2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Ownership Review
2018 Volkswagen Alltrack vs. 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack
by Matt Degen | June 13, 2018
What’s the only thing better than having a Volkswagen Golf Alltrack in the KBB test garage? Having two of them. And the only thing better than that is having one that’s newer and comes with a stick shift.
This was the case recently when a 2018 VW Alltrack joined us for a couple of weeks. Dressed in red just like our 2017 Alltrack long-term test vehicle, it was as if we were hosting automotive twins. Look below the surface, though, and there are significant changes.
2018 model year upgrades
It’s only been a year since the VW Alltrack arrived as an all-new model, but Volkswagen has wasted no time already improving it in both tangible and intangible ways. Starting on the outside, the 2018 Alltrack gains new LED taillights and LED daytime running lights (DRLs), and automatic headlights with a rain sensor.
Inside, the changes are even more notable. All models receive an upgraded infotainment system. While base Alltrack S trims continue to use a 6.5-inch screen, as all models did for 2017, the higher trim 2018 Alltrack SE and SEL get a larger, sleeker and better-looking 8-inch screen.
Though the 1.5-inch difference between our 2017 Alltrack SE and the 2018 Alltrack SE that we had for a couple of weeks may not seem like much, in reality the new unit feels like a substantial upgrade. It also looks sleeker in the area around the screen, where VW has done away with the hard-touch buttons of last year’s model in favor of flush controls. Thankfully, knobs remain for volume and tuning. As with the 2017 Alltrack, this latest version has a proximity sensor – when your finger nears the screen, more options pop up.
Additional safety features and a longer warranty
Also notable for the 2018 Alltrack is the move to include active safety and driver-assist features as standard by trim level rather than costing extra in an option package. The Alltrack SE gains forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and blind-spot monitoring. Topline 2018 Alltrack SEL models now include driving aids like adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning.
Then there’s the warranty. Like all new 2018 Volkswagens, this latest Alltrack all-wheel-drive wagon comes with VW’s “People First” bumper-to-bumper warranty. It is good for 6 years or 72,000 miles, and it’s also transferable to the next owner.
A manual transmission all-wheel-drive turbocharged station wagon? Bring it on!
The biggest surprise in the 2018 VW Alltrack that was loaned to us was that it came with a 6-speed manual transmission. We’d been excited since its launch that the Alltrack is available with three pedals, but so far we’d never even seen one, let alone have one in for testing. Even better, the stick isn’t just reserved for the base model. One can also be had in the more recommendable SE trim (though not the top-line SEL).
The wait proved worth it. VW has a knack for making crisp, easy-to-use manual transmissions. A manual-transmission Alltrack only makes this vehicle more engaging. The clutch pedal is light, and except for occasional notch-iness when moving into 2nd gear, the shifter proved snappy. We also found it a lot more enjoyable than the manual transmission offered in the Subaru Crosstrek, just as we find the Alltrack’s DSG automatic transmission more invigorating than the Crosstrek’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic.
Add it all up, and the 2018 updates make the VW Alltrack all the more enticing. The upgraded warranty and new infotainment system alone are reason enough to make last year’s model envious. This is a case where an all-new vehicle has significantly improved on itself after just one year.
Why wagons are wonderful
by Matt Degen | May 7, 2018
We just passed the 20,000-mile mark on our long-term Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, and with it came a reminder of why wagons are wonderful. Another way of putting this update may be: “Will it fit?”
I have a penchant for scrounging thrift stores, and with it quite a bit of luck scoring once-high-priced items for pennies on the dollars. Think high-end pots and pans for a few bucks, and audiophile-grade components for around $15. Among this past week’s finds was a universal disc player (SACD and DVD Audio/Video player) that retailed for $700 when new in 2002. I bought it for $12.99 from my local Goodwill.
The bigger score, literally, was a bookshelf. It must have come out of a company or some other commercial application, because the thing is built like a tank and has the kind of heft that comes with quality materials. I could tell it was a quality piece, and for less than $30, it was a scorching deal. I pounced on it.
When a big trunk just won’t do
At the time, I was driving a sedan. It happened to be another Volkswagen – the sporty new Passat GT. As likable as that V6 sedan is, and despite the fact it has a large (nearly 16 cubic-foot) trunk, it just wasn’t going to haul the bookcase. This was a job for a vehicle with far more cargo-swallowing versatility.
