The Perfect Car?
Clean Fleet Report staffers are frequently asked, “What car should I buy?” Our answer is always some version of “What type of driving do you do?” From there we ferret-out that the family of four
may want but have no practical need for a Mazda MX-5 Miata; the single woman with her first job out of college should probably stay away from a Cadillac Escalade and the person driving to work 80 miles round trip, five days a week, should be driving an electric car such as a Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen eGolf, Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus EV, BMW i3 or Kia Soul EV.
But what about the vast majority of people that have a need for a versatile car that can carry four passengers and all sorts of stuff, is comfortable on long trips and zippy around town, and when driven reasonably can get 45+ mpg? Oh, and the car needs to cost less than $30,000. Impossible, you say. But not if you consider the 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI, which just possibly might be the prefect car for the vast majority of the driving public.
Driving Experience: On the Road
As we found in our review of the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the 2015 Golf SportWagen TDI’s distinctive diesel rumble is low in volume at idle, but not heard when driving. Volkswagen’s all-new 2.0L turbocharged and intercooled clean diesel engine, known internally at VW as the EA288, puts out 150 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque that kicks-in at a low 1,750 rpm. Our test car was mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission and was rated at 31 city / 43 highway / 35 combined. The highway rating is one mph less for the six-speed DSG automatic transmission. In 1,392 miles of driving from Southern California to the Northern California Sonoma County wine region, I averaged 47.9 mpg with a ratio of 80-percent highway and 20-percent city driving.
The six-speed manual has short throws, a light and smooth clutch, and the gears are easy to find without any grinding or hunting. For hypermilers, there is an Upshift light in the speedometer cluster. If you follow it, the fun of driving this car is reduced significantly, but of course doing so will maximize the fuel economy, especially when the light wants you to be in 6th gear at 45 mph. The true economy comes at freeway speeds in 6th gear, which at 70 mph has the tachometer reading about 2,000 rpm.
So what kind of fun can you have in the TDI with a manual? This car, when asked, has instant, fast, push-you-back-in-your-seat torque that will bring a big smile to your face. The torque is smooth at any speed and delivers exactly as expected in the lower gears. Where you will really appreciate the pull of the TDI engine is at freeway speeds. For example, when traveling at 65 mph and needing to briefly get to 75 mph+ for passing, leave it in 6th, tromp the accelerator and the car without any effort gets you where you want to be. It is such a wonderful feeling that you will find yourself on open stretches of road doing it just for the fun of it.
By now you must have sensed I enjoy and appreciate Volkswagen’s new-for-2015 EA288 TDI engine. In my reviews of the 2013 Jetta TDI and 2014 Jetta TDI, I was impressed with those car’s earlier version of VW’s 2.0L TDI engine that “only” produced 140 hp. Volkswagen has raised the bar in clean diesel engine design and technology, which will only challenge competitors to up their game too.
The Driving Experience
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI is quiet and smooth, making for a very enjoyable driving experience. The base S model I was driving had 16-inch wheels and all-season tires
which provided tight and precise handling via the strut-type front suspension with coil springs and the multi-link, coil springs and anti-roll bar on the rear. The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI is fun to drive and lives up to its name of being sporty.
Road feel was excellent with electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering that was not programmed to take away the fun of driving. Body roll was almost non-existent, even when pushed above the recommended corner speed limits on the seemingly endless turns through the Northern California redwood forests. The 17-inch wheels on the SE and 18-inch wheels on the SEL models likely would make the driving experience even better.
A good handling car of course is nothing without good brakes. The Golf SportWagen TDI comes standard with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), power assisted front vented and rear solid discs. A good test for brakes is downhill mountain roads, with constant turning, where the brake load is applied on straight, right and left hand corners. I experienced no fade with instant response when braking through corners. On the flats, the stops were straight, true and confident.
Driving Experience: Interior
I was driving the nicely optioned base model 2015 Golf SportWagen TDI S. The interior fit and finish, updated for 2015, was German tight with a good mix of soft and hard plastics. The simple layout of all gauges was uncomplicated by fake woods, plastic chrome pieces or other design gimmicks often found on other cars.
The two-tone, V-Tex leatherette front seats have better-than-average bolstering and include a manual height-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment and power recline. There was a good choice of seat settings that, when combined with the height adjustable and telescoping steering column, resulted in a comfortable position that made long drives a breeze. At 5’ 9,” I fit in all cars, including open wheel racers, so a true test was having a 6’ 1” associate sit in the driver’s seat and when positioned, have him climb into the back to check leg, knee and head room. The Golf SportWagen accommodated my friend in comfort with room to spare. The rear seat for three adults would be fine for commuting short distances, but as with most cars, for longer trips, two in the rear seat would be preferred for comfort and space.
That rear seat, with a ski pass-through opening, has a very handy system for lowering the 60/40 split seatback making for, as Volkswagen states, an “expansive” space that is “cavernous…and…in line with those of compact SUVs.” This is completely true, so when visiting your VW dealer take the time to see for yourself and speculate how owning a car with this much passenger and storage space could enhance your life.
Taking center stage of the dash is the capacitive, touch sensor 5.8-inch color touchscreen. Its capacitive technology is similar to what is found on smartphones and allows for functions such as
swiping and pinch-zooming. While all this modern touchscreen technology is nice, Clean Fleet Report is a big fan of knobs and switches for the radio and climate controls. VW does a nice job of making it easy to operate the radio and HVAC system with the turn of a knob.
The eight-speaker sound system delivers deep, full crisp tones for the AM/FM radio and CD player (which also has MP3 playback). Also part of the infotainment system is SiriusXM (a must for those long, fuel-efficient road trips), Bluetooth for telephone and streaming music, and VW’s Media Device Interface, or MDI, which includes a SD card slot. Volkswagen still does not offer USB technology, but Clean Fleet Report was promised it is coming soon.
Other conveniences are power windows with-one touch operation and pinch protection, keyless access, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, handbrake lever and shift knob, cruise control, power adjustable and manual folding heated exterior mirrors, variable intermittent front windshield wipers, multi-function display with car analytics and trip computer, multiple power ports and a 115V plug, and a rearview camera. Standard on all Golf SportWagen trim levels is Volkswagen’s VW CarNet connected car technology that provides a seamless link between the car and an iPhone, Android smartphone or computer, or, as Volkswagen says, it “keeps you connected with your car even when you’re apart.”
Driving Experience: Exterior
The Golf SportWagen TDI exterior has been refreshed for 2015 with subtle changes to the front and rear from its predecessor the Jetta SportWagen. Based on the MQB (Modular Transverse Matrix) architecture, the Golf SportWagen TDI has a “cab backward” look that gives it a lower visual center of gravity. Beginning with a slim front grill, the sculptured hood rises naturally up through the sloping A-pillar to the roof, which has standard roof rails, and continues to the tailgate where there is an integrated spoiler. The rear window is large, providing excellent visuals, and the tailgate opening to access the interior is a generous 40.6” wide with only a 24.8” high lift over. I had the back of this wagon loaded on my trip through California but had room to spare.
Safety and Convenience
All 2015 Volkswagen SportWagens come with six airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). Additional driver assistance systems are available on the SE and SEL trim levels.
Pricing and Warranties
2015 Golf SportWagen TDI Pricing, not including the $820 Destination Charge.
S with Manual $24,595
S with Automatic $25,695
SE with Manual $27,995
SE with Automatic $29,095
SEL with Manual $30,345
SEL with Automatic $31,445
All 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen models come with these warranties:
- Basic Three-year/36,000-mile
- Powertrain Five-year/60,000-mile
- First Scheduled Maintenance/One-year/12,000-mile
- Roadside Assistance Three-year/36,000-mile
- Corrosion Perforation 12-year/Unlimited
Volkswagen has 75-percent of the passenger vehicle diesel sales in the USA and is #1 in sales versus diesel competitors. There’s little on the horizon to knock VW off that perch. VW’s deep TDI-powered lineup (Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat and Touareg) shows its commitment to the diesel market, so you can expect real-world miles to prove out its clean diesel technology.
Observations: 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen TDI S
Volkswagen’s designers have delivered an upscale wagon with classic styling, clean lines and no useless cladding or body panels. I have now tested the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Jetta TDI and easily
place them in the top of all the cars and SUVs I have driven. They are smooth, quiet, powerful and get excellent fuel economy against their class competition.
Being a leader in clean diesel technology is not the end of Volkswagen’s environmental and sustainability efforts. Volkswagen is an active partner with The Conservation Fund in the reclamation and preservation of redwood forests, specifically the Garcia River Forest in Northern California’s Sonoma County. Going even further than this project, Volkswagen has made a commitment across their 12 brands worldwide and 118 production locations on four continents to be the most sustainable automobile manufacturer in the world by the year 2018.
So, when you are looking to buy a car, and Clean Fleet Report highly recommends the 2015 Golf SportWagen TDI, there’s something more you could be considering in addition to the car itself.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
Related Stories You Might Enjoy:
Comparison Test: 2014 VW Jetta Hybrid/2014 Jetta TDI
Road Test: 2015 Honda CR-V
Road Test: 2015 VW Jetta TDI Sedan
Road Test: 2015 Mazda CX-5
Road Test: 2015 Ford Escape
Road Test: 2014 Subaru Outback
First Drive: 2014 VW Tiguan TDI