AUTO PI­LOT

The Hamilton Spectator - - WHEELS -

It’s not ex­actly a re­sponse to the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 or Hyundai Tuc­son, but the new All­track has its charms

Most au­tomak­ers fo­cus their en­ergy on tall wag­ons, but Volk­swa­gen also keeps the tra­di­tional wagon fires burn­ing with the Sport­wa­gen and the new off­shoot called All­track.

The All­track is es­sen­tially a Sport­wa­gen that’s mod­i­fied to be more ca­pa­ble on rough back roads and in sloppy weather con­di­tions. The changes in­clude in­creas­ing the ride height by 1.5 cen­time­tres and in­stalling all-wheel-drive and pro­tec­tive body side cladding as part of the ve­hi­cle’s stan­dard equip­ment.

If this ap­proach seems fa­mil­iar, you’re prob­a­bly think­ing of the Subaru Crosstrek, which is es­sen­tially an Im­preza hatch­back with ad­di­tional ground clear­ance.

Both the Crosstrek and All­track have sim­i­lar pur­poses and ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but there’s a world of dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. For one thing, VW’s lifted wagon has a much roomier cabin and cargo area. It also comes with a sig­nif­i­cantly more pow­er­ful en­gine and more so­phis­ti­cated au­to­mated man­ual trans­mis­sion than the Subaru’s op­tional con­tin­u­ously vari­able unit.

Un­der­stand­ing that you re­ally do get what you pay for, a welle­quipped base All­track costs about $10,300 more than the Crosstrek and is less fuel-ef­fi­cient. So if com­pact wag­ons of this sort are your thing, it boils down to brand pref­er­ence and price.

As for styling, there’s no deny­ing the Sport­wa­gen-based All­track is one hand­some car­ryall. The lines are clean and to­tally gim­mick-free, which isn’t sur­pris­ing since it em­anates from the same gene pool as the Golf hatch­back. Along with the ex­tra ex­te­rior trim, the All­track shows off a dis­tinc­tive grille, bumpers, fog lights and off-road-style front and rear un­der­body pro­tec­tion. Those changes along with the raised stance make the All­track ap­pear to be a more sub­stan­tial ve­hi­cle than it ac­tu­ally is.

Counter to its rugged sil­hou­ette, the in­te­rior looks down­right invit­ing. The user-friendly dash­board and con­trol panel has ac­tual knobs and switches for the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem (in ad­di­tion to a 16.5-cen­time­tre touch-screen dis­play) that are an­gled to­ward the driver. The num­ber of steer­ing-wheel-lo­cated con­trols has been kept to a min­i­mum and an old-style but ef­fec­tive park­ing-brake lever is used in­stead of an in­creas­ingly com­mon elec­tronic e-brake switch.

The heart of the All­track is a tur­bocharged 1.8-litre four-cylin­der with 170 horse­power and 199 pound-feet of torque. For now, this peppy pow­er­plant — com­mon to a num­ber of VW mod­els — is con­nected to a six-speed au­to­mated pad­dle-shift man­ual trans­mis­sion with au­to­matic mode. Fuel econ­omy is pegged at 10.6 l/100 km in the city and 8.0 on the high­way. Volk­swa­gen says that a six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion will be­come avail­able in early cal­en­dar 2017.

Also stan­dard is the lat­est ver­sion of VW’s 4Mo­tion all-wheeldrive that puts 100 per cent of power to the front wheels in nor­mal driv­ing con­di­tions, but can in­stan­ta­neously di­vert up to 50 per cent to the rear wheels when slip is de­tected.

A base All­track (there’s only one well equipped trim level) will set you back $37,000 in­clud­ing des­ti­na­tion charges. That gets you all the power-op­er­ated ba­sics plus a multi-mode se­lec­tor with Eco, Com­fort, Nor­mal, Sport, In­di­vid­ual and Off-Road set­tings that fine-tune the en­gine re­sponse, trans­mis­sion crisp­ness and steer­ing ef­fort.

All All­tracks come with a panoramic sun­roof, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol and leather-cov­ered seat that are power-ad­justable and heated in front.

Key op­tions in­clude a 12-speaker Fen­der au­dio sys­tem, piv­ot­ing head­lights (to fol­low the turns in the road) plus ac­tive-safety tech­nol­ogy to help avoid col­li­sions with other ve­hi­cles.

It all makes for a wagon that’s not too tall, but lets you sit tall in the sad­dle while head­ing pretty much any­where you like.

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