by Frank A. Aukofer

In the interest of accuracy discussing the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, let’s call a spade a spade—or, this case, a wagon a wagon.

VW folks perhaps would like us to think of it as a compact crossover sport utility vehicle because small and compact crossovers currently are the hottest items in the market, rapidly muscling into sales of compact and midsize sedans.

But Volkswagen already has a compact crossover called the Tiguan. The Alltrack basically is the same vehicle as the Golf SportWagen, only slightly taller with better ground clearance and all-wheel drive.

2017_golf_alltrack_6343The Tiguan had respectable sales of 43,638 in 2016. But it was way down the ladder from the compact crossover leader, the Honda CR-V, which sold 357,355 copies.

Generally, crossover SUVs have unit bodies, built like most automobiles. The original SUVs were, and are, built like pickup trucks with their bodies sitting on separate frames. An example of a truck-based SUV is the Chevrolet Tahoe. The car-based Subaru Forester is a crossover.

For some unfathomable reason, U.S. buyers decided some time back that they didn’t like station wagons or hatchbacks. The distaste continues for wagons, which had their heyday back in the 1970s. But customers are warming up to hatchbacks, mainly because manufacturers finessed the situation by jacking up hatchbacks to crossover height and adding all-wheel drive.

2017_golf_alltrack_6349Nevertheless, modern station wagons—especially one like the Alltrack with standard all-wheel drive—continue to be useful and driver friendly. They usually handle and perform as well as their sedan siblings with the bonus of, in some cases, double the cargo carrying capability.

That’s not the case with the Alltrack. Because it’s based on the hatchback Golf, its cargo space of 30 cubic feet is only about seven cubic feet more than the Golf’s. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome windfall. The Alltrack also is a foot longer than the Golf and better looking with its stretched profile.

The tested Alltrack was a midlevel SE version with a $31,350 price tag. It was well equipped overall but lacked a couple of desirable features, including automatic climate control and a fully powered driver’s seat. To get those you must step up to the top-line SEL.

2017_golf_alltrack_6329But the motorized seatback recline feature and manual seat adjustments, which include seat height, should satisfy almost everyone. They lack only the full fine-tune power adjustments favored by finicky drivers. The seats themselves deliver support and comfort, though they are covered in man-made leatherette, which is durable but sticky in summertime. Front seats are heated so they are only briefly chilly in wintertime.

Interior space is not generous. The driver and front-seat passenger have plenty of head and elbow room. But the outboard back seats, despite decent space for the noggin, come up short on knee room. Though there’s a seatbelt for a fifth passenger in the middle, it’s not worth the bother, compromised by an intrusive floor hump and a hard seat cushion.

Safety equipment included a standard rear-view camera, stability and traction control, fog lights, heated windshield washers and tire pressure monitoring along with a crash mitigation system.

2017_golf_alltrack_6327Desirable convenience features included a motorized glass sunroof, upscale Fender audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio with an informative center touch screen, keyless entry, pushbutton starting and selectable driving modes: Off-road, custom, normal and sport.

The sport setting holds the transmission to higher engine revs before shifting for better acceleration and passing. Though the off-road mode incorporates hill descent control, the Alltrack should not be confused with a genuine boondocks basher. It can handle foul weather and, with its slightly better road clearance, can negotiate unpaved forest roads. Mostly what the all-wheel drive provides is more secure handling on curving two-lane highways.

The Alltrack, despite weighing about 250 pounds more than the SportWagen, nevertheless is a spunky performer. It is powered by VW’s ubiquitous 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a smooth but snap shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

With a mid-seven-second 0-60 acceleration time, it won’t win many stoplight sprints. But it exhibits a lightness of being that infuses throttle inputs, and steering and suspension system feedback, which impart an eager and nimble feel.

About the only thing the Alltrack lacks is a taller profile. Many drivers derive confidence from sitting up high and looking over the traffic, though that’s problematical now with the proliferation of crossovers.

Maybe VW should simply jack it up a bit more.

2017_golf_alltrack_6346Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI SE four-door station wagon.
  • Engine:8-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 170 hp, 199 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/30 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,497 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/30/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,350.
  • Price as tested: $31,350.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2017_golf_alltrack_6336Photos (c) Volkswagen