We'd like to think that station wagons still have a detectable pulse in the American automotive market today, despite the fact that so many automakers have killed their wagons like slaughtering cattle. The BMW 5-Series Touring, Audi A4 and A6 Avants, Volvo V70, Subaru Legacy Wagon, Cadillac CTS Sports Wagon and the Acura TSX Sport Wagon have all gone not so gentle into that good night. But hope is still alive as evidenced by the upcoming Volvo V90, the redesigned Audi allroad, VW Golf SportWagen and now the all-new Volkswagen Alltrack. 

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At our annual Midwest Automotive Media Association fall rally, we recently helmed the new stilted VW wagon for a short stint. Though the drive was a brief one, it was more than sufficient for us to get a solid picture of this new iteration, and here are our impressions.

It's Not a Novelty Car

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VW knows that tall wagons sell. Look at the Subaru Outback and the Audi allroad. There's a reason these are still for sale in America. Crossovers are hot, so you have to make your wagon look like one. VW took the venerable Jetta SportWagen, redesigned it and renamed it properly as the Golf Sportwagen.

Even though that model comes with available 4Motion all-wheel drive, the Alltrack gets the same setup but raises the suspension and gives it 6.9 inches of ground clearance, which is 0.6 inches more than the SportWagen. This includes the taller tires (205/55R-17 or 225/45R-18), too. That ground clearance doesn't equate to anything more than mild off-roading, but it will manage dirt and gravel far better than its shorter brother. Engage the Off-Road mode by pressing a button, also enabling hill-descent control, different throttle mapping and ABS responses, along with laterally “lockable” axles (what amounts to electronic modulation of individual brakes), and you'll be able to handle more than most owners will ever try. 

It Drives Better Than We Thought It Would

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What we were surprised by most was the Alltrack's on-road composure. The excellent MQB chassis manages the turns well, and keeps the body roll to a minimum. It inspired far more confidence than we expected, and the electrically-assisted power steering provided great turn-in and decent feedback. There should be no fear in managing apexes with this family wagon. We took some hard turns with the Alltrack and found it very composed and entertaining to drive, remaining true to the Volkswagen Golf on which it's based.

The Alltrack isn't wicked-fast, but it's got enough gumption thanks to the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder's 170 hp and healthy 199 lb-ft of torque. The dual clutch DSG transmission shifts quickly, and we never found it lacking power. Downshifting is quick, and getting off the line and into moving traffic never seems daunting. For the upcoming Chicago winter, owners should take comfort with the Alltrack's 4Motion all-wheel drive system that sends 90 percent of car's torque to the front wheels until tire slippage is detected, at which point the electrohydraulic clutch system can send up to 50 percent of that torque to the back wheels. rearward. Even better, the Alltrack is rumored to get a manual transmission sometime next year. 

But is It Better Than the SportWagen with AWD?

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It all depends on what your driving needs are, as well as what your aesthetic wants are. The Alltrack S is a couple thousand dollars more ($26,950 base MSRP) versus the Golf SportWagen S with 4Motion ($24,930 base MSRP). The Alltrack gets more clearance, Off-Road mode, unique suspension tuning, and torque vectoring. Though the SportWagen will do just fine in most mild-mannered off-road and snowy conditions, the Alltrack takes things up a notch by providing more off-road prowess, hill descent control and more robust suspension. 

Aesthetically, the Alltrack leans more in the Audi allroad direction with dark body cladding and a bit more protection from pebbles and those errant twigs. The honeycomb grille is also a nice touch that gives the Alltrack a more rugged and sporting look. The interior gets upgraded, as well. The SportWagen has cloth seats standard, while the Alltrack adds the distinctly leather-like V-Tex leatherette (vinyl) seats as standard equipment. The interior of our tester was very Audi-like with easy controls, good materials quality and excellent levels of comfort and good visibility. 

At the end of the day, you get a bit more in the Alltrack for just a couple thousand bucks more, though the SportWagen S with 4Motion will be more than adequate for most customers. Both vehicles are roomy, peppy and well-outfitted for more than respectable prices. We laud VW for bringing another tasty wagon into the mix. 

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Find Local Discounts on the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack