Station wagons are uncool, except when they are beefed up and dressed to look tough for a can-do performance in nature. Subaru first tackled this terrain with its likable Crosstrek, and now Volkswagen has hit the same trail with the Golf Alltrack.
It’s the same trail with a very different map.
The Alltrack is a variant of the Golf Sportwagen, which evolved from the Jetta Sportwagen onto Volkswagen’s new MQB vehicle platform. The Sportwagen almost has cult status among those who appreciate its European driving finesse and family function. The Alltrack continues that special niche and will appeal to more of the young and restless buyers who pick up and go to parts unknown.
The Alltrack rides a half-inch taller than the Golf Sportwagen and has 6.9 inches of ground clearance (compared to the Crosstrek’s 8.7 inches). It also has a beefier bumper design, underbody skid panels and side cladding around the wheel arches. It is a subtle treatment that is less aggressive-looking than the Crosstrek, which has become Subaru’s third-best seller in the lineup.
The advanced 4Motion all-wheel-drive system has Hill Descent Control and an off-road mode. The on-demand AWD system functions in front-wheel drive and can recouple for all-wheel drive before the driver knows it is needed. It is some trickle-down technology from Volkswagen’s XDS+ Cross Differential System, which was developed for the street-sporty Golf GTI. This system monitors traction and will apply braking as needed to trim understeer and loss of grip in a turn.
Those driving aids reinforce a European driving experience (tight and controlled). The Alltrack’s steering is precise yet light, communicating clearly through the steering wheel what each tire is doing. The suspension dips and recovers with balletic finesse, which is very unlike the tendency of a raised suspension that has some (expected) body lean. The Alltrack corners with near-flat confidence, though I was expecting to hear howls of protest from the 17-inch Falken Sincera all-season tires.
The wagon experience is unexpectedly fun. Its Euro performance and neatly dressed cabin are the big separators between it and the Crosstrek. I’d have no problem throwing bikes, boards and gear into the Crosstrek then etching some trail pinstriping on its flanks or crawling through snowbanks. Doing the same paint-scarring excursion in the Alltrack would cause me emotional pain, though it has the toughness to be roughed up.
The Alltrack, with standard all-wheel drive, is sold in S, SE and SEL trim levels. There is one powertrain of a 170-horsepower, turbocharged and direct-injection 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a choice of six-speed manual transmission or six-speed dual-clutch automatic (a so-called automated manual).
Starting prices range from $26,670 with manual transmission to $33,710 for the SEL with automatic; pricing includes the $820 freight charge from Puebla, Mexico. I tested a base S model, which cost $27,770. Opting for the manual transmission would have saved $1,100.
With a curb weight of 3,422 pounds, the Alltrack is a couple hundred pounds heavier than the Crosstrek, but it feels lean and lively on the road. The horsepower and delivery through the six-speed transmission is eager — without having to use Sport mode. It has fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg city, 30 hwy and 25 mpg combined using the recommended 87-octane fuel. I was averaging 27.9 to 28.3 mpg. That allows a good cruising radius from the 14.5-gallon tank. The Crosstrek gets a few more mpgs, though, and its driver can go farther with the 15.9-gallon tank.
The interior is smartly designed for eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Sightlines are unobstructed, and the flat-bottom steering wheel fits firmly in hand. The leatherette upholstery is better looking than most leather-trimmed options. And the sport seats are modestly bolstered, which simplifies entry and exit and wear and tear. Both front seats are manually adjustable six ways. There are ports and plugs for music and charging phones and devices, as well as the expected access to smartphone apps.
The back seat is nicely finished with 35.6 inches of legroom, but the tall transmission tunnel makes it a better two-seat bench. Amenities include grab handles, seatback pockets, coat hooks, reading lights, door bottle holders and a fold-down armrest with cup holders. But there are no charging USBs or 12-volt plugs.
The cargo area is low, wide and easy to access with about 6 feet of length when the 60/40 seatbacks folded. Seatback releases in the cargo area spring the seatbacks into an almost-flat position, and the seats can then be pushed easily back into position. The cargo area opening is low (28 inches), but the low roofline allows simpler loading of bikes and other gear on the roof rack.
There is more than one way up the mountain. The Crosstrek is a visual badge of lifestyle sportiness. The Alltrack is not so far over the top — it is a stealth statement of urban survival through the week and a getaway car for the weekend.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage