This is 40
2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE

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Photos courtesy of Volkswagen

By Glenn Oyoung

The universe has interesting ways of letting you know you’re getting older, ranging from the physical to the metaphysical. Every time it’s cold I’m reminded that I used to be invincible, but now I’m just a middle-aged dad with a varsity jacket that doesn’t quite fit – and a case of tendinitis in both knees. I find myself driving along absolutely psyched that my favorite Guns N’ Roses song is on the radio, until I realize it’s playing on K-Earth (Welcome to the Jungle, indeed.) And the big tell that my expiration date is nearing – I have an inexplicable and burgeoning desire to drive the crap out of every wagon I come across.

So, it was that I found myself with the keys to a shiny new 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE. You’d think from my Cheshire-cat grin that I was just handed the keys to the latest German (read: M/AMG/RS) coupe to slay the Ring. Instead, I was about to embark on a seven-day journey to see if the VW Golf SportWagen’s taller and outdoorsier brother could help me slay the Burbs.

Why all the excitement over a wagon? We all have that fellow gearhead friend – who’s come to you, head hung in shame, to tell you that he’s finally caving in and getting a *man gasp* minivan. While he’ll miss the coupe that got you guys through your 20’s and maybe even your 30’s, the time has come to embrace power sliding doors. To this I say, do what you have to do, but when the day comes for me to get a car with more utility I refuse to give up a low center of gravity, sport-tuned suspension, and handling!

The VW Golf Alltrack is there to ease the pain of aging, and dare I say, help your cool-to-cranky-old-man quotient stay on the hipper side. No, it’s not some miracle elixir to repair your DNA’s telomeres nor is it a fancy skin cream derived from the stem cells of free-range baby seals. But in the game of life which is all about tradeoffs, the Golf Alltrak strikes a pleasing balance between maximum utility and unadulterated driving pleasure.

Exterior
One of the things that make minivans sad is they announce from 100 feet out that you are in full-on child-rearing mode, and that your driving gloves have been stowed away at least until middle school. Not so with the handsome Golf Alltrack. Our tester model was the sporty SE trim in Platinum Gray Metallic. No doubt it exuded utility thanks to its wagon shape, roof rails, and raised ride height (6.5 inches compared to the Golf SportWagen’s 5.5 inches).

While the Golf Alltrack won’t ever be mistaken for a sports car, one can certainly imagine a variant with aftermarket wheels, lowering springs, and exhaust that would make the tuner car at the stop light think twice before a random display of machismo. In other words, a Golf SportWagen with some tuner parts fitted for good measure. The Golf Alltrack’s mildly chiseled front fascia and clean side profiles exude a Teutonic sophistication that lend to a certain gravitas for this compact wagon normally reserved for bigger ships in the fleet.

Interior
The interior is where the Golf Alltrack really shines. It is blessed with a typical modern VW interior – super clean, upscale enough to remind you this is the same company that produces the Golf’s Audi A3 and A4 cousins, and driver and infotainment controls that are logically placed. I liked certain elements like push-button start, silver-accented sport pedals, and supportive leatherette-clad seats. Other minor things like the faux-carbon fiber dash trim and plasticky center stack I could have done without.

The whole family absolutely loved the available panoramic sunroof, which opens, tilts, and slides. It offered plenty of ways to enjoy the great outdoors, even if the great outdoors was in reality the two miles between the driveway of my house and the school drop-off zone.

In the family-hauling department the Golf Alltrack gets the job done, although just barely. The rear seating area was considerably more cramped after I installed the requisite booster seat for my oldest daughter and the child seat for my youngest. Sliding a grandparent or other adult in the middle seat would have been an exercise in family bonding that is best reserved for short hops. That being said, the kids still had plenty of room for themselves and their stuffed animal companions.

Another standout feature is the amount of gear – whether that be groceries or golf clubs – that the rear cargo accommodates. The Golf Alltrack boasts an impressive cargo capacity of 30.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats and a whopping 66.5 cubic feet with the seats folded down. Unlike other cars and SUVs, getting the rear seats down is a simple exercise that does not require you to be either psychic or double-jointed.