At this point, most people might look to a pickup truck or SUV. I did some quick dimension calculations in my head and thought of the Alltrack. With the bookshelf on hold, I ran to the office, grabbed our long-term VW Alltrack, and zoomed back to the store. I folded the rear seats and prayed the VW’s 66-plus-cubic feet of rear cargo space would be enough to swallow the bookshelf, which measures 55 inches high and 33 wide.
My worries weren’t necessary. Like a charm, the new-to-me piece of furniture slid right in with the help of two workers to load it. Once home, I had another reason be thankful for using the Alltrack: its lower ride height. While the Alltrack sits slightly higher than its VW Golf Sportwagen counterpart, it’s still lower than most crossover SUVs. That meant it was also easier to access and unload the bookshelf singlehandedly. From there I put it on a moving dolly for duty in the house. Another all-around win: money saved buying quality used vs. junk new, and another opportunity for VW’s adventurous wagon to prove itself an invaluable partner for those who value practicality.
Tire pressure tips
by Matt Degen | April 10, 2018
If you own a Volkswagen, there’s a chance – maybe a strong one – that the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) warning light will go off. That’s the one that looks like squashed yellow parentheses symbols with an exclamation point in the middle.
The TPMS light warns that the air pressure is low in at least one of the tires. And in all three of the VWs, past and current, that have been in the Kelley Blue Book long-term test garage, the light has gone off even when the tire pressure is otherwise fine. We’ve never found an exact reason for why this is, but have a hunch that VW’s system is particularly sensitive, especially with changes in weather and therefore atmospheric pressure changes.
With that background, it wasn’t a surprise when the TPMS warning light recently went off in our 2017 VW Alltrack. The first thing we did – and the first thing you should do, too, if this happens to you – is check the tires’ pressure. Like any warning light, you should investigate why it has appeared on your dash. And we shouldn’t have to overstate the importance of a warning that has to do with proper tire inflation.
So, grab a tire pressure gauge (easily obtainable for less than $20) and make sure the pressure is accurate. What is “accurate?” Whether it’s this Volkswagen or your own car, that information can be found by the driver’s side door panel (see photo in this gallery for an example). In the case of the 2017 Alltrack, the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure is 38 psi.
Also listed is the recommended pressure for a tire we often forget about – the spare. The VW’s emergency tire should be filled to 60 psi. No matter what car you own, if it has a spare tire it’s a good idea to regularly check its pressure along with that of the other tires. If you get a flat, the last thing you want is to discover the spare has lost its air. If the gauge shows any tire pressure is lower than the suggested number, promptly fill it. This can be done with an air compressor of your own or with one at a gas station.
Now, to reset that light
Once you’ve checked and adjusted the air pressure if needed, it’s time to turn off the TPMS light since it won’t go off on its own in the VW. This task will vary according to automaker, but in Volkswagens you can easily do this yourself. In older Volkswagens there is a reset button in the glove compartment, but in newer models like this 2017 Golf Alltrack, the reset is performed through the infotainment system.
There are two ways to reset the light via the infotainment system, but both have the same effect. Each way begins by pressing the “Car” button on the right side of the screen. From there, you can touch the “setup” icon in the lower right of the screen. That brings up another menu where you’ll find a list, the second of which is reads “Tires,” which you’ll then tap to bring up a button that says “set,” followed by the reset confirmation. The other way is to press the “Car” button on the right until it displays the “Vehicle status” screen. From there, press the onscreen arrows to switch from “vehicle status” to the screen that says “Tire Pressure Monitor Syst.” Whichever method you choose, the VW will ask you to confirm that “all four tire pressure readings comply with required values.” When you hit “confirm,” it will reset the system and turn off the TPMS light.
by Jason Allan | February 16, 2018
Did you know you can score a free lift ticket on your birthday at most Southern California ski resorts? Odds are you don’t live in the area, but perhaps there are similar deals near you.
I got to take advantage of the offer this year and made the 180-mile roundtrip in our 2017 Golf AllTrack, a vehicle purpose-built for snowboarding and other such adventures. With its added ground clearance, all-wheel drive and generous cargo area, the outdoorsy AllTrack is made for handling foul weather and loads of gear.
But even with blue skies, dry roads and equipment for just one, the AllTrack was perfect. I’m a longtime fan of European driving feel, and the drive up the winding mountain roads was simply more satisfying and enjoyable than it would have been in many other vehicles. And even at relatively leisurely speeds – I had just turned a year older, after all – the paddle shifters came in handy.
