Mountain Wheels: Back to the automotive basics with Volkswagen’s 2019 Golf Alltrack
An indicated 40 miles per gallon at the end of my Crested Butte spring break expedition — yep, the Epic Pass really does work there, too — was a pleasant discovery. I’d done just under 500 miles in the 2019 Golf Alltrack, Volkswagen’s credible but perhaps slightly austere alternative to the Subaru Outback and its stranglehold on winter-worthy, lite-adventure wagon motoring.
And given that contemporary Outbacks are practically SUVs bordering on minivans at this point, the VW Alltrack is actually more like a late ’90s or early ’00s version of the Outback: narrow, firmly planted on the ground, amply powered but requiring a bit of coaxing to really tear up the highway.
In a word, the Alltrack’s simplicity is what makes it attractive, besides it actually being quite attractively designed, with plenty of those “I am ready for rudimentary off-road adventure driving” visual cues, such as pronounced wheel arches and copious roof rails.
My 4Motion all-wheel-drive-equipped SE model stickered at $30,495, but was bumped up to $33,785 with adaptive front LED headlamps, 18-inch wheels and a full driver assistance/safety package. And it came with a real six-speed manual transmission, a feature which delights auto journalists to no end, but is losing favor with the regular driving public. Pricing for the more basic S model starts at $26,895.
Probably the biggest difference between the new wave of overachieving SUVs or higher-end wagons — Outback and the much-desirable Audi Allroad, or high-end pieces like the Jaguar XF Sportbrake or the Volvo V90 — is the Volkswagen’s tremendously low-drama interior.
Minus a couple of strips of metal-styled plastic trim on the doors and dash, there’s little flash to be found, with broad, not-especially-strongly-bolstered leatherette seating, and a few bits of shiny black plastic trim on spots such as the emergency brake handle.
What you get with Alltrack is a back-to-basics but entirely capable all-wheel-drive sedan sporting a ton of cargo room (66.5 cubic feet, with the rear seats folded), powered by a capable 168-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbo.
And so, if you head out on a very long, late-season journey as I did, you get to experience a bit of a time machine effect at work, considering that even Volkswagen has gone whole-hog on the SUV bandwagon, with the new, larger version of the Tiguan and the even bigger Atlas SUVs.
Alltrack, a slightly heightened and looks-modified rendition of the company’s Golf SportWagen, rides at a marginally taller 6.9 inches of ground clearance. I would, however, recommend winter tires to get the full benefit of the vehicle’s AWD system, as the all-seasons felt a little loose on the hairier, ice-covered stretches of Monarch Pass.
If you’ve spent time in SUVs, Alltrack feels much more like a car, because it is a car — I now spend so much time in SUVs that this is always a revelation to me. That has its benefits, however: You can take corners with enthusiasm, not head-tossing fear, and what the vehicle lacks in pure gigantic domination, it makes up for in driving pleasure and versatility.
Yes, there’s a considerable amount of road noise in the cabin, but consider that part of the realistic driving experience, rather than floating above the road in a large and hostile box, as SUV drivers do.
The six-speed manual also makes it a more authentic experience, with easy shifting and comfortable gearing for an EPA highway figure of 30 mpg, though the latter stretches of my trip far exceeded that. A six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission is also available.
You just need to recalculate your ambitions, and if you are absolutely addicted to largesse (besides the Alltrack’s cargo capacity), this might not be the right vehicle for you. I would not describe the seating as being copious to American proportions. Controls are all wonderfully simple, and the large, attractive touchscreen did not come equipped with navigation.
You do get what seems like a 40-foot-long, all-cabin sunroof (the power screen takes forever to close and open, as a result), a couple of open, hard-plastic cupholders and a single USB in a lit-covered cubby, with the Alltrack logo.
Rear seating is elevated and reasonably comfortable but there are only small air vents and no power outlets, video screens, seat massagers or any of the gee-gaws of the modern SUV world. Your kids might be bored. They will have to learn to adjust.
In the far back, you will be able to load an apartment’s worth of junk into the mostly flat-bottomed, easy-to-access cargo area, with even more space under the deck and a full 115-volt plug in the rear.
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