Tech
In the infotainment department, the Golf Alltrack provides all the bells and whistles you could ask for at this price point.

Getting music and navigation going was as simple as plugging in my phone and letting VW’s App-Connect take over. As a citizen of Apple’s eco-system, I do love the fact that CarPlay delivers me the same interface on the infotainment stack as I get on my phone. Ultimately this netted out in me leaving my phone resting safely vs. constantly engaging with it to enter in destinations, calls, and the likes.

Whether playing from my iTunes library or enjoying SiriusXM, the available 400-watt Fender Premium Audio System was a proverbial blast to listen to, and lived up to the hype of being customized for the Golf’s cabin.

Nowadays cars of all levels are judged not only by their entertainment-related technology, but also by their advanced safety features. The Golf Alltrack offers a full gamut of features to keep you in one piece: front assist, adaptive cruise control, park pilot, park assist (Park Steering Assistant), and lane assist. It also has a rearview camera system mounted in the rear VW emblem, a pretty trick placement.

While this adds $845 to the already significant price tag, it’s not a lot to ask for from suburban and urban consumers with long commutes to overcome, tight parking spaces to maneuver, and precious cargo (in the form of offspring) to protect.

Performance
Powered by the turbocharged 1.8L TSI engine that appeared on Ward’s 10 Best Engines, the Golf Alltrack has plenty of pep. While 170 horsepower and 199 lb.-ft. of torque isn’t going to set any track records, the Golf Alltrack is still a great all-around performer. During point-to-point trips with the kiddies in tow, the engine is quiet and practical with a EPA-estimated 22 city/30 hwy mpg. Once school’s in session, the Golf Alltrack is ready to play along with delusions of racing grandeur. It’s quick enough, torquey-enough, and agile enough to make carving up corners and attacking on-ramps fun. That’s saying something for a little wagon that’s riding a little high.

The asphalt isn’t the only stomping grounds of the Golf Alltrack. Though I wasn’t able to venture out to the backcountry to test it personally, the Golf Alltrack is equipped with Off-Road mode and Hill Descent Control to facilitate trips to the cabin. Thanks to some light rain, I was able to feel the benefits of VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system that sends torque between the front and rear axle when needed.

Our tester was equipped with the six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Since then VW has offered up a six-speed manual, the only change I really longed for to boost the fun factor during my review.

Wrapping it Up
Overall the Golf Alltrack is a great choice for families with young kids or folks with active lifestyles that need to haul cargo on occasion. While bigger and more powerful wagons are available from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, and even VW stablemate Audi, most of those will easily require ten to twenty thousand more greenbacks.

With a sporty exterior, clean and feature-loaded interior, and enough power and handling capabilities to belie its utilitarian set-up, the Golf Alltrack SE is a welcome addition to the mix of wagons that are increasingly cutting into the U.S. crossover and SUV markets – especially for those who want some handling to go alongside their cargo capacity.

Specifications
2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE
Approximate Price as Tested: $32,465
EPA fuel economy rating:
22 city/30 highway/17 combined miles per gallon
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 hp @ 4,500 rpm
Torque: 199 lb.-ft. @ 1600 rpm
EPA Passenger Volume: 94.3 cubic feet
Cargo Volume (Rear seats folded down): 66.5 cubic feet
Cargo Volume (Rear sets up): 30.4 cubic feet
EPA Size Classification: Compact Car
Curb Weight: 3422 lbs.

* Passenger car classes are designated by the EPA based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except the ones classified as special vehicle. A two-seater is classified as a car with no more than two designated seating positions.

Glenn Oyoung is Editor-at-Large at LA Car, author of “C is for Car” a vehicular alphabet book, and co-founder of the Carcadia monthly car meet in Arcadia off historic Route 66. His most important job is being the father of five (two human kids, three canine ones) and wrangling car seats. Follow Glenn on Instagram @SuburbanRacer.

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