2018 Volkswagen Alltrack SEL Review
It's 2018 and it's now the year of the crossover and SUV. It seems like the Crossover and Small SUV segment is expanding faster than my waistline during the holidays so it's great to see that Volkswagen has brought an AWD wagon type vehicle to its lineup. While the Golf Sportwagen is available, its lack of AWD and ground clearance really limits its all yr. round use in some parts of the country. The only other options in the U.S. for AWD wagon type vehicles is pretty limited. You're pretty much stuck with the Subaru Outback or the much more expensive Audi All-Road. It's pretty obvious that VW has brought the Golf Alltrack into the U.S. marketplace to gain back some sales lost to the Outback in recent years.
The Golf Alltrack SEL I have today for this snowpocalypse comes well equipped with a melodious Fender Premium Audio System, Leather Seats, Navigation, and a Panoramic Sunroof. The Alltrack also has lots of other little gadgets for the vehicle systems and a few different driving modes and aids to use including "Off-Road Mode", and Hill Decent Control, which actively helps control the application of your brakes. 
The 4Motion AWD works like other AWD systems, except better. It keeps the power to the front wheels to increase efficiency until traction is needed. The car is constantly monitoring road conditions and if it senses any slip in traction the vehicle will automatically apply the right amount of grip where needed. I drove the Alltrack on some pretty slick conditions today and I was shocked at the amount of grip I was able to find on these stock all-season tires. 
Much like the Subaru Outback the Alltrack is an All-Wheel Drive wagon with extra ground clearance (6.5 in).  This is great because it has a longer wheel base (103.5 in) which means you can have ample cargo space (30.4 cu ft) & comfortable rear legroom (35.6 in).
Another advantage of not being as boxy as a typical SUV means that you also get better gas mileage (22 City and 32 HWY) while not sacrificing a sporty drive. The VW Alltrack comes standard with a turbocharged 1.8L, 16V, inline four cylinder. This peppy motor puts out 170 hp and an ample 199 lb-ft of torque. This torquey turbocharged engine makes it fun to drive especially around town where there can be a lot of stop and go traffic. 
Wagons of the old used to make you think about ugly wood paneling, fake chrome hubcaps, and the Griswold's taking a family vacation to Wally World. Not this wagon.  The exterior of the vehicle is very handsome, clean and not overdone staying true to traditional German design from VW. Aluminum styled accents, mirrors, and roof rails lead to a nice balance of simplicity and sportiness.  The available 18" Canyon alloy wheels that are on this SEL trim look fantastic. 
The Interior won't let you down either.  Everything is well thought out, clean and has that German fit and finish to it.  The cabin feels spacy and the panoramic sunroof brings the outdoor inside. Some of the materials are a bit plastic feeling but they're solid.  I really enjoyed the steering wheel which is wrapped in supple leather and has a flat bottom to it.  The flat bottom makes it easier to slide your legs in and out and looks sporty too.  
The SEL trim comes standard with comfortable yet rugged V-Tex leatherette wrapped seats.  The heated seats have three levels: low, medium, and nuclear and have an adjustable lumbar for comfortable long hauls.  The rear seat is a 60/40 split folding design and if you fold them both down you wind up with a cavernous 66.5 cu ft. to the front seats. 
 The Navigation and Entertainment system is chock full of everything you'd expect and some things unique to the Alltrack. Navigation is pretty straightforward, the graphics are decent and the Navigation is easy to use, which you'd expect from a VW. The Alltrack however wants you to be prepared for whatever lies ahead so they've integrated real-time, Traffic, Weather including a radar map, Sports Scores, Movie Times and Prices, and even nearby Gas stations with their prices.  Another feature I had some fun with was the Off-road Information Screen which gives you up to the second Altitude, Steering Wheel Angle, and Compass information. 
I really enjoyed driving the Alltrack, it did great in the snow, was comfortable, and most importantly to me was that it was fun to drive. If you're someone who is looking for something other than the typical SUV but still needs something spacious, practical, and fun to drive then you should consider a VW Alltrack. 

VW Atlas SEL Premium Is The Best 

Mainstream Family CUV In The U.S. http://bit.ly/2EpAKvG

At a holiday gathering for attorneys and financial planners, a couple with a multi-generational household sought my opinion of the VW Atlas CUV as alternative to a Toyota or Honda minivan. Next day I asked VW PR for a top-spec Atlas SEL Premium to drive over Christmas break, equipped with V6, all-wheel drive, Fender audio and their best digital tech.
For the moment, Atlas SEL Premium is the best of its breed in a lucrative market segment, more appealing in architecture, interior packaging, dynamics and powertrain than the comparable Honda Pilot Elite and Toyota Highlander Platinum. Produced by a non-union workforce at VW's engineering and manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Atlas achieves a once impossible goal: price parity with U.S.-manufactured Japanese vehicles. Reviewing such vehicles often devolves to a laundry list of features contained in the glass and steel box and the question "How much?" But VW has achieved above and beyond that game, a product of smart analysis of the competitive set.

