A wagon lover's dream

by Haney Louka . Feb 10 2017
Photos by Volkswagen Canada

Photos by Volkswagen Canada

Our 2012 VW Golf Wagon has been a great car. Efficient, fun and practical, it suits our needs just fine. It still has fairly low mileage and has been extremely reliable. But it’s a TDI: one of the hundred thousand-or-so vehicles VW is preparing to buy back from its Canadian customers, thanks to Dieselgate.

While it should, and will, be the subject of future discussion, the gist of this unprecedented manufacturer buyback deal is that VW installed “cheat devices” on its TDI models allowing them to report emissions levels that are much lower than their real-world numbers, which happen to far exceed those allowable by law. The cheat was made public in September 2015.

So, there is an agreement in place — yet to be officially endorsed by Canadian courts, which is expected to take place this March — which gives owners the option to sell their car back to Volkswagen at pre-Dieselgate values, and pocket some cash on top. The other option will be a free fix to bring the cars into compliance, plus the same cash settlement.

This situation now has me thinking: if I took the buyback deal, with what would I replace my beloved wagon?

Now, there are many who feel betrayed by the company and wouldn’t consider another VW, but without getting into my reasons here, I’m not among them.

I would treat VW’s offerings with as much consideration as other brands. Maybe more, given how well the car has served us for the last five-plus years.

So, here is the first instalment in which we look at family haulers that may be worthy of our consideration: the new Golf Alltrack from Volkswagen.

VW took the seventh-gen Golf Sportwagen and, using a decades-old formula of adding all-wheel drive and jacking up the ground clearance (see AMC Eagle, Audi Allroad and Subaru Outback for inspiration), begat the car you see here.

The Alltrack took top honours in its Large Car category at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s 2017 Canadian Car of the Year competition, and is a finalist for overall Canadian Car of the Year, to be announced Feb. 16.

Starting at $35,295, the Alltrack is well-equipped out of the gate. True to its mission of trying to make a crossover utility vehicle (CUV) out of a wagon, it gets a 20-mm boost in ground clearance compared to the wagon, and a touch of lower-body plastic cladding — a practice I normally abhor, but its use is restrained enough here and the plastic is interrupted by a sufficient amount of aluminum to keep its upscale vibe alive.

It also has some of the nicest alloy wheels ever to grace a Golf. The three-dimensional multi-spoke design is surely a contributing factor that caused my neighbour to ask if that was a BMW in my driveway.

Automatic headlights, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, navigation, smartphone integration, rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic sunroof and a 115V power point top the standard equipment list.

The $1,610 light and sound package adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights, a sublime Fender audio system and unique LED running lights, while the $1,310 driver assistance package nets adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure assist and automatic parking.

For me, the light and sound package is the one to get; I don’t mind some of the features of the driver assistance package, but I’m not sure I’d tick that box when placing my order.

Of course, the Allroad differs from previous Golf SportWagens because it gets VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. And while VW’s marketing efforts seem focused on the Alltrack for 2017, it’s not a small bit of news that the more conventional SportWagen can also be had with 4Motion now and starts so-equipped at $26,045.

While 4Motion is a front-drive-based system in this application, it incorporates a multi-plate clutch that can send power rearward as required. And unlike the “slip-then-grip” systems that plague so many crossovers in this price range, this one takes driver input into consideration, actively distributing power under acceleration. The difference became abundantly clear when I left the Alltrack and stepped into a loaded RAV4 Platinum. Even though the Toyota’s AWD is promoted as being proactive, the contrast was striking.

Having the ability to turn off traction control while stability control remains functioning is a key feature for our Canadian winters: on slick or snowy days, a bit of wheelspin helps preserve momentum.

The reasons I like the Alltrack are the same reasons we currently have two VWs in our garage: this is a vehicle that delivers satisfying driving dynamics; even with the 20-mm boost in ground clearance, this is a car, not a crossover.

Even though the Golf’s 1.8-litre four-banger boasts turbocharging and direct injection, its character is more about being smooth and efficient: this is not a stretched GTI. Power output peaks at modest 170 hp, but the robust 199 pound-feet of torque plateau stretches from 1,600 to 4,440 rpm. Coupled with the six-speed direct-shift automatic transmission, it provides competent, if not thrilling, power delivery. The benefit comes in the form of fuel consumption; after a week of primarily city driving, my consumption was in the 10L/100 km range.

I have a few beefs with the transmission programming, though. This is a dual-clutch DSG unit, unlike the conventional automatic found in front-drive Golfs. With the gear selector left in D, the transmission upshifts too early and is hesitant to downshift. All in the interest of fuel economy, of course. S, for sport mode, goes too far the other way, holding gears too long and cruising in too low a gear for everyday driving. Occasionally, I found myself shifting manually to get what I wanted out of the gearbox.

Quality materials and gimmick-free design give the Golf a premium feel for its price; another trait that was accentuated when I got into the RAV4 after driving this for the week. And one of the neatest features evident from the driver’s seat is the rear-view camera that is cleverly hidden behind the VW logo on the car’s liftgate. It only peers out when the driver selects reverse gear, which means the image remained crystal clear during our messy January week with the car, despite the car’s exterior collecting a uniform layer of grime.

Compared to similarly priced CUV competition, the Alltrack is small. With 860 litres of cargo volume behind the rear seats and 1,880 L with the seats folded, the jacked-up wagon fits somewhere between subcompact and compact CUVs in this regard. And we may require some small towing capacity in the next few years; something the Alltrack doesn’t have.

We enjoyed our week with the Alltrack, but will be driving some worthy competitors in the coming weeks, presenting the benefits and shortcomings of each as we entertain the thought of replacing our current family wagon.