As much as we (and seemingly every other enthusiast) love them, station wagons are a rare breed in America – except (and this is a big exception) for those few models that creep close to SUV territory. For nearly 20 years now, hikers, skiers, weekend warriors, and suburbanites with discriminating taste have been dutifully buying lifted, all-wheel drive long-roofs like the Subaru Outback, Volvo XC70, and the Audi Allroad. And now, after the early success of its Golf SportWagen, Volkswagen has decided to bring its its tougher doppelgänger to our shores.
Already on sale in Europe (overall a much more wagon-friendly continent), the Americanized Alltrack will arrive as a 2017 model and make its debut at this week’s New York International Auto Show. Production will start later this year at Volkswagen’s Puebla, Mexico plant, and the model will be at dealerships this fall.
To people who have spent time with a SportWagen, much of the Alltrack will be familiar: same MQB architecture, same 170 horsepower 1.8 liter inline four, same 30.4 cubic feet of cargo space (66.5 with the rears seats folded down). But the new model also gets a 0.8 inch lift, 17-inch wheels (18 inch on range-topping SEL models), redesigned front and rear fascia, and black plastic cladding on the fenders and rockers. It’s also the only version of the SportWagen available with the brand’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, and with the growing popularity of AWD vehicles over the past few years, this could translate to some much needed sales for Volkswagen as it struggles to redefine itself in the wake of Dieselgate.
While its corporate cousin Audi and Volvo have the upper end of the tiny AWD wagon segment locked down, Volkswagen is aiming to land customers from the currently white-hot Subaru. Forester sales have more than doubled since 2012, proving that there’s more than a market for urban-friendly go-anywhere vehicles. But while the Subaru starts at under $23K, the base front-wheel drive SportWagen costs roughly the same. So you’ll probably be able to buy a nicely-equipped Forester for the entrance fee Volkswagen is likely to charge (we expect somewhere in the high-$20K range).
But that doesn’t mean the Alltrack won’t be competitive.Volkswagen’s current 4Motion system is nothing to sneeze at. A full-time system, it favors the front wheels, but instantly transfers power to the rear whenever the driving or conditions warrant it. It’s the secret weapon on the Golf R hot hatch, and also the backbone of its Tuareg and Tiguan SUVs – both capable rugged people-movers, but they’re too expensive and long-in-the-tooth to be competitive in the American SUV market.
So while Volkswagen continues to prepare its “ambitious onslaught of SUVs,” the Alltrack will bridge the gap between its popular wagon and not-so-popular current SUVs. With features like “Off-Road Mode,” and active hill descent, it should be plenty capable for rugged buyers that want to do a little light off-roading on the weekends, and with its familiar SportWagen looks, it’s handsome enough to be driven to the office on Monday. Volkswagen may still be in a lot of trouble, but with exciting, purpose-built models, it could recapture hearts, minds, and money of buyers sooner rather than later.