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Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.



2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack: A DriveWays Review…

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.


  • 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

2017 North American International Auto Show: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—Bucking the tide of compact crossover sport utility vehicles, three new sedans from Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Kia captured onlookers’ attention here at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which runs through Jan. 22.

A few manufacturers introduced new compact crossovers, which have taken over as the hottest category in U.S. sales—mainly at the expense of midsize and compact sedans. But they were few and overshadowed by three four-doors.

They are the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry, the 2018 Lexus LS500 from Toyota’s luxury division and the 2018 Kia Stinger, a new midsize sports sedan that looks as if it could threaten some of Europe’s best.

On the small crossover front, Nissan unveiled the new Rogue Sport, a smaller version of its compact SUV. It is based on the Nissan Qashqui, which is sold in other world markets. Mercedes-Benz introduced an all-new GLA and Chevrolet presented its redesigned Equinox, a compact crossover that tilts toward midsize.

But that was about it unless you count the new Chevrolet Traverse, a full-size, three-row crossover, the stretched Volkswagen Tiguan—also with three rows—and the smaller performance-oriented Audi SQ5.

toyotacamryDespite the booming popularity of compact crossovers, manufacturers still obviously believe in midsize sedans. The Camry, despite losing 40,737 customers between 2015 and 2016, still topped the midsize field with 388,618 sold in 2016.

The 2018 model, seeking to mitigate the Camry’s reputation as durable but bland, boasts styling changes and improvements across the board. It is longer, lower and wider, with a lower center of gravity for better handling.

As before, there are four versions: LE, XLE, SE, and XSE. The LE and XLE models have a different grille from the S and XSE versions and are oriented toward comfort. The S and XSE models have a more sporting personality. Power choices are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a 3.5-liter V6 and a hybrid.

For 2018, all Toyota Camry models get the company’s Entune 3.0 connectivity system, which includes navigation and a host of other state-of-the art features.

lexusls5502Over at the Lexus display, the attention grabber was the all-new LS500, which at 17 feet 2 inches long is bigger and classier than ever, rivaling the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The LS500 is powered by a 415-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers, a 10-speed automatic transmission and a predicted zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 5.1 seconds.

Among other things, its standard and optional features include a 12.3-inch center screen with navigation and handwriting recognition, air suspension system, heated, cooled and massaging front and rear seats, and a detection system that can trigger braking or steering around a pedestrian.

kiastinger2Most of the excitement among enthusiasts, however, focused on the Kia Stinger, an all-new car with a new name. It marks a milestone at the South Korean manufacturer, which delivers high quality cars, crossovers and even a minivan.

The midsize Stinger is a performance-oriented Gran Turismo four-door with a fastback design and a rear hatch, not unlike the larger Audi A7, which competes among cars that can cost up to $80,000.

Few Stinger details were available at the introduction, including the price, but it likely will be way less than the A7’s—more competitive with the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars.

With rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive with torque vectoring for improved handling, the Stinger will offer two power plants: 225-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters for a manual shifting mode. No manual gearbox was considered.Vice President Joe Biden Visits 2017 NAIAS

Photos and Logo (c) NAIAS.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune has nothing in common with Frank Herbert’s fantasy novel and its scary giant sandworms. But the stylish makeover of VW’s Beetle should worm its way into the affections of Beetle buffs.

It’s a proven technique in the automobile biz. When a given model has been around awhile and familiarity begins to breed indifference, manufacturers dream up newbies. They rearrange options lists, lower prices, invent new names, and add equipment and colors so the vehicle appears fresh and new.

Volkswagen has been particularly adept at such spinoffs, especially with the Beetle, which was resurrected in 1997 as the New Beetle, a front engine, front drive two-door instead of the original rear engine, rear drive Bug. It has since formed the foundation for many special editions and, in 2011, the company dropped the “New” designation to simply keep it the Beetle.

2016VWBeetleDuneConvertible-2The Beetle Dune actually amounts to a bit more than options shuffling. Inspired by the Baja 1000 off-road adventure in Mexico’s Lower California peninsula, it can boast of some miniscule boondocks credibility—a slightly wider stance and a bit of extra road clearance.

But in the end it’s all about styling. From one perspective, the Beetle Dune mimics a high-powered Porsche race car overtaking you on the road. At the same time, it resembles a customized dune buggy. So it has both curb- and sand-blaster appeal. Even if you don’t like the look, you have to concede that it has personality and panache.

What it doesn’t have is a pit stop full of performance. Other than its arresting looks, the Beetle Dune is, well, a regular Beetle. That means it comes with a 170 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 184 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

A manual gearbox would be more attractive to enthusiasts who like the control and driver involvement that comes with shifting for themselves. But VW goes with the flow, recognizing that the automatics obviously have wider appeal. In the U.S., stick shifts have diminished to less than 4% of total new car sales.

2016VWBeetleDuneConvertible-10However, the Dune’s automatic comes with driver selectable Sport and Manual modes. In Sport, the onboard computer holds each gear to higher rpms before upshifting. Car and Driver magazine clocked a respectable 0-60 mph acceleration time of 7.4 seconds.

What the Dune excels at is respectable road manners. The steering delivers responsive feedback while the suspension system, body rigidity and tires keep everything planted around corners. Though the tradeoff favors handling, the ride is supple and reasonably comfortable in most situations.

The Dune, like other Beetle versions, is available as a two-door hatchback—tested here—or as a two-door convertible. In the hatchback model the rear seatbacks fold flat to double the cargo space from 15 to 30 cubic feet.

There’s no pretense of a fifth seat. The Dune is a four-passenger car with adequate but not generous rear seat room for regular sized adults. On the plus side, the manually operated front seats slide back and forth to ease access to the back seats.

The same cannot be said for the sun visors. On the driver’s side, the visor slides on its support rod to fully block sunlight from the side. But the passenger’s sun visor does not slide, perhaps saving Volkswagen a buck per car.

2016VWBeetleDuneConvertible-7Even at that, the Dune has a starting price of $24,815, including the destination charge. With options that included $250 for the special Sandstone Yellow exterior paint and $1,695 for a technology package, the test car came with a bottom line sticker of $26,760, including the destination charge.

The yellow paint theme, which borders on orange, carries over to the interior, where the seats are crafted of quality cloth with stylish vinyl trim and gold stitching. All seat adjustments are manual but there are enough to of them accommodate almost anyone. They provide good support for long distance cruising.

Standard features include cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels, parking assist and an array of safety equipment: traction and stability control, rear view camera, tire pressure monitoring and crash mitigation.

The technology package included a motorized sunroof, automatic climate control, a Fender premium audio system and keyless access with pushbutton starting. Though the glass sunroof is large, it only opens about half way.

With clogged highways that sometimes seem impenetrable, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune’s exceptional looks, passable performance and decent handling go a long way toward replacing frustration with motoring satisfaction.


  • Model: 2016 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T Dune two-door sedan.
  • Engine:8-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 170 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,093 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,815.
  • Price as tested: $26,760.

Photos (c) VW, Jason Fogelson

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