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Don Adair: VW’s new AWD wagon is a good ride on-road and off

Nothing reveals a car’s assets and liabilities like a six-day, 2,300-mile road trip.

Fortunately, the pluses outweighed the minuses by a wide margin when we subjected the Volkswagen’s new Alltrack wagon to that acid test.

On a Thursday afternoon in June, we packed our tester and lit out for deepest Southern Utah.

We drove North Idaho’s winding mountain freeways at 80 mph. We tracked the broad and verdant valleys of the Montana Rockies before descending into South Central Idaho’s vast agricultural plain.

We bounced along rutted dirt two-lanes high above Zion National Park and followed the raging north fork of the Payette River. Mid-day Tuesday, six days after departing, we ascended Idaho’s Lewiston Grade into the wheat-green Palouse and, finally, home.

Good mileage, no pain

We arrived, sans back pain, having averaged nearly 30-plus miles per gallon — and having gained an appreciation for the little wagon.

The all-new Alltrack is based on VW’s compact Golf. It’s a near-twin of the Golf SportWagen, but with standard AWD and an elevated ride height (6.9 inches versus the Sportwagen’s 5.5 inches).

The Alltrack shares the SportWagen’s affinity with the open road, its well-crafted cabin and outstanding seats (2,300 pain-free miles is a telling metric). Its taller profile — due to taller wheels and tires and longer springs and shocks — extends its range into mild off-roading. In our case, that consisted mainly of ascending the steep and narrow trail to our off-grid shelter outside Zion’s east entrance.

Alltrack is available in three trims: S ($25,850), SE ($29,430) and SEL ($32,890). 

Smartphone integration

Standard equipment on our S tester included heated seats and mirrors, a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity and roof rails. Smartphone integration allows access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Two phones can be synced to the system wirelessly, but there’s only one USB port and it hides (nearly out of reach for your fat-fingered correspondent) in a covered cubby ahead of the shift lever. 

The S has a generic but decent-sounding eight-speaker audio system; SE and SEL trims get a premium 10-speaker Fender system.

Keyless access and ignition is standard on SE and SEL. SEL adds navigation, leather seating surfaces (the others use premium “leatherette” vinyl), automatic dual-zone climate control and power seats.

Optional Driver Assist Package

Our tester included the $845 Driver Assistance Package, which added adaptive cruise, front and rear park-distance alerts and autonomous emergency braking.
 
Alltrack is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. In our tester, it was paired with VW’s slick-shifting DSG automated manual transmission (late in the 2017 production, VW added the cost-saving option of a six-speed manual.

VW’s 4Motion AWD system sends 90 percent of drive torque to the front wheels. When wheel slip occurs, 50 percent of torque can be directed rearward. At low speeds in slippery conditions, the system uses the brakes to vector torque between the rear wheels, boost traction and stability.

At 3,400 pounds, the AllTrack is some 250 pounds heavier than the Sportwagen and, the engine’s broad power band and the DSG’s intuitive logic notwithstanding, heavy loads can turn its responses sluggish.

Sport mode improved reactions

Caught behind slower traffic, and with limited passing room, I sometimes found myself wishing for another 10 or 15 hp. The driver-selectable Sport mode (the others are Normal, Custom and Off Road) helped by making quicker shifts and holding each gear longer.

The Off Road mode includes hill-descent control and off-road-specific throttle and brake settings. The anti-lock brake system can “lock” each set of axles for greater traction at low speeds.

The Alltrack’s chassis is rigid and responsive. Compliant suspension settings provide a comfortable ride while arresting excessive body lean. Though it could be more communicative, the electrically assisted power steering system has good feel and a solid on-center groove. It is precise and accurate on corner turn-in and the Alltrack flows easily through curvy sections.

Aside from Subaru’s success with wagons, the format has largely fallen of buyers’ radar. The Alltrack is good enough to draw new owners into the fold.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com or visit www.dadair.com.

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack S
Vehicle base price: $25,850 Trim level base price: $26,950
As tested: $28,615
Options included DSG transmission; adaptive cruise control; park-distance control; autonomous emergency braking.
EPA ratings: 25 combined/22 city/30 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified




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Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.