(Contributing Editor: George Straton)
Even before the world’s largest automaker Volkswagen fell face forward into it’s own diesel tarpit last year, the volume German brand was stumbling here in the U.S. market.
In the rest of the world the boy racer dominating Golf GTI doesn’t get shaken by exhaust rumble of affordable American muscle V-8 at stoplights.
The company’s divestiture of diesel in the U.S. has nixed the brand’s other loyal following here.
But VW isn’t content to sit on the sideline as a “mere survivor” in the U.S. Instead, the “People’s Car” maker has scrambled to serve up a Jägerplatte of new SUVs, crossovers, sports wagons and pretty much anything sitting higher than play-pen height.
Back in Wolfsburg they’ve heard the gong cymbal of American frontiersmanship ring “Laut und Klar.”
It’s fortuitous that the other side of the pond didn’t abandon their admiration of the station wagon. Or as VW calls it: the “SPORTWAGEN.”
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WHAT: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack AWD SE 2-Row off-road capable, active lifestyle compact family station wagon .
Power: transverse 1.8.L DOHC 16V DI intercooled turbocharged gas I-4 = 170 hp/ 199 lb-ft + 6-spd. DSG dual clutch automated helical transaxle + Haldex PTU to multi-plate wet clutch differential torque vectoring variable all-wheel drive.
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Every bit an MQB Golf Mk. VII with a wagon cargo bay grafted on; Less acutely upright than Golf lift-back because of sloping roof; Lattice GTI style grille insert matched by lower fascia insert; Dark lower cladding extends to wheel arches & integrates with front & rear lower fascia aluminum simulated skid plates; Liftgate protrudes out for cargo accommodation; Large glass between C, D pillars contributes to immense greenhouse;
WHY: Why should Subaru have the active lifestyle wagon market all to itself?
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since late Summer 2016
WHERE: Volkswagen new vehicle dealers
WHERE MADE: Puebla , Mexico
WHERE TO: Standard Haldex all-wheel drive, e-varies front/ rear traction from 90/ 10% – lockable at maximum 50/50%, rear e-clutch differential limits the slip; Selectable Off-Road and ABS descent control; 7″ clearance = 1″ < Outback: Handy ersatz skid plates protect lower fascias from frozen snow pack.
HOW ROADWORTHY: this is the only way to get torquey 1.8L turbocharged DOHC DI gas 4-cylinder with the 6-speed DSG helical dual-clutch automated manual; masks turbo lag as good as any torque converter planetary automatic but with snappier shifts; Greater suspension travel mitigates pitch, but generates slightly more roll than standard Golf 5-door; Stiff springs with quick compression damping = taut ride without crashing; Steering heft moderate, quick reaction but lazy return; Brake pedal wooden, but cold bite adequate; Cabin muffles wind or road noise, but air-cooled Beetle Type I engine sounds can be heard in the distance.
HOW FAR: 25 combined miles per gallon = +15% fuel economy over comparably performing CUVs.
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ fits 5 adult occupants; Low height compared to true Crossover Utes keeps leg & knee room to that of standard Golf; Center drive-shaft hump renders rear center position child-only suitable; Panoramic glass roof eats headroom; Cargo capacity bests a ’72 Olds Vista Cruiser;
HOW USEFUL: √ Lower load floor than most compact crossovers; √ near flat folding 60/40% split 2nd Row tilting seatbacks w/ twin cargo bay release latches; +1 View out from tall greenhouse and low sloping hood; Tow Rating: None as in this is a Golf after all.
HOW SAFE: √ 6 airbags; √ IIHS Safety Pick +; √ Rear camera (available Driver Assist pkg. = forward collision warning, Park Pilot steering assist, sonar park guidance & adaptive cruise control).
HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: √ Heated front seats; √ Power tilt front seat-backs ; √ Leather steering wheel with spoke integrated tactile redundant controls;√ Contrast stitching;
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Panoramic glass roof; √ Felt lined door pockets minimizes change or keys jingle jangling.
Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Low-contrast faux carbon fiber appliques; -1 Coarse grain plastic cabin trim.
HOW “APP” -LICABLE: √ 6.5″ capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen w/ gesture control; √ Voice command hands-free communications; √ Android Auto, Apple Car Play & MirrorLink smart phone apps; √ Subscription based VW Car-Net telematics; √; 400W 9 speaker Fender audio pounds out taut depth but loses on separation, √ USB x 1, 12V x 3, 115V x 1.
HOW MUCH: $31, 350 = SE as tested
WHAT’S MISSING: Full power driver’s seat, > seat thigh comfort; an R edition?
ANY COMPETITION: Subaru Outback: +1 clearance, cargo bay; -1 lumpier powertrain, road manners; Volvo V60 Crosscountry; +1 luxury cabin, cargo management, powertrain, -1 price; Audi A3 Allroad (if it ever comes to the U.S.): +1 Audi prestige, -1 Audi price.