Don’t be thrown off by the rugged styling cues and elevated ride height: The Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is much more of a street machine than it is a tenacious off-roader. It carves up curvy sections of blacktop with the eagerness of a regular Golf, feeling taut and nimble thanks to ideally weighted steering and nicely controlled body roll.
There’s little question, though, that VW’s intention is for the Alltrack to take on Subaru’s Outback, but with a younger-at-heart, more fun-to-drive bent. After all, both share the same concept of a tough-looking, all-wheel-drive station wagon standing as an alternative to the herd of small SUVs stampeding the market. While the Alltrack brings a premium vibe to this niche, it’s definitely sized for smaller families, and it doesn’t offer the price-to-size ratio of some rivals. Nonetheless, the Alltrack is a compelling package for those who value driving with verve over cubic footage.
The metamorphosis from the Golf SportWagen into Golf Alltrack certainly wasn’t an extreme makeover. In order to look like a small SUV alternative and attract outdoorsy, adventurous customers, the Alltrack adds black body cladding on the bumpers and fender flares, as well as a very small increase in ground clearance. Of course, as the name implies, all-wheel drive is standard. Consider the Alltrack better suited to snowy and muddy roads rather than anything further off the beaten path.
That's okay with us, because the Alltrack shines on pavement. Spry, nimble handling makes the Alltrack a joy to pilot along twisty roads, or even when pressed hard around our test track. Monotonous highway miles are eased by the quiet cabin and composed ride, and the car feels planted, secure, and substantial.
The 1.8-liter, 170-hp turbocharged four-cylinder delivers ample thrust in a smooth, linear manner. The six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission works like a regular automatic, delivering quick, timely, and direct shifts. For the few diehard fans that still relish using a clutch pedal and shifting for themselves, a manual gearbox is available. We measured a 25 mpg overall with the automatic, putting it in small SUV territory.
While the commendably quiet interior is a bit more intimate than most small SUVs, there’s a reasonable amount of room up front, with firm and supportive seats that are good road-trip companions. Unfortunately, full 12-way power adjustments only come on the top SEL trim, pushing the car close to $35,000. Adults can fit in the rear seat, but space isn't exactly generous; same goes for the well-finished cargo hold. Big windows and slim roof pillars make for generous outward views, and a backup camera comes standard.
Controls are simple and well designed, and the intuitive infotainment system is up to date in terms of connectivity. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility come standard. Other notable premium features like auto-up windows all around and a power shade for the panoramic sunroof are appreciated.
Forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic warning are all standard for 2019.
No question, the VW feels more premium and fun to drive than any of the taller, small SUVs, or the Outback. Even though this European wagon will remain a relative novelty, it’s a viable, nonconformist choice.