SHAMONG, New Jersey — A 2002 Range Rover, a 2012 Jeep Wrangler, and a 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack go playing in the woods. One member of this trio is clearly not like the others. And yet, despite being little more than a slightly lifted wagon butched up with some plastic cladding, the Alltrack never demanded assistance during our expedition through Wharton State Forest, a 115,000-acre park in the middle of New Jersey’s famous pine barrens that features over 500 miles worth of unpaved roads.
While major portions of the park are accessible by almost any car, exploring historic sites in Wharton’s deeper confines requires one that, at the very least, offers up some additional ground clearance. The Alltrack sits 0.6-inch higher than the Sportwagen and an extra 1.2 inches over the Golf Sportwagen (6.7 inches versus 5.5). It’s not much, but it’s enough to make a difference. We blitzed through multiple flooded ruts with water as high as the Alltrack’s ground clearance like a walk through the park. When the surface became deep, loose sand, its part-time all-wheel-drive system seamlessly sent power to the rear axle to keep things moving. Obviously no rock crawler, the Golf Alltrack will, however, comfortably reach most hard-to-access trailheads.
Playtime in the pine barrens was followed by a six-hour trek (sans Range Rover and Jeep) up to the town of Northfield in central Vermont to visit an old friend. The Golf’s suspension competently ironed out pothole-ridden stretches of highway and offered a comfortable cruise on smooth portions of the New Jersey Turnpike befitting its Autobahn-bred heritage.
The Alltrack‘s long-distance comfort and on-road stability are matched by its ability to tackle curvy, mountainous two-lanes like Vermont Route 100 and Route 12. The chassis and suspension tuning demonstrated natural and progressive behavior. Despite its higher center of gravity and 64-pound weight gain over the Golf Sportwagen 4MOTION, loading up the Alltrack’s tires in a long, swooping corner with “Sport” mode engaged yields grins and keeps tailgaters at a distance on off-ramps. Predictably, the familiar DSG six-speed twin-clutch automatic makes good use of the 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque sent through it by the 1.8-liter turbo-four.
It rides with a little more stiffness than the standard Sportwagen, which is noticeable on unpaved roads with washboard surfaces. On the upside, the Alltrack’s extra suspension travel and excellent rebound rates eat up freeze-thaw road dips (frost heaves) as well as an SUV while maintaining a car-like seating position. In all, it’s not surprising that the Alltrack is starting to gain traction in New England, particularly Vermont, which has an affinity for the German brand that dates back decades.
While our time with the Golf Alltrack was mostly positive, we did encounter some electrical gremlins. The passenger-side daytime-running light malfunctioned and, on the trip back from Vermont, the infotainment system completely blacked out several times (each time, I “fixed” it by disconnecting the battery).
Aside from those issues, the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack proved itself to be a capable, functional, and stylish automobile that may even threaten Subaru’s Outback. Sufficiently different from the Sportwagen to carve out its own niche, the Alltrack has the style and handling of a bonafide member of the Golf family; it just happens to be the most adventurous one of the clan.
2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Specifications
|ENGINE||1.8L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/170 hp @ 4,500 rpm, 199 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed dual-clutch automatic (6-speed manual, early 2017)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD wagon|
|EPA MILEAGE||22/30 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||180.2 x 70.8 x 59.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.8 sec|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|