Think of an off-road-capable, all-wheel-drive wagon. Did you think Volkswagen? Probably not. Did you think Volkswagen Golf? Certainly not. But alas, as the world moves on and vehicle line-ups continue to expand, models such as the 2016 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack will continue to launch.
So you live on – or frequently holiday near – a gravel road, you've got a small family, a budget around $40k and you’d rather steer clear of a Subaru.
You don't need anything quite as large as a Volkswagen Passat, though, you do rather fancy the slightly rugged charms of the $49,290 Passat Alltrack. Well your prayers have been answered. Say hello to the $37,990 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.
Priced above the top-spec Subaru XV ($32,490) and mid-spec Volkswagen Tiguan ($36,990), the single-specification Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 132TSI is fractionally more affordable than its $38,590 Volkswagen Group twin, the petrol-powered Skoda Octavia Scout Premium, and $1500 cheaper than the $39,490 Subaru Forester 2.5i-S.
Ok, so an outdoorsy wagon based on one of the country’s top-selling small cars might seem like it’s targeting a fairly narrow audience but Volkswagen sells plenty of Golfs and the ‘regular’ Golf Wagon is a gooden – previously receiving much praise.
Compared with the normal front-wheel-drive Golf Wagon range, the all-wheel-drive Golf Alltrack exclusively pairs the brand’s six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission with a 132kW/280Nm turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder.
With power peaking at 6200rpm and torque doing the same between 1350-4500rpm, the engine is a direct match for that turning all four wheels of the Skoda Octavia Scout Premium 132TSI.
Both models claim a 7.8-second 0-100km/h time and promise to sip 6.7 litres of premium unleaded fuel every 100km (on a combined cycle).
And while the Alltrack is marginally more compact in its dimensions (107mm shorter and 15mm narrower), the Volkswagen’s 605-litre boot is 17L greater in capacity than the Skoda’s 588-litre rear end.
That said, once expanded with rear seats folded down, the Golf loses out to the Octavia by 98L – 1620L versus 1718L. The pair are even when it comes to unbraked towing capacity, 750kg each, however, the Volkswagen is trumped by the Skoda by 100kg in braked capacity – 1500kg plays 1600kg.
With chrome roof rails, revised front and rear bumpers, exterior chrome strips and details, gloss silver wing mirrors, and ‘Alltrack’ badging on the front grille, front fenders, and underneath the rear ‘Golf’ tailgate badge, the Golf Alltrack does its best to distinguish itself from its front-drive kin.
Add in the off-road-slanted prerequisites of grey plastic body cladding and matt-finished plastic lower body protection and, even in our test car’s blindingly tame Reflex Silver (a $500 metallic paint option), the Alltrack manages to stand out – even if only a touch.
Sitting up to 20mm higher than a standard Golf Wagon and rolling on 17-inch ‘Valley’ alloy wheels, the Golf Alltrack hopes to further justify its place as the second-most expensive Golf Wagon on sale – next to only the $58,990 Golf R Wagon – with a well-populated spec sheet.
Standard kit includes keyless entry and start, LED daytime running lights, automatic bi-xenon headlights with dynamic cornering function, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, and an automatically dimming rear-view mirror.
Safety is addressed with multi-collision braking, fatigue detection, a low tyre pressure indicator, seven airbags (front, driver’s knee, side and curtain), front and rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera – the latter struggling to provide a clear image at night or in very low-light conditions.
Those after more gear have the option of two packs: a $1300 ‘Driver Assistance Package’, which adds radar-controlled adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), and semi-automated park assist, or a $2500 ‘Sports Luxury Package’, comprising an electric panoramic glass sunroof, paddle shifters, rear privacy glass, and 18-inch ‘Canyon’ alloy wheels.
Get out of town, hit the freeway and while the largely positive 1.8-litre turbo ticks nicely along at 100km/h with the tacho needle nestled neatly at 2000rpm, it’s the amount of wind and road noise that immediately surprise.
Easily more decibels than we’d expect from a ‘premi-ish’ Volkswagen, part of the blame must go to the standard wheel and tyre package.
Whereas the entry-level Golf Wagon, riding on 65-profile 15-inch tyres, has impressive levels of cabin quietness, with its 55-profile 17-inch Michelin Primacy 3 tyres underfoot, the Golf Alltrack falls a little short of its base-model sibling.
It’s the same story when it comes to the Alltrack’s ride.
Still very good – and streets ahead of most genuine SUV rivals – the combination of smaller wheels with chubbier tyres simply shouldn’t be underestimated when looking for an exceptionally polished, compliant and comfortable driving experience.
Luckily, while the Alltrack may pick up a few more bumps and road irregularities than we may like, the rest of the package – like the majority of the Volkswagen Golf Wagon range – is mostly top shelf.
The front seats are heated and super comfortable, though manually adjustable and somewhat questionably upholstered in a harder wearing Vienna ‘leather’.
The flat-bottom multi-function leather steering wheel is quite thin-rimmed, but feels nice in the hands, and joins plenty of other tactile surfaces smattered throughout the cabin, including soft-touch dash- and door-tops and leather armrests.
