The Golf Alltrack was driving itself.
On a sunny Saturday morning on a straight, dry and clear A-road near us – where police speed camera vans often lurk – I had set the cruise control to 60 mph.
My touch was so light on the steering wheel that I progressively removed my hands altogether and rested them on my legs.
The car tracked true and steady, sometimes absorbing slight undulations in the surface and seeming to adjust its direction automatically. Occasionally, it needed such a slight correction that just placing the weight of a finger on a spoke in the steering wheel was sufficient.
Then along comes the Golf Alltrack to make me think again.I was keeping my eyes out ahead and was fully alert to the movements of the car but completely relaxed and enjoying music on the eight-speaker DAB digital radio. I knew I was in safe hands. My top-of-the-line Alltrack was fitted with automatic distance control including front assist, radar sensor-controlled distance monitoring system, emergency braking system and cruise control, driver alert system, automatic post-collision braking system, and Pre-Crash preventative occupant protection. Not only could it drive itself: it could stop itself before it did any damage, if necessary.
We went on serenely like this for some distance – maybe a mile – before I returned my hands to the wheel.
This experiment doesn’t tell us anything about driverless cars (except, perhaps, that the experience might be rather enjoyable when it comes); but it does confirm that the Golf Alltrack is as tightly wound and solidly built as a Dreadnought. It would have taken a Sidewinder missile to knock it off course.
I have long been a sucker for four-wheel drive estate cars from the VW group. The Audi A6 Allroad is equally close to the top of my list of ideal cars as it is, apparently, for Prince Charles (the similarities between us on this question end with the fact that he owns two of them). The Skoda Octavia 4×4 estate was, in truth, in my mind as the next car we ought to buy as our family bus – chiefly because its combination of carrying capacity, build quality and competence in winter would suit us completely. Then along comes the Golf Alltrack to make me think again.
Not much about this car says “Golf.” To my mind, a Golf remains a boxy, compact hatchback which might be best for a couple with a dog or little children. Those notions, which essentially date from the first appearance of the Golf 40 years ago, are completely irrelevant to the Golf Alltrack, which is a full-size family car. Viewed in profile, it looks long enough to be a Vauxhall Insignia estate. In fact, at 4578mm, it’s 335mm shorter but the bland anonymity of the Golf estate styling and the predictable sweeps of the body creases appear to owe more to General Motors central design monolith than to the original genius of Giorgetto Giugiaro, stylist of the MKI Golf. Underbody protection and Alltrack badging, along with 17” alloy wheels, flared wheel arches and side sills and bulkier bumpers cannot be said to add eye-catching distinction to this chunkier version.
Three familiar VW engines are available for UK customers: a 1.6-litre TDI 110 PS (iteration of engine used in Golf BlueMotion), 2.0-litre TDI 150 PS and 2.0-litre TDI 184 PS (available with DSG gearbox only). That was the one I borrowed. It’s a stonking engine and it comes with some stonking engineering.
An electronic differential lock is integrated into the electronic stability control system, which effectively gives this car a differential lock at both axles. The Alltrack is also fitted with VW’s XDSPlus system at the front and rear axles which optimise steering response by bringing on touches of the brakes on the inside of a bend during fast cornering. Perhaps it was that wizardry that was keeping the car straight while my hands were off the wheel.
Meanwhile, the ‘Offroad’ function is triggered at the touch of a button, activating a hill descent function, modified accelerator pedal characteristics and modified ABS for optimum braking off-road. The four-wheel drive system is VW’s 4MOTION, which is essentially the excellent Haldex system used on Skoda 4x4s. Unless you’re a hill-farmer in Snowdonia or a forester in the Highlands of Scotland, you’re unlikely ever to need more off-road capability than the Alltrack offers.
Stonking engineering comes at a stonking price, however. The entry-level Alltrack costs £27250 but mine would be £34390. That includes an interior based on the Golf Estate GT with 2Zone climate control, Discover Navigation system and ‘Alltrack’ cloth centre sections with Alcantara side bolsters for the seats.
Essentially, however, this is a reskinned, rebadged and pricier version of the Skoda Octavia 4×4 estate. And none the worse for that.
Our ten year-old daughter was on the money within 60 seconds of her first trip in the Alltrack.
“This is a nice car,” she said, as I put the gear selector in reverse and began to move out of our drive to take her to school.
“Isn’t it like those cars called Skoda?” she asked as we were passing through gates. “I mean, all this [she indicated the fascia and dashboard] is very simple but it looks good.”
Then, when we were hardly 300 yards down the hill from our house on the road to her village school, she said: “This would be a very good family car for us, wouldn’t it?”
Very little remains to be said after that comprehensive judgement. I’m with her all the way.
The 2016 Golf Estate Alltrack 2.0-litre TDI 4MOTION 184PS 6spd DSG price on the road: £31,055. Price as tested: £34,390.
Maximum speed: 136mph,
Combined mpg: 57.6
Engine layout: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, AWD.
Transmission: six-speed DSG gearbox
Max power: 184PS@3500-4000rpm.
Max torque: 380Nm@1750-3250rpm.
CO2 emissions: 129g/km
Insurance Group: 20E
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