Two other favorite features that got plenty of usage were Apple CarPlay and adaptive cruise control. The voice-control element of Apple CarPlay becomes especially valuable when you’re cornering cliffside for extended stretches, and adaptive cruise control is particularly useful after a tiring day launching fakie McTwists in the halfpipe or, in my case, working hard to avoid the halfpipe and most other such hazards altogether.
The seat releases in the cargo area worked just as designed, too. I opened the rear hatch, pulled the release to fold down one side of the rear seat back, and slid the snowboard right in. It doesn’t always go as planned in vehicles so equipped – sometimes the seatbacks won’t fold down because there’s something in the back seat or because the front seats are too far back – but it’s strangely gratifying when it works out.
Maybe it always works out on your birthday.
Oil change service
by Matt Degen | February 7, 2018
Our 2017 VW Golf Alltrack is nearing 20,000 miles on the odometer, and that means a second oil change. If you’re doing the math, yes, that equals regularly scheduled oil changes that span 10,000 miles. If you grew up in a time where a car’s blood was supposed to be drained and changed every 3,000 miles, you might be startled at these numbers. I certainly was when I took the VW in last March for its first service.
But rest-assured, this is totally normal. Thank the world of synthetic oils. Today’s sophisticated lubricants, complemented by equally sophisticated engines, allow for such durations between oil changes. Still, with a busy few weeks ahead that will involve quite a few more miles, I opted to bring in the VW Alltrack a little ahead of schedule, with just under 18,000 on the odometer.
I scheduled the service at nearby Norm Reeves Volkswagen in Irvine the day before and arrived at exactly 12:30 p.m., the designated time. I pulled into the service bay and was promptly greeted by a tech who was quick and courteous, noting the mileage and examining the car for any defects (none were seen, thankfully).
Great service and some savings
Inside the center, I talked with another tech about service options. At 20,000 miles, VW recommends an oil and filter change, and a check of the brakes, battery, tires and windshield washer and blades. That service was quoted around $140, while a basic oil/filter change and vehicle inspection ran around $90. The tech agreed that the basic service would be just as fine. “If this were your 30,000- or 40,000-mile service, I’d tell you differently,” he said.
I also requested a tire rotation for an additional $25. All said and done, the dealer service and a complimentary wash took the exact time estimated – an hour and a half – and came to $120, the same as last year’s similar service. Our VW Alltrack, with 17,987 miles on the odometer, returned with a clean bill of health. Everything was in working order, and the only note in the paperwork was to re-evaluate tire wear at the next interval and replace the rubber if needed.
While I was initially surprised at the $90 fee just for the oil change service, considering it’s good for 10,000 miles or 1 year, it doesn’t seem that exorbitant. Broken down, that’s $7.50 a month – or about the price of a two coffee drinks.
by Matt Degen | January 22, 2018
Our long-term VW Alltrack has been with us over a year now and just passed the 17,000-mile mark on its odometer, many of those logged by me. I continue to relish the attributes of this car, big and small. Depending on your priorities, one of its systems could be considered both: infotainment.
The term "infotainment" has been around for decades, but more recently it's taken new relevance in the car world. A combination of "information" and "entertainment," this means everything having to do with audio, navigation, and phone-control systems. While in past years VW wasn't exactly cutting-edge in this respect, but it's caught up quickly and appreciably.
All three 2017 Alltrack trims come with VW's MIB II infotainment system. Base S and mid-trim SE models such as ours use the Composition Media unit, while the top-line SEL model is outfitted with the Discover Media unit. Both are based around a 6.5-inch touchscreen, but the Discover Media unit adds navigation, one-shot voice destination entry and other mapping tools. If you want an Alltrack with standard navigation, the SEL is the only way to get it. That system also includes the Off-Road Monitor, which when engaged displays the vehicle's altitude, steering wheel angle and a compass.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, standard
No matter which Alltrack you go with, one of its most notable infotainment traits is its smartphone compatibility through its Car-Net system that works with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. This is laudable for a couple of reasons. The first is that it's not only there to begin with--some automakers are still just getting on board with CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity--but it's standard. The other is that, since navigation is only available on top-line Alltrack SEL models, this enables you to use the nav functions on your smartphone in the others trims.
I primarily use this system with an old iPhone 5S, and CarPlay connectivity has always been seamless. The system does a good job relaying text messages over the speakers, and general responsiveness is quick.