Adjustable seat belts, a footrest, and aluminium pedals are welcome inclusions, along with big, felt-lined door pockets up front, a reasonable glovebox, a rubber-lined and leather-topped centre console bin, rubber-lined cup holders and in-door ambient lighting strips (front doors only).
As we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen, a lot of the dials, knobs, stalks and switchgear are well damped and measured in their feel, even if the stereo controls might be a touch ‘clicky’.
The touchscreen, while not the biggest doing the rounds, is responsive, with processes such as pairing a phone, playing music from a device and using sat-nav all being quick and simple affairs.
Annoyingly though, in a bit of an ergonomic anomaly, the Alltrack’s drive mode button – letting driver’s select between ‘Eco’, ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’, ‘Individual’, and ‘Off-road’ modes – is on the left-hand side of the gear lever, along with the engine stop/start and electronic stability control (ESC) off buttons.
With the gear selector in ‘Park’ you can see them okay, but glance down once you’re in ‘Drive’ and the gear lever itself impedes the driver’s vision to the buttons.
Better, is the vision out.
Despite the Alltrack’s small-ish wing mirrors and slightly-too-slender rear-view mirror, getting a clear picture of your surroundings is hassle free. There’s a large rear window that isn't obstructed by a raised second row of seating, none-too-thick B-pillars, well-sized rear three-quarter windows, and additionally helpful A-pillar cut-outs.
Comfort up front is excellent with loads of headroom and plenty of shoulder room, while those in the back are afforded good toe room and stacks of rear head and leg room.
The rear bench could comfortably accommodate two full-size adults, however, there isn't the same shoulder room as in the front and, thanks to a significant floor hump hiding core pieces of the Alltrack’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, the middle seat is best reserved for kids.
Speaking of kids, joining two ISOFIX-compatible outboard seats in the back, are two rear air vents, two map pockets, two grab handles, four coat hooks, a rear interior light cluster, and felt-lined door pockets – though, admittedly smaller than those up front. There’s also a fold-down centre seat armrest, revealing two rubber-bottomed cup holders and a boot-accessing ski-port.
Without little ones in the back, you can choose to drop the Alltrack’s 60:40 split-fold rear seats from either the conventional top-of-the-seat location or from inside the boot, via super-handy boot releases.
With the non-power tailgate open – which opens high enough for a six-foot-plus person to stand beneath without sconing their head – you’ve got access to a multi-way-adjustable cargo blind and net partition, four luggage hooks, four tie-down points, a 12-volt outlet, a reconfigurable floor, and a space-saver spare tyre. The cargo blind and net partition can also be stored under the floor.
Flicking through the Golf Alltrack’s various driving modes, Eco mode fast becomes our favourite. In Eco or Normal, the electro-mechanical power assisted steering is quite light, in feel and feedback, but loads up nicely through corners. Sport mode simply adding more weight for little real-world benefit.
Again, for around town, the daily grind, and relaxed cruising, Eco mode is excellent.
Working cleverly with the flexible and tractable engine and much improved (if still occasionally indecisive) gearbox, Eco exclusively allows the use of Volkswagen’s fuel-saving decoupling technology – which can not only decouple the rear axle under low engine load conditions but also decouple the engine from the drivetrain when off-throttle coasting.
The mode does work best with a more passive driving style but, particularly when working in conjunction with the engine stop/start system, can make the Alltrack a little slow to react to throttle inputs. But for the majority of situations it’s great, and helped the all-paw Golf average 8.4 litres per 100km over its week in the CarAdvice Melbourne garage.
If you do venture off the beaten track, another of the Alltrack’s party tricks is its off-road mode. According to Volkswagen, selecting this profile activates the hill descent system and recalibrates the car’s throttle response and anti-lock braking system (ABS).
Speaking of brakes, partnered with a natural and fluid-feeling pedal, the standard stoppers provide consistent retardation, inspire good confidence and have no issues pulling up the Alltrack’s 1479kg (tare).
With its increased ground clearance and model-specific “rough-road suspension”, the adventurous little Golf Wagon will roll a little through bends but it changes direction well and maintains a level of entertainment.
Grip from the Michelin tyres is good, however, push on and the front end can start to wash out a little. Overall though, the Alltrack is a dynamically well balanced drive, measuring comfort with ability.
A diesel alternative for the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack – as is offered by Skoda in the form of the $41,390 Octavia Scout Premium 135TDI – would perhaps make more sense for some buyers, however, that would equally see prices rise.
And while the existing product is no doubt niche, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack does do a lot well in its own right.
You also get a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, three years roadside assist and capped-price servicing, with 15,000km/12-month service intervals ranging from $390 to $455 over the first three years (not including a $56 pollen filter and $138 brake fluid change every two years and a $176 Haldex Fluid Change every three years). Interestingly, while the Volkswagen will cost you $1235 to service over the first three years (or $1605 if you include the ‘additional items’), the equivalent Skoda will set you back $1338 over the same period and the diesel Octavia Scout $1286.
The big question is though, does the Golf Alltrack do enough to warrant its premium over current options in the Golf Wagon range? Well, our call, unless you wholeheartedly need the Alltrack’s higher ground clearance, 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, and unique off-road mode, other propositions could seem more tempting and potentially better value. Wherever you stand, however, the mildly-styled Golf Alltrack is a solid and sound package well worth considering.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack images by Tom Fraser.