2016 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack review

The Volkswagen Golf goes off-road with the jacked-up Alltrack Estate all-wheel-drive variant.
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The Volkswagen Golf Attrack will do two very important things for Volkswagen when it arrives in Australia around October this year priced somewhere below $40,000.

First, it takes the iconic Golf nameplate to a new place. We’ve seen three- and five-door hatchbacks over the years, a few generations of the cabriolet, and a regular Euro Estate. But a 20mm-higher-riding all-wheel-drive Golf crossover in wagon guise is a new thing.

It sits alongside the larger Passat Alltrack in the VW range, bringing the company's crossover count to two.

Given its configuration, the Golf Alltrack is perhaps the variant that makes the most sense of any in Australia — a market increasingly dominated by SUVs.

And this is the second point. Volkswagen’s SUV stocks globally are rather thin for now, though the company is working on it. A new crossover to market will be music to the ears of its dealers.

Technically, Volkswagen pitches the Alltrack as a “passenger car and SUV in one”. It isn’t far wrong. The car you see here is more rugged than a Golf Estate, has a 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and some off-road aids that make it surprisingly adept off-road.

It also premieres an engine for Volkswagen in Australia, and by extension the Golf range — a 1.8-litre single turbo-petrol developing 132kW/240Nm matched to a six-speed DSG. This powertrain is already used in the new Skoda Octavia Scout.

And the Octavia Scout is what might be one of the Alltrack’s closest rivals, along with the significantly larger Subaru Outback. But it would be safe to suggest that conventional medium SUVs such as the mass-selling Mazda CX-5 are also potential targets.

Externally, you won’t confuse an Alltrack with any other Golf wagon. As well as that 20mm higher stance, there’s the black plastic cladding, the underbody cladding at the front, new bumper designs and those distinctive wheels.

In other words, it looms tough and has a lot of presence. And while most medium SUVs almost never leave the pavement, the Alltrack is designed to eat up trails that would leave some soft-roaders scrabbling. It ain’t just about the looks.

We had a chance to spend some time behind the wheel at the car’s international launch this week, some of which involved some decent off-roading — uneven corrugations to articulate the axles, muddy dips, 60-degree descents, 30-degree sideways cambers and extensive ball-bearing gravel trails. We eased through it all without breaking a sweat.

Allocating power to those wheels is a 4Motion variable all-wheel-drive system that sends torque to the front axle under regular conditions, but can couple the rear axle via a Haldex 5 hydraulic clutch and send almost 100 per cent of torque backwards if its sensors detect even the slightest whiff of slip.

There is also an electronic differential lock of sorts. The performance-oriented XDS system found on hot Golfs has been repurposed here to also power a hydraulic unit to variably allocate torque delivery to each wheel and apply brakes to the inside wheel if it’s spinning as you turn into something like mud.

Built into the various driving profile software, which on a Golf R includes Race Mode, is a new system found on no other Volkswagen Group product (including Skodas or Audis) called Offroad mode.

Part of this is an automatic hill-descent control. Pull up to a descent and lift off the brakes. The sensors note the angle and maintain a set speed without your input by taking over the brakes. Tap the throttle if you want to nudge on faster. It also adjusts the ABS brakes, changing the thresholds for less predictable surfaces.

It’s funny. I have taken some soft-roaders off the beaten path over the years. Rock-hopping in a Nissan X-Trail springs to mind. With some patience and experience, SUVs without low-range, of this ilk, are surprisingly adept.

The 4Motion is not a permanent AWD system like Subarus, but we never caught it out. The millisecond we felt the front wheels letting go, the rears kicked into action. The ground clearance proved adequate, though that long tail might impact the departure angle.

Having a hill-descent system that comes on automatically is also an excellent feature. The entire electronic and hydraulic ecosystem here is designed to make it idiot-proof to make that idyllic, out-of-the-way camping spot. And it worked excellently.

One element of the car we are less sure about is the engine. That’s because the only unit that will be sold in Australia is the aforementioned 132kW/240Nm 1.8 petrol. On the European launch, all that was available was the 135kW/380Nm 2.0-litre diesel.

We can say Volkswagen Australia should import this sparkling little diesel engine, because it pulls like a cliche… sorry, a train. The company say’s there’s no demand. We hope it turns out to be wrong and changes its mind.

We have driven the 132kW 1.8 TSI in the Scout, and found it to be a lovely little unit, with plenty of low-down torque and a relatively linear delivery. Volkswagen claims the 1.8 TSI can dash from 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, and uses a claimed 6.6 litres of petrol per 100km combined.

On road, the Alltrack was predictably accomplished, given it’s just a slightly higher Golf. There’s a different damper tune on account of the 4Motion’s extra weight, and the need for extra suspension travel inherent to a higher ground clearance.

So, it feels a little softer, a little less tied-down mid-corner, but that’s all relative. It feels far happier with lateral movement than your average, higher-riding medium SUV.

It also soaks up B-roads as well as the regular Golf — and that’s very — and on occasion even better, on account of those dampers. And this was on the lower-profile 18-inch wheels.

With dimensions of 4578mm long/1799mm wide/1515mm tall with roof racks, the Alltrack is about as long as the CX-5, but a little lower.

You can feel that latter part, because from behind the wheel that extra 20mm of ride height over the regular Estate doesn’t feel like much. People who buy SUVs for a commanding road view won’t necessarily find it here.

It’s cargo capacities beat even the capacious Honda CR-V, though. You can store 605 litres with the seats up (that’s with a space-saver spare under the floor), growing to 1620L if you 60:40 seats are folded almost, though not quite, flat. The cargo area in this guise is 1831mm long.

The cargo floor has variable height settings. There’s also a cargo blind, a raising netted partition embedded within its cross-structure and remote unlatching (levers that flatten) for the rear seats situated in the cargo area.

The cabin is familiar Golf — mostly — aside from a few little labels and some slightly different trims. This means an austere but classy fascia, ample seat and wheel adjustment, and good cabin storage including felt-lined door pockets.

Rear legroom is particularly strong, though headroom even with a sunroof is also fine — though obviously the roof is lower than a conventional SUV. The side windows are large and run parallel to the ground, without raking, so outward visibility is excellent. ISOFIX child seats are accommodated in the rear row.

The Euro-spec car we drove did have one feature than Volkswagen Australia shamefully will not offer. The 8.0-inch Discover Media Professional touchscreen, optional in Europe, absolutely lords it over the 5.8-inch screen used in all Golfs in Australia.

The swiping function is smoother, and its larger dimensions make it clearer to read. Volkswagen says it would be too expensive to offer as an option in Australia, but given the multimedia is one of the Golfs very few less-than-excellent features, we vehemently disagree.

Surveys that show buyers put multimedia and infotainment close to the top of their priority list suggest we might be at least not entirely wrong.

Volkswagen Australia is suggesting a price of less than $40,000. Keep in mind the Octavia Scout, which offers the same engine but goes without the cool off-road software and actually has less cargo space,costs $38,590 with the 132TSI engine.

An entry petrol Outback is larger and costs $39,990, while a Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport AWD costs $38,990.

Until we know full local pricing and specifications, we can’t be precise on the value equation. But we did walk away from our tenure at the wheel predictably impressed.

The Alltrack is such a worthy addition to the Golf family, because it remains almost as agile and every bit as comfortable as a regular Estate, but can actually handle a rough trail and looks suitably tougher to boot.

It won’t give you the ride height of a conventional SUV, but it does offer more cargo space than most of those as well, on account of good packaging. As a more compact rival to the Octavia Scout and Outback, it looks very promising indeed.