Comparing the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack with the reigning king of the slightly-lifted-station-wagon segment is an easy way to open a can of worms you'll wish you hadn't. And yet, it's unavoidable: Subaru's venerable Outback is even the chosen target of Volkswagen's marketing department. But things aren't so simple on paper.

The base Outback is $1250 cheaper than the $27,770 base Alltrack with a dual-clutch automatic transmission (DSG in VW-speak), but the Outback sits solidly in the mid-size class, being 9.4 inches longer. It offers 1.8 inches more ground clearance, and-unsurprisingly-the Outback also has significantly more interior space and cargo room. (The Outback offers better fuel economy with its 2.5-liter flat-four, too, but its continuously variable automatic transmission can make you wish you'd taken the bus.)

It's also difficult to find an analogous vehicle at the other end of the Subaru showroom, where you'll find the smaller Subaru Crosstrek. That model and Volkswagen's new Alltrack are closer in size, but the Crosstrek's starting price is thousands lower, and it is smaller inside and out, even while offering 1.8 inches more ground clearance. Perhaps you stretch to draw a comparison to the Volvo V60 Cross Country, but that Swede has 5.8 more inches of wheelbase than the VW, a lot more power, and a starting price above $40,000. Aside from pointing out the Alltrack has 2.1 inches more rear legroom and a larger cargo hold than the pretty Volvo, there's not a lot there to support an argument that they're direct competitors. So it's sort of tough to place the Alltrack, whether you're working for a marketing department or not.

But while it's probably safe to say that either of the Subarus is a more rugged option than the Alltrack, there are a lot of reasons to like this new Volkswagen. First, an Audi badge wouldn't be out of place on the Alltrack; it's that refined, both in interior appointments and in driving dynamics. Second, if "fun factor" ranks even a little bit as a priority, you can stop your search here. Neither Subaru has anything on the Alltrack in driving pleasure; it is entirely more enjoyable at speed than it has any right to be. And the Alltrack looks good. Even knowing that the tacked-on two-tone trim and quickie lift are just that, the whole thing comes together well, if not quite as cohesively as the pricier Audi Allroad or Volvo V60 Cross Country.

The Alltrack is engineered to ride 0.6 inch higher than the Golf SportWagen from which it's derived, but it is also fitted with a taller wheel-and-tire combo (205/55R-17 or 225/45R-18) that results in 6.9 inches of total ground clearance, compared with the SportWagen's 5.5. The slightly higher center of gravity does little to affect the wagon's composure. Volkswagen's well-sorted MQB chassis makes for a rigid car that responds instantly to inputs. Nose into a corner, and there's body roll, but not much; the spring rates and damping are well tuned at any speed. Like every Golf, the Alltrack has electrically assisted power steering, and while that means less feedback than in the good old days of hydraulic systems, the ratio is well matched to the car's mission, and turn-in is precise. It's easy and fun to get into a rhythm on twisting mountain roads.

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