 6.9 inches of ground clearance here, an inch and a half more than a standard Golf Sportwagen. That's helpful should you actually find yourself in rutted trails out in the woods, or if you need to drive over packed snow on winter days. It makes the Alltrack that much easier to get in and out of, too.
Lift the hatch and you'll find 30.4 cubic feet of space, or 66.5 should you fold the rear seats flat. That's only a few cubic feet less than what's offered in compact crossovers like the Ford Escape or Volkswagen's own Tiguan; unless you're filling your car to the brim each and every time, you likely won't notice the slightly smaller dimensions. Instead, you'll appreciate the Alltrack's low load-in height and wide hatch aperture. What you won't find, however, is a power liftgate.
Turbo punch with two ways to shift
Every Alltrack uses the same 1.8-liter turbocharged I4 engine as other Golf models, with 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. That's true for either transmission, too -- lesser, front-wheel-drive Golf models only make 184 pound-feet when paired with a five-speed manual transmission, but the all-wheel-drive Alltrack adds a sixth gear to the row-your-own party, allowing for the increased torque rating. You can get the stick on S and SE models, while the SEL is exclusively available with the six-speed dual-clutch automatic, a $1,100 option elsewhere.
Either transmission pairs nicely with the 1.8T. Quick, smooth shifts accompany DSG models, while the manual transmission, even with its long shift throws, is satisfying to use. The engine produces enough power to provide adequate acceleration around town and for merging onto freeways, but load the Alltrack up with four adults and some luggage and it'll require a deeper dig into the throttle to get it up to speed. No surprise, an engine that feels perfectly fine in a 2,945-pound base Golf exhibits signs of anemia in its 3,395-pound, all-wheel-drive Alltrack application.
Still, the Alltrack is enjoyable to drive, with a balanced, nicely controlled ride. It's comfortable at all times, and despite its raised ride height, body roll is largely kept in check for mostly flat cornering. The default steering tune is light yet accurate; Sport mode adds some welcome weight to the wheel's action, however small it may be.
The top-level Alltrack SEL pictured here rolls on stylish 18-inch wheels, though I don't think the downsized 17s of the S and SE models look too small by comparison. What you lose in alloy diameter you gain in tire sidewall -- 205/55R17 compared with 225/45R18 -- and the result is improved ride comfort without any noticeable loss in dynamic ability.
Fuel economy is on par with similarly sized compact crossovers. Manual Alltracks are EPA-rated at 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined; automatic models do 1 mpg better in both the city and combined cycles. After a long weekend of driving in the mountains outside of Denver, I'm seeing closer to 23 mpg combined, but I've spent time with Alltracks in flatter locales and have had no trouble hitting EPA-spec numbers.
Same interior, better tech
Volkswagen opted to leave most of the Alltrack's interior alone -- fine, since there wasn't really anything wrong with it in the first place. Sure, I can nitpick things like the annoyingly half-powered driver's seat on S and SE models (you can electronically alter fore/aft and height position, but moving the seat back requires manual adjustment) or the awkward placement of the main USB port deep inside the center console cubby, but on the whole, the Alltrack's cabin is handsome, comfortable and very nicely appointed.
Instead, a big upgrade comes in the form of improved infotainment tech. The base Alltrack S uses the same 6.5-inch touchscreen as before, with standard Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but SE and SEL models get a larger 8-inch touchscreen with flush-mounted hard buttons on either side. The display is quick to respond to inputs and uses a proximity function to hide many of the controls until it detects a hand approaching. In all, Volkswagen's infotainment system remains one of our favorites on the market today. Too bad you can't fit a Golf Alltrack with VW's nifty Digital Cockpit.
If you're looking for a full suite of safety tech, be prepared to spend. The base Alltrack only comes with a rearview camera and post-collision braking. Moving up to the SE gets you forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, but if you want things like adaptive cruise control, park distance control, lane-keeping assist and lane departure warning, you're locked into the top-level Alltrack SEL like the one you see in the photos accompanying this review, which starts at $36,760, including $850 for destination.
How I'd spec it
Exactly like this. Seriously, my Alltrack SE test car is pretty much perfect, with its Great Falls Green exterior, Marrakesh Brown leatherette interior and six-speed manual transmission. I don't need a lot of active driving tech, and the midrange SE comes nicely equipped with things like a panoramic moonroof, pushbutton start and the aforementioned 8-inch infotainment screen, all for an easy-on-your-wallet $30,865, including destination.
Of course, you can go even cheaper and opt for the Alltrack S, starting at $26,805. It still comes with lots of great features, including the same 17-inch wheels as the SE, heated seats, automatic headlights and foglights. Even in base spec, the Alltrack does not feel like a "base" model.
Who needs a crossover?
I certainly understand the appeal of compact crossovers: great utility for carrying people and things, all for a price that won't break your bank account. But tall, all-wheel-drive wagons like the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack -- and Buick Regal TourX, Subaru Crosstrek, Outback, etc. -- offer nearly the same utility. You get bonus cool points for keeping the wagon segment alive, too.
In the case of the Alltrack, it's packed with the same core DNA that's made Volkswagen's Golf such a successful small car. Fun to drive, plenty economical and super functional, it's a great alternative to a slightly bigger, not to mention myriad other small CUVs that now flood American roadways. It's a different approach to a familiar formula, and a more compelling one at that.