By Jim Bray
One of my favourite cars has received a couple of great updates for 2017. It's the Volkswagen Golf, one of the world's great cars, and now they've introduced the Alltrack, a raised, all-wheel drive version of the Golf Sportwagon I enjoyed so much last year.
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Now, I'm a sucker for Volkswagen products anyway, whether VW itself, Audi or Porsche (the only VW brands I've driven to date - no Bentleys or Bugattis for me, yet, alas). But even the "garden variety" VW's drive great, have wonderful interiors with interfaces that are easy to get up to speed with, and are just wonderful cars all around. It's a shame you can't buy a VW diesel right now, too, because they're great vehicles despite VW's run-in with the Obama regime - and that would be the version I'd want.
On a side note, does anyone think it unusual that, after the government bailed out GM, its biggest foreign competitors (VW and Toyota) just happened to run afoul of the authorities? Hmmm?
Anyway, I must admit to a prejudice in favor of wagons. Sure, SUV's are fine, and give you a raised look at traffic, but there's nothing like a sports wagon to give you sports sedan performance and handling coupled with a larger bum into which you can actually put stuff. It's really the best of both worlds, especially since today's wagons aren't anywhere near like the fake wood panelled land barges of my misspent youth.
And now comes the Alltrack, which takes everything that's good about the Sportwagon and adds some off-road capability to the mix. "With generous cargo space, sporty performance and off-road ready attributes it truly is the perfect blend of versatility and drivability," says Volkswagen, not surprisingly, on their website. To that end, the car comes with VW's 4MOTION All Wheel Drive, a bit of extra ground clearance and even an "Off Road" driving mode the company says optimizes traction on uneven surfaces.
I could do without the extra ground clearance (my own sports wagon has been lowered and I don't go off road unless I'm reviewing such a vehicle), but I love the addition of 4MOTION - and to be honest I didn't notice that the extra height made VW Canada's sample a sloppy handler in the least. It still drives like a Golf, and that's a very good thing.
The downside of the additional traction is that, unlike the Sportwagon's starting price of $23,145CDN, the Alltrack starts at $35,295. That's a lot of extra cash! But for that extra cash you get a Panoramic sunroof, an Alltrack exclusive front grille, front and rear bumpers, front fog lights with static cornering lights, Alltrack exclusive interior trim inlay (including dashboard and door trims) and the above-mentioned Alltrack off-road suspension, which raises the car by 20 mm.
It also includes 18 inch Canyon alloy wheels with all-season tires and the Connectivity Package ("App-Connect" smartphone integration for Android Auto, Apple Carplay, and Mirrorlink), a 6.5 inch touchscreen radio with proximity sensor and CD player, satellite radio capability, a USB audio input and voice control. That package would cost you $500 on the other wagon version.
My Golf wagon of choice would probably be the other wagon, the "regular" Sportwagon, but I'd add the 4MOTION option that's available now as well. This should give you the handling and bad weather security of the Alltrack, but without the off road component you may not need. Alas, the "garden variety" AWD Sportwagon is only available with the automatic transmission choice, but at least it's the DSG dual clutch unit, a very nice slushbox that offers a decent manual mode - though, alas, for some reason VW chose not to make paddle shifters available in Canada and that's a big oversight to me.
That version starts at $26,045CDN with the all-wheel drive. You can get a manual transmission for optimal fun, but it's only a five speed - nothing wrong with that, but six speeds are so much more enjoyable (you're always shifting, and if you like shifting, that'll put a smile on your face).
Both versions get VW's great 1.8 TSI inline four cylinder engine, which puts out 170/185 hp/torque. It isn't a huge amount of oomph, but it matches the car well and I had no issues with it despite my lead foot.
Besides the great engine and transmission, you also get independent suspension all the way around (well, on all four corners), four wheel disc brakes with ABS etc., and four driving modes to best reflect your mood or the road conditions, including that Off-Road mode - which also adds hill-descent control while optimizing traction "for better control on off-road terrain."
You also get push button start/stop, dual zone climate control and VW's brilliant rear view camera that hides behind the VW logo on the tail gate, only peeking out when you shift into reverse - and which therefore should keep the camera clean when the roads are dirty. You might not think this is a big deal, but if you've had a rear view camera before you probably know how crummy conditions can lead to them becoming virtually useless if you don't keep cleaning them off.
VW Canada's sample also included the Driver Assistance Package ($1,310), which gives you Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Assist Auto Emergency Braking, shut-offable Lane Assist and Park Assist. It also had the "Light & Sound Package" ($1,610) which, rather than signifying nothing (oops, wrong quote) gives you Bi-Xenon Adaptive Headlights, a nice Fender Audio system (eight speakers and a subwoofer, and it rocks better than some higher priced systems I've auditioned) and LED signature daytime running lights.
Those options took the as-tested price up to a pretty heady $38,215.
The Alltrack is just the latest winning version of the Golf, which may be the best overall car/car value available today, at least in my never humble opinion. It's a wonderful car, looks terrific, drives great and even gives you the kind of off road capability you're more likely to find in a Subaru.
Sure, it's a tad dear, but the car is a real dear as well.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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