Volkswagen Golf SportWagen — The wagon is back

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Manufacturers apparently put credence in the old refrain that, since the advent of the SUV and especially the crossover, American drivers don't want station wagons. The segment is almost non-existent in the U.S., and is growing less relevant in Europe as crossovers and “sport activity vehicles” multiply. But we think this "wagon is a dirty word" perception would be forgotten if car buyers would get behind the wheel of the 2015 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 rear seats folded) you have to move into the entry-level luxury territory occupied by Audi’s Allroad and Volvo’s V60, or into the myriad of compact crossovers with their elevated ride heights, diminished handling capabilities and often dubious off-road capabilities.

If you haven’t been seduced by the image, high seating position, and alleged toughness (that is, safety) of crossovers and SUVs there’s something to be said for a car-like experience in a small cargo and people hauler.

The SportWagen, the latest iteration in the Golf lineup provides outstanding driving dynamics of the German hatchback, but with more cargo space. In addition to its excellent road manners, the SportWagen offers the same roomy cabin loaded with first-class materials and spot-on fit and finish you find in other members of the Golf family.

The Golf SportWagen is wrapped in modern sheet metal that unmistakably carries Volkswagen’s Golf DNA. The shape and design elements remain as defined and recognizable as ever, although distinctive elements such as the D-pillar, roof rails, the long roof and unique rear design differentiates the SportWagen from the Golf hatchback. From the C-pillar forward, this Golf is a pure and simple four-door. However, the design team mimicked the two-part taillights and low tailgate with integrated license plate pocket of the outgoing Jetta SportWagen to solidify its place in the customer’s mind.

We were impressed with the overall handling and performance from the standard 170 horsepower, 199 lb.-ft. of torque 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine, and the 150 horsepower, 236 lb.-ft. 2.0-liter turbo-diesel motor. Both are sophisticated, refined engines mated to crisp-shifting transmissions, and briskly haul the SportWagen to speed. You get a choice of a slick-shifting manual or six-speed automatic, though the automatic — a $1,100 option — is the transmission most buyers will choose.

Granted, you are limited to the base S trim level and five forward speeds if you order the manual transmission with the gasoline engine. This combination allows VW to quote a starting price that get buyers in the door before they gravitate to the automatic transmission and SE and SEL trim levels. There’s a reasonable amount of standard equipment on this model, including synthetic leather upholstery, Bluetooth 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.

While most buyers smile at the 25 city/36 highway EPA rating of their automatic-equipped SportWagen, there will be another group reveling in the voluminous torque and heady fuel mileage of their turbo-diesel Golf wagons. Rated by the EPA at 31 city/43 highway (you lose one mpg on the highway with the automatic), the TDI SportWagen cruises by fuel pumps with impunity, and can return mileage numbers greater than those on the window sticker.

Both engine configurations come in S, SE and SEL trim levels, with the 1.8-liter starting at $22,215 and the 2.0-liter TDI at $25,415. 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 VW’s exclusive Fender Premium Audio System, a 12-way power driver’s seat and automatic air conditioning. Newly available driver assistance features include an Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, a Forward Collision Warning System, and front and rear Park Distance Control. Also available is an attractive lighting package with LED Daytime running lights and adaptive front lighting. As you might expect, if you opt for either the SE or SEL trims the price rises as the options are ladled on.

Nevertheless, it’s relatively easy to keep the gasoline-powered wagon around 27 grand, and the TDI under $30,000. Our test car was the TDI SE version with a base price of $28,815 and a bottom line of $30,505 with a couple of options.

The 2015 SportWagen is now on sale across the country. Next year it will introduce the SportWagen Alltrack with new structure, powertrains and VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system.

Base price: $22,215; as driven, $30,505
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four cylinder
Horsepower: 150 @ 3,500 rpm
Torque: 236 pound-feet @ 1,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.7 inches
Length: 179.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,199 pounds
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 30.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 66.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (diesel)
EPA rating: 43 highway, 31 city, 35 combined
0-60: 8.6 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape

The Good
• First-class interior materials
• Outstanding mileage
• Rewarding driving dynamics

The Bad
• High cost of diesel fuel

The Ugly
• TDI carries elevated price tag