Responsive steering but jarring suspension
This is the kind of combo that appeals to auto writers: a VW Golf but served up as a wagon. British racing green was just icing on the cake.
So we were excited to put some miles on the 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, and by miles we mean a trek across a big chunk of the North America, including the massive states of Wyoming and Nebraska.
The ride included Midwest snow and cold; hills, mountain passes, and flat highways; and finally arrival in sunny California. When your test has such a wide broadband, you come to appreciate things like comfortable seats, a power panoramic sunroof, and VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
The Alltrack does not have a heated steering wheel, which we sorely missed. Fortunately the front seats are heated with lots of support, including manual lumbar support, although after time the seat belt can dig into your hips.
Much of our driving was straight, but when we did find some corners, the Alltrack met our expectations of being fun to whip around, with no body roll even with its 1-inch lift. The wagon retains the steering feel of the Golf hot hatch.
And on smooth interstates, the VW was fine but was beset with a lot of wind noise. But the raised, four-wheel independent suspension serves up a stiff ride. Sporty has gone too far when you can feel every dimple in the pavement. The suspension bottoms out on bumps, sending the impact into the cabin with enough force to rattle your teeth on uneven surfaces.
The Alltrack is powered by VW’s 1.8-liter TSI direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which generates 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque and feels its peppiest around town. It pairs with a six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission that stutters a bit in stop-and-go traffic until you get used to it.
It was on the highway that we would have liked more power to propel this 3,510-pound (1,592-kg) vehicle. Our tester needed 7.1 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph; the 2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R did the distance in 6.9 seconds, and the larger Buick Regal TourX wagon did the scoot in 6.3 seconds. The quarter mile was also strenuous for the Alltrack, clocking 15.5 seconds at 87.8 mph (141.3 km/h). That compares with 15.2 seconds at 95.9 mph (154.3 km/h) for the Outback and 14.7 seconds at 94.7 (152.4 km/h) for the Regal wagon.
Real MPG came to 21.3/31.4/24.9 mpg (11/7.5/9.4 L/100km) in city/highway/combined, which was pretty close to the EPA-certified 22/30/25 mpg (10.7/7.8/9.4 L/100km).
The VW can lag off the line momentarily until the boost kicks in, and it quickly runs out of breath when you ask for anything more than moderate acceleration, notes features editor Christian Seabaugh, who describes it as “borderline underpowered,” especially when passing. Associate editor Scott Evans noticed the unwillingness to downshift on flat highway cruising but the need to downshift a few gears to maintain speed on the steep path through the mountains.
On some snowy off-road hills, we appreciated the 4Motion AWD with active control, and hours of highway driving were aided by the radar cruise control and lane assist.
The interior, with its brown leather, felt warm and relatively upscale. Its heavy doors slam with authority. But there is also a bit of a spare feeling, and the black-and-white info screen on the gauge cluster does not help.
The infotainment system is easy to read but not initially easy to operate. There is a learning curve to interpreting some of the symbols and the way the screen changes when your hand gets close. The Fender audio system is noteworthy for its clarity and sound quality. But the single USB port up front is not enough in today’s gadget-filled world.
The back seat has air conditioning but is cramped. The cargo space is larger than anticipated, and there is more space under the floor with the space saver spare. Adding a power outlet in the back is thoughtful. But the cargo cover is finicky; it should not take that much effort to figure out and use. And there is no power liftgate on a $36,510 USD vehicle. (That is the SEL trim’s base price. Our tester had no options.)
Pet peeve: Most of us did not like hearing the backup camera pop out.
“All in all a compelling little car,” Seabaugh said. “It’s good enough to overcome one major flaw (power or ride) but not both.”
|2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI 4Motion (SEL)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,510|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door wagon|
|ENGINE||1.8L/170-hp/199-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,510 lb (56/44%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||180.2 x 70.8 x 59.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.5 sec @ 87.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||117 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.0 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||21.3/31.4/24.9 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lb/mile|