A Compact Go-Anywhere Package
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is a bit of what one cartoon character used to call a “way-back” machine. While a completely contemporary automobile, the SportWagen has the capability of taking me back in time to another era.
Station wagons are a bit of a time warp for a reviewer my age (i.e., baby boomer). We grew up with them in the day before minivans, SUVs and crossovers. They were the multi-purpose vehicle capable of hauling the family, a week’s worth of groceries and all of the camping gear and luggage needed for two vacation weeks on the road.
The same characteristics continue to drive the popularly of Swiss Army knife-type vehicles like the station wagon. It’s differentiated from its more “modern” successors by one main attribute—sedan-like ride height. In turn, that brings more sedan-like handling, driving characteristics and fuel economy with little or no compromise of utility.
With four-wheel drive like the VW Golf SportWagen 4Motion I drove, the only limiting factor compared to an SUV is ground clearance. Since I leave the serious off-roading to machines designed for that task, I don’t see any real crossover (pun intended).
What Happened to the TDI?
The first question any station wagon enthusiast is going to ask when confronted with the 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is—what happened to the TDI? The turbodiesel SportWagen defined this model up until VW’s emissions scandal of a few years ago. While the company is still trying to put its diesel transgressions behind it, the only engine available is a 1.8-liter turbocharged direct injection gasoline one. It’s similar to the old TDI, except falling about 10 mpg short of the diesel’s stellar fuel economy numbers and lagging a bit in torque.
That said, the TSI engine and its companion six-speed DSG transmission, acquit themselves well. They’re smooth with plenty of low-end power around town and a turbo boost available when needed. As well it has the ability to manually shift if desired. The power output is 170 horsepower and 199 pounds-feet (lb.ft.) of torque delivered at the low-end thanks to the direct injection system (with the automatic transmission; the manual causes a 15 lb.-ft. drop). In more than 1,000 miles of city and highway driving, the SportWagen never felt overmatched. At 3,358 pounds, this compact wagon is light enough to feel like a sedan. Those extra 30.4 cubic feet of cargo space come along for the ride without hindering the car’s performance (the cargo space expands to 66.5 cu. Ft. with the rear seat folded down. Compare that with your compact crossover.
Handling, too, distinguishes the SportWagen from all but the most road-tuned (and quite expensive) SUV/crossover competitors. On the other hand, it was no Golf sedan, but we never found a road or corner that the SportWagen wasn’t willing to take on. The VW has four-wheel independent suspension with a strut-type up front with lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers and a stiff anti-roll bar. In back it features a multilink setup with similar coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar.
Fuel Economy Better Than Predicted
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen comes with EPA-measured fuel economy of 22 mpg city/30 highway/25 combined. We were able to best those numbers in every category, hitting 37-38 mpg on the highway when we kept speeds below the 80 mph mark and averaging 26-30 in town with our average in the high 20s as well. We put enough miles on the car to validate that with reasonable throttle control, it was more than capable of picking up the gauntlet laid down by the now-gone TDI.
The Tech Is Not Left Out
Even though the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen we drove was the base “S” model, it came loaded with contemporary technology, all standard at this level. Among the highlights:
- An Intelligent Crash Response System,
- Multi-function steering wheel with paddle shifters,
- Rearview camera,
- 5-inch touchscreen
- Eight-speaker sound system
- Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity
- SiriusXM satellite radio (limited subscription)
- VW Car-Net (smartphone integration, emergency assistance, remote access—subscription required)
The Price is Right
The 2017 Golf SportWagen S retails for $25,750 (including $820 destination charge). Competitors in the small wagon space range all over the map, including smaller competitors for several thousand less and similar-size and larger ones for much, much more.
What the SportWagen has going for it is a history as a wagon (years of being known as the Jetta SportWagen). When you look through the list of “wagons” you get a variety of crossovers and oddball vehicles that don’t really fit in any category like the Mini, Kia Soul and Fiat 500L. Strip away the luxury and near-luxury models, and there aren’t many vehicles trying to go head-to-head with VW. Subaru’s AWD wagons come the closest, but really the closest in size and style are the more expensive Volvo V60 and BMW 3-Series wagons (which still offer diesel, FYI).
The 2017 Golf SportWagen is not only something unique, but something uniquely useful and uniquely fun. I didn’t want to give it back. I could easily have seen myself taking it from where I left it in Chicago all the way to the West Coast. After more than a thousand miles though Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, a couple thousand more to the West and over the Rockies seemed like an easy fun trip. In my travels with the SportWagen I was able to haul five people with some luggage (that was a little tight and not recommended for long distances), but cruising with stuff is what this car is made for.
In order to give you, the reader, the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Road Test: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
Comparison Test: 2017 Golf Sportwagen & Alltrack
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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