Volkswagen Golf: Wagon Practicality and Sport

By Sue Mead, June 20th, 2015

The 2015 Golf SportWagen is a member of a truly special and useful breed of vehicle that has recently been run into near-extinction by the ever-growing crossover utility vehicle market. Not the sportbacks or crosstour type cars, but honest-to-goodness wagons.

This now-rare body style adds a hatchback trunk onto a full sedan-bodied car, giving it all the pleasing handling and ride characteristics of a sedan, as well as an impressive amount of cargo space and practicality.

Once prevalent as family cars before the emergence of the minivan in the 1980s and SUVs in the 1990s, normal non-lifted wagons are a mainstay in Europe.

The 2015 Golf SportWagen offers delightful wagon practicality and legendary German refinement, style, and sport starting at a base price of $22,215 ($820 destination) for the 1.8T S with Bluetooth and satellite radio -- this is $2,000 less than the 2014 versions. It comes in three trim levels and tops out at $33,995 for the TDI SEL with the DSG auto transmission.

The Golf SportWagen is a new nameplate for the U.S. market, but this sleek import from Germany has been with us since 2009, albeit under the name of the Jetta SportWagen.

From the front, the SportWagen wears a clean, elegant, and stylishly conservative German design with crisp lines and a no-nonsense persona. From all other points of view, the SportWagen looks just like a Golf -- but with more room in the back and up to 66.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seat folded. Of note, a pass-through hatch is integrated into the back seat.

This honest styling carries throughout; it's exactly what it appears to be. What you get, what you see, and what you drive are one and the same. SportWagen's conservative-but-stylish exterior is complemented by a similar treatment inside, where you'll find a sea of mid-grade black and grey plastics, with a very basic center console, but with an agreeable, uncluttered feel. The piano black trim is quite appealing and has European airs. In this otherwise bland interior, the meaty leather-wrapped steering wheel provides the true hint of what you'll receive from the driving pleasure this well-engineered wagon provides.

The Golf SportWagen is available with two engine options. The optional 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel engine is rated at 150 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque and achieves an impressive 31 city/43 highway mpg; both torque and fuel economy are improved over the 2014 version.

A 1.8-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder gasoline engine is rated at 25/36 mpg and offers 170 horsepower and 199 lb.-ft. of torque.

Volkswagen expects 80 percent of buyers will select the 2.0L TDI version; this is our recommendation, as the responsive turbodiesel is fun to drive at all speeds and has plentiful reserves of torque on tap for quick passes and getting up to highway speeds with ease, making it a fun and frugal daily driver. It also has a 600-mile range that means less-frequent trips to the gas pump.

Two transmissions are available and, although we appreciated the smooth-shifting manual that gets slightly higher fuel economy numbers, we would recommend the six-speed automatic DSG transmission, with its fast-acting paddle shifters that change gears in a nearly intuitive fashion. There is also a five-speed automatic.

All 2015 SportWagens get VW's XDS Cross Differential that was introduced in the Golf hatch; it balances torque and aids in cornering and evasive maneuvers. SportWagens come with aluminum wheels sized from 15 to 18 inches.

Also of note, this wagon it has a lower center of gravity than CUVs and SUVs, which gives it more predictable handling. In addition, there is plenty of road feel available through the heavily-weighted steering wheel; the SportWagen feels planted and connected to the road at all speeds. The updated model has all the bells and whistles associated with top-ranked safety, technology, comfort, and convenience features.

The desire for crossovers -- which could be thought of as the Leatherman multi-tool of cars -- makes sense, as they do most things well. However, the 2015 Golf SportWagen TDI is somewhat like a Swiss army knife of cars, it also does most things well, but is also a bit sharper, more efficient, and well-built and sporty. The only remaining question: Purchase one now, or to wait for the upcoming all-wheel-drive version?

Specifications

Base price $24,595 (as tested: $26,515)
Curb weight 3,246 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type 16-valve 4-cyl. turbocharged w/DI
Epa mileage rating 31 mpg city, 43 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 13.2 gal.
Horsepower (net) 150 at 3500 rpm
Overall length 179.6 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 236 at 1750 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact wagon
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