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First drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

VW's uber-practical Golf SportWagen makes a compelling case for a dying breed

The 2015 VW Golf SportWagen may not do much to convince people wagons are sexy, but it is an amazing value, not to mention a great car.

Wagons should be a compelling option for car buyers; they offer SUV-size cargo space and versatility with the driving dynamics and efficiency of a car. Despite this, automakers and buyers alike flee from wagons as if they had just walked on their elderly parents getting intimate.

This results in very few wagons on the market. Of the few that remain some, such as the Subaru Outback and the Volvo XC70, are stuck in the no-man’s land between crossover and wagon, and the remainder tend to be expensive versions of already pricey European luxury sedans. So where wagons were once practical everyman — or woman — cars, they are now niche vehicles. It is a tragedy.

Enter the new Volkswagen Golf SportWagen, an answer to the practical wagon lover’s prayer. In essence, the SportWagen is a stretched version of the award-winning VW Golf. I figure, though, an even better way of thinking about it is as the “Golf America,” a car designed not for Europe’s tight roads and cramped cities but rather for the realities and needs of Americans.

Golf Stretch ArmstrongWagen

From a technical standpoint, there is not much separating the SportWagen from the standard Golf. Underneath both are built on the VW Group’s modular MQB platform, showing of the readily stretchable nature of the new platform. So, if SportWagen sounds too confusing and Germanic, just think Golf Stretch Armstrong … though, it’s probably not filled with toxic green stuff.

2015 VW Golf Sportwagen engine macro

The shared underpinnings are a good thing, because, with the possible exception of the Mazda3, the Golf is the best driving small car on the market right now.

At the core of the driving dynamics are the engines. Both the 1.8-liter TSI and 2.0-liter TDI diesel are carryovers from the regular Golf. The TSI is a peppy little engine, capable of producing 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. This is more than enough for daily driving. When fitted with a manual transmission, it can even lend itself to some sporty driving.

Still, as good as the TSI is, it doesn’t really matter. According to VW, about 85 percent of SportWagen buyers will opt for the 2.0-liter TDI. If that is the case, Fox News must be immediately notified, because European socialists are invading us.

Fortunately it’s a pleasant invasion. The TDI puts out 150 ponies, 239 slightly rattle-y torques. Most importantly, the EPA rated the TDI 36 mpg in the city and 43 on the highway. In terms of performance, the TDI is mostly pretty fun … most of the time.

At speed, all of those torques make for solid acceleration. At low speed, however, turbo lag rears its ugly head. It’s not terrible. In my time with the TDI, though, I never really felt I got the handle on when torque would come through. I will admit the manual, with its feather-light clutch, does help.

Still, regardless of the powertrain, the SportWagen is very nice to drive, with pleasant steering, excellent brakes, and a very good ride. When compared to the sort of crossover’s available at even close to the price the SportWagen may as well be a Porsche.

Bringing sexy back?

One of the chief complaints about wagons is their image, which to most people is about as sexy as Rush Limbaugh in a corduroy Speedo. So has Volkswagen overcome the lack of sex appeal with the SportWagen? In a word: no.

Perhaps the best thing about the car’s interior, though, is the ratio of quality to price.

The SportWagen’s styling is largely similar to the Golf, using the same front end, lights, and styling cues. The result is a vehicle that is handsome, but even more emblematic of Teutonic reserve than the standard Golf. While this won’t do much to change the image of wagons, it does give off an aura of class and status well above the cars $21,395 price tag.

While the car itself lacks sex appeal, the same can’t be said of the car’s customers. According to VW, SportWagen customers are devotees of skiing, biking, kayaking, and other activities normally seen in insufferable commercials. These toned and tan folks will be happy to know that the interior of the Golf SportWagen is almost above reproach.

The cargo area is simply massive, big enough for at least three good size bodies. With the rear seats folded, a task made easy by levers just inside the hatch, there is room for a full-size mountain bike. Rear seat legroom isn’t overwhelming, but is easily better than most equivalent crossovers.

2015 VW Golf Sportwagen interior front full

Perhaps the best thing about the car’s interior, though, is the ratio of quality to price. Whether buyers opt for the S trim, starting at $21,395 for gas models and $24,595 for diesel, or shell out $30,000 for the top of the line SEL trims, they will find themselves in an interior that Audi would be happy with. While the interior design mirrors the reserve of the exterior, the actual components are well made and installed.

In fact, the only thing in the interior that feels like a budget product is Volkswagen’s frustrating infotainment system. Still, this is a relatively small price to pay for what feels like a far more expensive product than it actually is.

Conclusion

The quality and value of the SportWagen are, in the end, its strongest assets. For the money, it is simply impossible to get a more useful car. It may not standout in styling, but the VW offers a sensational combination of efficiency and utility — not to mention above average driving dynamics. In fact, the only advantage most crossovers have over the SportWagen is available all-wheel drive. America, your wagon has arrived.

Highs

  • Amazing mileage on TDI version
  • Extremely competitive starting price
  • Large interior volume
  • Interior quality

Lows

  • Uneven torque on TDI
  • Subpar infotainment