2015 VW Golf SportWagen

AUSTIN, Texas — Manufacturers apparently put credence in the old refrain that American drivers don't buy wagons because the segment is almost non-existent in the U.S. We think this "wagon is a dirty word" perception would be relegated to the dustbin of forgotten automotive lore if  car buyers could get behind the wheel of the all-new Volkswagen Golf SportWagen.

To get the kind of space offered in the Golf wagon — 30.4 cubic feet of storage area behind the seats and 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded — you will have to move into entry-level luxury territory with an Audi Allroad or a Volvo V60 or into the myriad of compact crossovers with their elevated ride heights and diminished handling capabilities. There's something to be said for a true car-like experience in a small cargo hauler.

The SportWagon is the next iteration of the North American Car of the Year Golf lineup providing all the outstanding driving dynamics of the hatchback, but with the more useable cargo space. In addition to its excellent road manners, the Golf offers a roomy cabin loaded with first-class materials and spot-on fit and finish.

Overall, the SportWagen is wrapped in sheet metal that is totally modern yet unmistakably part of the Volkswagen Golf DNA. The shape and design elements remain as defined and recognizable as ever, although distinctive elements such as the D-pillar, the roof rails and the unique rear design differentiates the SportWagen from the Golf hatchback.

The front end features a hood that slopes down into the front fenders and sports angular horizontal design cues and a slender radiator grille. At the back, the wide rear window, geometric two-part tail lights and a wide, low tailgate that integrates the license plate area pay homage to the Jetta SportWagen — the car it replaces — to solidify its place in the Golf family.

The upscale interior environment of the SportWagen cabin is largely shared with the Golf models however as expected, its interior volume is increased because of the wagon body style. Driver controls are positioned for optimal ergonomics and usability.

We were impressed — as we thought we would be based on considerable experience in the standard hatchback and sports-car-oriented GTI versions last year — with the overall handling and performance from both the standard 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine making 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque and the diesel TDI 2.0-liter 4-cylinder variant developing 150 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Both versions acquitted themselves quite well on the winding, hilly roads of Texas hill country around Austin.

The moderate grades on the two-lane roads were no problem for either engine, charging up and down hills without working up a sweat — or the need for the transmission to downshift — at or slightly above the posted speed limit. In other words, these guys will offer up a solid driving experience in the pursuit of daily living.

We have been fans of the VW diesels for years and probably would opt for the TDI, which comes with a modern, slick-shifting six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. If you don't mind shifting for yourself in this age of total automation, we think it will yield optimum driving enjoyment while deriving the ultimate gas mileage of 31 mpg city and 43 highway. We know most people will opt for the six-speed automatic — a $1,100 option — which loses just a mile per gallon on the highway at 42 mpg.

While road testing around Austin, our numbers actually where higher with the TDI set-up, showing close to 50 mpg.

The 1.8-liter gas engine yields 25 mpg city and 36 highway mated to the six-speed automatic. A five-speed manual is also offered, but only in base S trim and we figure there will be very few takers.

Both engine configurations come in S, SE and SEL trim levels starting at $22,215 with the 1.8-liter and $25,415 for the TDI. But if you opt for the base model 1.8-liter you will get a reasonable amount of standard equipment, which might be all you need. Included in all Golf SportWagens are synthetic leather upholstery, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, a 5.8-inch touchscreen information center, full power accessories, cruise control, audio controls on steering wheel, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, satellite radio, and air conditioning.

In addition to the long list of standard amenities, several new comfort and convenience optional features are available in the upper trims. The "short list” includes their Fender Premium Audio System, a 12-way power driver’s seat and Climatronic automatic air conditioning. Newly available driver assistance features include their advanced Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, a Forward Collision Warning System, and front and rear Park Distance Control. Available is there attractive lighting package which includes LED Daytime Running Lights and Adaptive Front-lighting.

Opt for either the SE or SEL trims and the world of options and safety equipment opens up. But even with considerably more equipment that makes driving life more enjoyable, you will be able to keep the 1.8-liter wagon around 27 grand and the TDI under $30,000.

For those living in cold-weather climates, there is rumor that an all-wheel drive version of the SportWagen may be coming in the 2016 model coming this fall.

The 2015 SportWagen is now on sale across the country.

— Jim Meachen