Bauhaus design separates VW from its Asian competitors, and Atlas has a crisp, tidy and functional interior. Gauges are classic white-on-black dials, rendered on a 12.3-inch screen, VW's answer to the Audi "virtual cockpit." Tall side glass and a panoramic roof create an airy greenhouse. Atlas has climate control for all three rows. SEL includes leather seating and trim. With driver's seat positioned for my long legs, second-row seats are comfortable for an adult.
Most impressive is the masterful execution of the third row: a compact multi-link rear suspension delivers a relatively low floor and the rear wheel arch does not cut into the broad door frame. I'm six three and wear a 50 Long sport coat, yet a long step and hip pivot dropped me into the third row with grace. My bushy hair did not touch the headliner. Atlas third row can accommodate adults for short drives to dinner or the movies, or a pair of contentious 11-year-olds for longer trips. Arriving late at the large CUV party with time to analyze and then bracket competitors, the crafty Germans gave Atlas a wheelbase 7.5 inches longer than Toyota Highlander's, most of that going to third-row legroom. Simple math wins.
With Black Licorice Peg-Pérego child safety seat latched in the second row, Atlas served family life for a week. Tall, wide door frames guaranteed a graceful up-and-out lift of a sleepy four-year-old. Bluff and stoutly proportioned, Atlas rubs shoulders with Chevy Tahoes and other truck-based SUVs-you ride high. Mass and high-strength steel combine to deliver an overall five-star crash rating with the feds, and a Top Safety Pick with the insurance industry's IIHS regime, which mirrors EU crash testing. Excellent fundamental structure also leads to a quiet cabin. With one or two kids as daily passengers, the folded third row offers considerable cargo space.

Atlas SEL Premium includes the most useful parking technologies, a full suite of cameras and sensors, an 8-inch center-dash display, and two forms of parking assist that ease "docking" procedures. With overhead "area-view" engaged-press the button on the center console-I placed Atlas within an inch or two of the board dividing gravel drive from winter rye in our garden. Parking aids turn tight spots into carnival amusement, a game, eliminating anxiety.
Steering is well calibrated and decidedly car-like, better than in comparable Asian CUVs that often have no steering feel at all. Atlas steers and corners like what it is, a grandly upscaled car, and not like a truck, with reasonable communication from the tires without jarring or harshness, impressive considering my test vehicle had fashion-conscious 20-inch wheels. I'd much rather have Atlas with an 18 or 19-inch wheel and tire, which would improve its already fine ride quality.
In panic lane-change maneuvers, arguably the most important defensive move a family vehicle will ever execute, Atlas was stable and balanced. Through my favorite complex of corners, Atlas transitioned left-right-left with great style for such a large vehicle. Driven aggressively, as few fathers would with children in the car, Atlas's outside front wheel kneels a tad in tight corners, but preventing that on such a heavy vehicle would ruin ride quality, or require a very expensive air suspension system. If you demand sporting ability, spend $40,000 to even $50,000 more for a two-row Macan GTS or Macan Turbo, or buy a used Miata or Boxster S to park alongside Atlas. It's a 4500-lb. CUV, not a sports car.
Depreciation is the most significant long-term issue related to a new-car purchase. VW has lifted a page from Hyundai, baking a 6-year warranty into the deal, fully transferable to a second owner. Buy and hold for six years of faithful service and a good measure of depreciation issue is washed out of the equation.
No car is perfect. After full-throttle merging on the highway in Sport mode, the transmission holds gears at high revs for some seconds after the right foot is lifted. It's irritating, too aggressive, and I'd never engage it around town. But it served very well climbing a mountain road, eliminating unpleasant gear hunting, keeping the engine in the heart of the torque curve, a benefit on the way to Big Bear and other such weekend camping areas near my native Los Angeles. Frankly, the Normal setting is ideal for everyday life, very thoughtful work from the computer nerds of Wolfsburg, showcasing the smooth transmission.
VW had significant demand among early adopters for the $49,000 SEL Premium, but VW was not nimble enough to ratchet up first-year SEL production to capture all those buyers. If the SEL Premium's $49,000 sticker is a bridge too far, if it seems too much for a practical family hauler, the $37,000 Atlas SE w/Tech is the sweet spot in the lineup, offering both the V6 engine and parking aids. If SEL Premium's price surprises, bear in mind that luxury SUVs of comparable size and technology like the three-row Volvo XC90 or Mercedes GLS cost an additional $20-25,000, and even more.
If Honda can sort the Pilot Elite's wonky 9-speed transmission, it might take the crown away from Atlas. And lack of soul or not, Highlander will remain a dominant player because it sits in the heart of the market offering good value, and Toyota is a stunningly nimble and efficient marketer. But for the moment, undeniably, VW Atlas is the best large family CUV on the market.


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