We recently drove the 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack, and it looks like the beleaguered automaker may soon have a hit in the growing all-wheel drive wagon segment. For the past several years, Subaru has cornered this market thanks to its tall, not-quite-crossovers that handle winter weather better than almost anything else on the road. Frankly, it amazes us that other automakers haven’t jumped in yet, but if any have the means — and are due for some good news — it’s Volkswagen.
On the surface, the Alltrack will be familiar to anyone familiar with the current Golf SportWagen. Other than a unique front and rear fascia, a slight lift, and black plastic cladding around the fenders and rockers, it doesn’t look much different from the car its based on. Inside is no different either, with nice standard leatherette seats, soft-touch surfaces, and great fit-and-finish.
But this is more than just a SportWagen with 4Motion all-wheel-drive (no really, Volkswagen is introducing one of those too); the Alltrack drives and feels very much like its own model. And it’s perfectly positioned to wade into a segment dominated by Subaru. So on top of our previous driving impressions, here are five things you should know about Volkswagen’s new, tall wagon.
1. Hit ’em where they ain’t
Like the Subarus, the Alltrack is a compact, lifted, all-wheel drive wagon. But it’s bigger than and more powerful than the Crosstrek, and smaller than the Outback. And while the latter has it beat on horsepower — 175 to 170 — the Volkswagen bests it by 25 pound-feet of torque, allowing for more low end grunt. What’s more, both Subarus are saddled with uninspiring CVTs, while a six-speed manual and dual-clutch automatic are offered in the VW.
2. Bigger, yet still small
Along with that new plastic cladding, the Alltrack has been lifted 0.6 inches higher than the standard SportWagen. Despite the lift, it’s still small — and not just compared to its Japanese competitors. At just 4’11 tall including its the roof rack (versus 5’6 on the Outback) and just over 15 feet long, Volkswagen’s tall wagon is still very much a compact.
Yes, it’s a family car with room for the kids, the stroller, and a week’s worth of groceries in the back. But don’t let that fool you; the Alltrack’s turbocharged 1.8 liter EA888 engine puts out a not insignificant 170 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. Mated to Volkswagen’s six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic, and built on its proven MQB platform, you’re likely to have way more fun on twisty roads in an Alltrack than you ever would’ve in the RAV4 — or Subaru Outback — that you almost bought instead.
4. Don’t be afraid to get dirty
Some cars have different drive settings, and they don’t really seem to do anything. The Alltrack isn’t one of those cars. We put the car through its paces on a trail in the Pacific Northwest in Off-Road mode, and it acquitted itself far better than we expected. Plus, that 0.6 inch lift, and bigger wheels and tires amounts to a healthy 6.9 inches of ground clearance, and the 4Motion all-wheel drive system can direct as much as 50% power to the rear wheels. Unlike most crossovers on the road today, the Alltrack can actually handle a little lite off-roading.
5. New/Old territory
The concept of a tall, plastic-clad, lifted variant is new to the Volkswagen brand (at least in the U.S. anyway), but it’s old news to the larger Volkswagen Auto Group, where it pioneered the concept in the Audi Allroad Quattro back in 1999. With its sober good looks and upscale interior, the Alltrack reminds us of the current A4 Allroad’s kid brother, and we mean that in a good way.