Butch, it seems, is in vogue. Following the lead of Subaru and their immensely successful Outback, automakers are squeezing a few more sales out of popular wagons or crossovers by jacking them up a couple inches, adding some plastic body cladding, and slapping on new trail-inspired badges. This formula is exactly what Volkswagen has followed with the Golf Alltrack, an elevated, body-cladded version of the Golf SportWagen.

Best Value

If you're buying an Alltrack, the Goldilocks approach is best. While the low-end S has an attractive price but a short feature list, the range-topping SEL rings in at nearly $36,000 - that's as much as a top-spec Outback, which is larger, more powerful, and better equipped. That leaves the SE, which has a base price of $30,615 and includes notable features such as an 8-inch infotainment system, Car-net App Connect, six-way power heated front seats, and forward-collision warning. The only option is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, but we'd stick with the standard six-speed manual; more control and a heightened sense of engagement are worth the extra footwork of the stick shift. Here's our Alltrack as it would emerge from the factory:

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE
  • Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Output: 170 horsepower / 199 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel-drive
  • MPG: 21 City / 30 Hwy
  • Options: N/A
  • Base Price: $30,615 (including $850 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$30,615

Performance

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

The Golf Alltrack is no Golf R, but the 170-horsepower 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes enough power to give this propel this carryall with reasonable haste. Considering that Subaru's Crosstrek and Outback respectively stir up 152 and 175 horsepower, VW's all-wheel-drive outdoorsy wagon is right in line with the intended competition. However, the SEL does give up 85 horsepower to the similarly-priced 3.6-liter Outback - a very noticeable power deficit. VW would be wise to consider offering something with more oomph on SEL trims if they are intent on competing with the segment leader.

Even with the additional ride height, the Alltrack rides over the pavement similarly to it's other Golf brethen: smooth and comfortable. When the asphalt turns to dirt, the extra space between the ground and the underbody mean the Alltrack is the most capable of the Golf family, but don't think this wagon is a Jeep with a VW badge. Consider it a good option for meandering forest roads or taking well-traveled dirt roads. When the going gets truly rough, don't expect the Alltrack to cut the mustard.

Style

The Golf hatchback has always been defined by it's understated and handsome sheetmetal, and thankfully that hasn't been lost on the elongated Alltrack. Even with the cladding and extra ride hieght, the stilted wagon still looks decidedly European.

Anyone who's spent time in a standard Golf won't find anything surprising inside the Alltrack. As with the hatchback, the overall interior theme is bereft of overbearing details or superfluous accents. All models are upholstered in what Volkswagen calls leatherette but what is for all intents and purposes vinyl. It's not as supple or as comfortable as the cloth seats available elsewhere in the Golf lineup, but it is hard-wearing - a plus for all the dog-loving, Nature Valley-eating, Merrell-wearing folk that VW is targeting with the Alltrack. Those buyers will also love that they'll have no problem shoving all their camping gear in back with Fido: there's 30.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats upright, and a truly impressive 66.5 cubic feet of room with the second row dropped.

The base Alltrack S is stuck with a six-inch infotainment screen, but both the SE and SEL boast an eight-inch unit that is faster and more intuitive. The up-level models also have SiriusXM radio, VW car-net app-connect services, Bluetooth, and forward-collision mitigation - not a bad roster of features considering the thirty grand or so costs for an SE. SELs bring even more to the table: they get navigation, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, lane-departure warning, 12-way power seats, and a Fender sound system.

The Best and Worst Things

Being the only genuine wagon in the compact class means that space is unparalleled. Couple that with the Alltrack's all-wheel-drive and what you're left with is an incredibly useful and practical automobile.

The 170-horsepower engine is merely adequate for the S and SE. The SEL - whose price is in line with a 3.6-liter flat-six-powered Outback - really should have some added power, either by way of more cylinders or displacement. As it stands, the extra horses being stirred by the 3.6-liter Subaru makes it a smarter move when compared to an SEL.

Right For? Wrong For?

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

With the additional ride height and boatloads of interior space, the Alltrack shines as a vehicle for someone living an active lifestyle. Yes, that might be a marketer's favorite descriptor, but in this case it holds water. How many brands that aren't Subaru have on tap an affordable, bona-fide wagon with nearly 70 cubes of space and a bit of ground clearance to get to the trail?

If you want to do head down rutted two-tracks and other ragged and rough trails, this is the wrong machine, despite the impressions left by the cladding and stance. Similarly, anyone doing primarily urban driving should seriously consider the Golf SportWagen instead - the same car but with front-wheel-drive, no plastic trim, and a standard ride height.

The Bottom Line

In a market that seems allergic to anything resembling a sedan or wagon, VW is making a wise move selling the Alltrack. By grafting some extra ground clearance and all-wheel-drive onto the otherwise competent and spacious SportWagen, VW will be sure to sell more of their handsome wagons to Americans who need to ride high. Business strategies aside, this lifted wagon is a pleasant ride all around. For those who want a Subaru-like vehicle that hails from Europe, the Alltrack makes an excellent choice.