One especially neat feature in the VW Alltrack is the touch-screen's proximity sensor. As you move your finger closer to the screen, it "senses" your hand and brings up additional features on screen. For example, put your finger near the bottom and before it makes contact a submenu will appear with additional functions for source selection, previous and next tracks, pause and more.
One of the few gripes I have with the system is the resolution of its 6.5-inch screen. At 800 x 480, it's not very high, and some text and images can appear grainy. Thankfully VW has already improved this. For the 2018 Alltrack, VW has given SE and SEL models a bigger, brighter and faster-operating 8-inch screen (S trims retain the 6.5-inch unit).
All forms of audio playback
On the audio side of the equation, the 2017 Alltrack can play just about everything, from subscription-based SiriusXM satellite radio and free digital HD Radio channels to Bluetooth streaming audio and CDs. Yes, unlike other new cars that have abandoned CD players, the Alltrack still happily spins ‘em. You may not know it from first glance, though. The VW Alltrack’s CD player is hidden in the glovebox.
For traditionalists, there’s also an AM/FM radio. Rounding out the inputs are an SD memory card reader that you can also store audio files on, and finally a simple AUX-in port. Using a cheap plug with the latter, you can play anything that has a headphone output. So maybe you’ll be glad you kept that old Walkman tape player after all.
Sonic Easter egg
If you appreciate higher-quality music, the Alltrack boasts a sonic Easter egg in its ability to play FLAC files via its USB input. Abbreviated for Free Lossless Audio Codec, FLAC files have the same audio resolution as a compact disc and sound equally as good. With a USB drive, you can store hundreds of songs, essentially making the VW a higher-resolution jukebox. I loaded up a thumb drive with a bunch of FLAC files I had previously ripped from CDs, and the VW's infotainment system played them flawlessly, even importing album art where available. Of course, the system plays the more widely-known but lower-res mp3 files, too.
Easiest for most people will be to just stream tunes via Bluetooth or play by connecting a phone via a USB cable. I’ve found Bluetooth to work just fine via my iPhone, and sounds even better wired-in and using the Music app in CarPlay or the Amazon Music app, which also offers the advantage of charging the phone.
Fender audio system
Alltrack SE and SEL models further benefit from Fender premium audio. The system puts out 400 watts through 8 speakers, plus a subwoofer. It sounds good, and sometimes great, depending on the source material. With some digging in the menus, you can also access an equalizer to fine tune bass, midrange, treble and the subwoofer. No matter what music source you go with the Alltrack is likely to play it, just another way in which it makes the miles fly by with ease.
by Matt Degen | October 12, 2017
Driving nearly 3,000 miles in one week will give you a pretty clear idea whether a car will fit your needs, lifestyle, and simply whether or not you like it. We gleaned all those things during a family trek from Orange County, California, to the Dallas area and back. My particular family consists of the amazing Missus and our beloved dog, Parbar, who was the main motivator for driving across multiple states vs. simply flying. I've already chronicled the VW Alltrack's excellent suitability as a pet-friendly car. Now we'll get into this all-wheel-drive station wagon's adaptability as a road-tripper.
Getting a grip
In addition to its cargo space, one of the primary reasons for choosing the 2017 VW Golf Alltrack for this venture was its standard all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. And one of the primary reasons for choosing an AWD car in general is its suitability for handling a variety of roads and whether conditions. It comes down to math: four wheels driving a vehicle are better than two in terms of traction.
Of course, these days cars also benefit from intelligent computers and software systems that can recognize wheel slippage and even help you descend steep slopes by applying the brakes and feathering the throttle. The Alltrack comes with a Haldex AWD standard, and even has an off-road setting in its selectable drive modes to better deal with rough terrain.
While we weren't planning to venture far beyond the asphalt, our trip took place when snow still clung to some mountain passes we'd be traveling through. These passes came and went without drama, and if not for the audible alert and dashboard message warning of sub-freezing conditions, we'd hardly be aware of the potentially slick road below.
More stressful were the downpours we experienced heading across the border from Texas into New Mexico, and then again heading into the Phoenix metro area. In both instances, the skies let loose something fierce. I half expected Noah to float by in the next lane. But here again, the Alltrack's traction never felt compromised, even as we hauled tail at highway speeds on the interstates.
Adaptive cruise control
In those instances of ascending and descending steep, twisty mountain passes and then fighting to see the lane markings amid torrential rain, the act of driving required the highest levels of hands-on attention. But thankfully those were the exceptions to the rule.
