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Car and Driver: 2017 VW Golf SportWagen 4MOTION Offers AWD Without Crossover Pretensions

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volkswagen-golf-sportwagen-concept-photo-589908-s-986x603Volkswagen’s biggest news for the 2017 model year is the arrival of the Alltrack, a version of the Golf SportWagen equipped with 4MOTION all-wheel-drive plus a Subaru Outback–like treatment of raised ride height and body add-ons to give it that much-loved off-road crossover appearance. Even as it follows in Subaru’s knobbly tire treads, though, VW will also offer a configuration that Subaru has dropped from its Legacy line-up: a standard height all-wheel-drive station wagon. And with an available manual transmission, to boot.

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They’re singing our tune—an all-wheel-drive wagon with a stick is a rarity in the U.S. market, and this is likely to be the most affordable one that avoids raising the center-of-gravity, and thus should handle much like the delightfully nimble standard Golf SportWagen. On the other hand, VW says the 4MOTION hardware will be available to American buyers only on the base S trim level of the Golf SportWagen (the Alltrack is treated as a separate model using neither the Golf nor the SportWagen badges). Its 170-hp 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mates to either the manual (a five-speed on S models, though there is a six-cog gearbox for costlier trim levels) or a six-speed automatic transmission. The 4MOTION system from supplier Borg-Warner employs a central electrohydraulic clutch system that directs all torque to the front axle until slip is detected, but can route as much as 50 percent to the rear wheels. Although VW displayed a 4MOTION-equipped SportWagen at the 2014 New York Auto Show (photo above), that car had the TDI diesel engine that’s not being sold here right now and in a higher trim level. VW has also displayed, at the 2015 Los Angeles auto show, a 292-horsepower Golf R wagon that’s sold in Europe but won’t be joining its hatchback counterpart in the U.S.2017_golf_alltrack_5968

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A VW spokesman told us the company expects the SportWagen 4MOTION will sell in much smaller volumes than the Alltrack (above), but the option makes an all-wheel-drive wagon available at a lower cost than the Alltrack. Prices will be announced later, but option availability on S models is sparse, so whatever VW charges for 4MOTION could be the costliest add-on for the Golf SportWagen S, which currently starts at $22,445. For guidance, consider that the difference between front- and all-wheel-drive versions of the 2016 Tiguan small crossover is $1865. S-trim SportWagens also will see a new Driver Assistance Package that includes bi-xenon headlamps with LED DRLs; blind-spot monitoring with rear traffic alert; forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking; and adaptive cruise control. The option comes only by special order on the S, although this package will be more widely available on SE models (again, without 4MOTION), too.

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New equipment on front-drive SportWagens at the top SEL trim level includes the collision warning, autonomous braking, and blind-spot monitoring with traffic alert as standard, while opting for the Driver Assistance package on SEL adds park assist with steering, lane-departure warning, and LED DRLs and bi-xenon headlights with automated high-beam control.

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While European customers have been able to get 4MOTION on their version of the station wagon (called the Golf Variant there), U.S. availability had to await upgrades to the Puebla, Mexico, assembly plant to install the system. The sales potential for the Alltrack was the primary motivator for VW’s investment in the plant to allow for AWD. The spokesman said there are no plans to add other 4MOTION cars at Puebla.

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VW’s new Alltrack and SportWagen 4MOTION are smaller than the latest Subaru Outback, but some have opined that the latest Outback has grown too large in its quest to match competitors in the burgeoning crossover segment. While the VW’s exterior dimensions are closer to those of Subaru’s Impreza four-door hatchback (marketed as a wagon) and Crosstrek, it’s significantly roomier inside with 30 cubic feet of cargo space. That about sums up the competition among sub-$30,000 station wagons with all-wheel drive. It’s a small niche, but one we love, and the arrival of fresh entries is welcome news.

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