If you've ever driven across even half of Texas or from coastal California east to Arizona, you know the highways are long, straight and boring. This was the perfect setting to take advantage of the Alltrack's adaptive cruise control (ACC). The ACC is part of the Driver Assistance package available on all three trims of the 2017 Alltrack that also bundles forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking and parking sensors. At $845, it is money well spent.
On the open highway, the system's adaptive cruise control worked flawlessly. Through the use of radar, the system has the ability to judge the distance to the next car and adapt to its speed. For example, if you're cruising at 70 mph and a car doing 60 moves into your lane, the Alltrack slows down to that speed. When the car moves over, yours accelerates back to pre-determined speed.
These systems are hardly new, but for many years they were the domain of luxury cars. It's refreshing to see it available on a car like the Alltrack, and available even on its base trim. More importantly, it works really, really well. In some vehicles, the braking can be too aggressive, which can put you as the driver on edge. We utilized ACC for significant miles heading home and westward bound on Interstate 10, which is a major trucking route. With only two lanes, it's all but certain that you'll find yourself in the left lane and having to slow for a vehicle or truck in the right lane moving over to pass. This happened more times than we can count, but the Alltrack's system handled all occasions with aplomb.
This technology, combined with the Alltrack's supple yet comfortable ride quality and its confident, turbocharged powertrain that we've already written about, truly made the miles fly by. And after those miles, nearly 3,000 of them in few days' time, I found this car to not only be an ideal road-tripper, but an ideal companion for just about any road and situation.
by Bob Nagy | July 21, 2017
As any of you who’ve followed the earlier updates of our VW Golf Alltrack know, we’ve become pretty serious fans of VW’s tastefully styled, high-riding kinda-crossover. Although largely intended to live on pavement, it’s impressed the staff with an admirable combination of functionality and drivability under a variety of conditions. This time, we’ll take a closer look at the operating synergies of the Alltrack’s drivetrain.
Motivation for the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack is provided by the latest version of VW’s EA888 1.8-liter TSI turbocharged/direct-injected engine. Here, as it does in the Golf and Golf SportWagen, the responsive 4-cylinder makes 170 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and a healthy 199 lb-ft of torque that arrives at just 1,600 revs. Transmission choices include a standard 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic. But unlike the Golf and SportWagen which offer conventional autos, the Alltrack boasts the same DSG dual-clutch unit used in the hot GTI and hotter Golf R models. We’ve found VW’s paddle-shift DSG an ideal partner for the free-revving TSI engine, serving up quick, smooth and consistent cog changes that impart a tangible element of sporty flair to the Alltrack while letting it roll from 0-60 in slightly under 8.0 seconds. Given its versatile nature, we do find it somewhat surprising that VW hasn’t rated the Alltrack for towing.
As its name implies, the Golf Alltrack also comes with all-wheel drive, in this case, VW’s trick 4Motion permanent system. Although the package boosts its curb weight by just over 250 pounds compared to a front-drive Sportwagen, the Alltrack handles that extra burden with nary a wimper. To bolster efficiency, 4Motion incorporates a computer controlled Haldex center clutch that lets the Alltrack function as a front-driver under low-load/dry-road conditions but can instantly send up to 50 percent of the driving force to the rear wheels in response to changing traction situations. Fully integrated with rear differential locks that are part of the Alltrack’s electronic stability control, the 4Motion system also can apply braking force to any individual wheel to optimize lateral power transfer as well as send torque to the tire(s) with the most grip.
To say this has been an interesting weather year in California would be a serious understatement. But despite a host of differing road and atmospheric conditions in the LA area as well as during an extended trek to Dallas and back during the Christmas holidays, our Alltrack has always maintained its poised and confident character. As for its more adventurous side, we got our first chance to check out the Alltrack’s down-and-dirty chops in on a bona-fide off-roading venue during its introduction last fall in Washington State. With 6.9 inches of ground clearance, Hill Descent Control and a dedicated Off-Road mode, this feisty VW dispatched a series of challenging surfaces and situations with a similar degree of aplomb.
And frugal, too
In addition to boasting an engaging personality, our VW Alltrack also has proven to be commendably fuel efficient. It’s now racked up slightly more than 11,000 miles in KBB service, the majority in local commuting duties. To date, our long-termer has averaged a solid 25.1 mpg against the EPA’s 25-mpg combined rating. We’re looking forward to more of the same during in its remaining time with us.
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