First Drive

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen First Drive [w/video]

Size Matters

  • Video: Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
  • Image Credit: AOL On
  • Engine
    Turbodiesel 2.0L I4
  • Power
    150 HP / 236 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Manual
  • Drivetrain
    Front-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,199 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    66.5 CU-FT (max)
  • MPG
    31 City / 43 HWY
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
Volkswagen currently offers five Golf models in the US, and in just a few weeks it will add the 2015 SportWagen to the lineup. The previous version sold as the Jetta SportWagen, although it was technically a Golf. For the new model, VW product planners decided to align all the hatchbacks under the same name. The SportWagen employs the same engines as the Golf, but significantly stretches its new MQB architecture.

The result is greater practicality in the form of cargo room. With the seats up the SportWagen holds 30.4 cubic feet, almost 8 more than the Golf. The gap widens to nearly 14 cu ft with the seats folded; a max capacity of 66.5 cu ft puts the SportWagen into compact crossover territory. That added functionality leads VW to think it can sway buyers shopping the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. And with the high-mpg diesel variant – 31 mpg city, up to 43 highway – VW hopes to lure those considering fuel-sipping MPVs like the Toyota Prius V and Ford C-MAX. What separates this Golf from those other two segments is the driving prowess we've come to expect from Wolfsburg's best-selling nameplate.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

While the silhouette is similar to the outgoing Jetta wagon, designers honed the character lines to give the Golf SportWagen a more modern, angular aesthetic. The LED headlights look sharp, the hood now scoops down at a steeper angle into the front fenders, and the general proportions – in line with other Golf models – have changed. The new SportWagen is lower, longer, and wider and than the Jetta SportWagen it replaces. Specifically, it is 1.1 inches longer, 0.7 inches wider, and despite being about an inch lower, actually boasts more headroom.

Inside, things look pretty familiar to the current Golf family. There are small, premium touches such as a sporty, flat-ish-bottom wheel, piano-black trim, and an optional one-touch panoramic sunroof that makes the cabin a bright, airy, and pleasant place to be. Otherwise, it's your standard Golf fare, but with a whole lot more room out back.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

The same two engines that power the standard Golf – the 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-four TSI, and 2.0-liter turbocharged TDI diesel – are also found under the hood of the SportWagen. Gasoline-powered models come with a five-speed manual or a traditional six-speed auto, while the TDI gets six-speed transmissions across the board – either as a row-your-own manual, or a dual-clutch DSG auto with steering wheel-mounted paddles.

An impressive 80 percent of SportWagen buyers opted for a TDI when the longroof still wore a Jetta badge, and 40 percent of those cars were ordered with the six-speed manual. Thus, the rare desire for a manual, diesel configuration is still very much alive here. And to broaden its appeal in cold- and wet-weather markets, VW will add an all-wheel-drive option at some point – likely next year. Beacuse most SportWagen customers choose the diesel, we spent a rainy day driving through Texas Hill Country in a pair of TDI SportWagens, starting off with the volume-model DSG, and finishing with the manual.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

The 2.0-liter inline-four produces 150 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, but how that power behaves varies with the driver's level of involvement. With the DSG left to its own devices, the SportWagen is slow to accelerate – both off the line and when getting up to highway speeds. The DSG is quick to upshift, which helps with fuel economy, softens the shifts and works just fine for getting around town. But if you really want to tap into the generous torque of the TDI, fuss with the paddles, as we did, keeping it in lower gears. What you lose in fuel economy you'll make up in happiness, leaving you with a large, endorphin-releasing grin. The engagement level of three-pedal driving in the manual stretches that grin just a bit further too, as you dictate the pace of the gear shifts.

Steering is predictable and accurate, consistent with other Golf models. And the wagon maintains a familiar balance of comfort and sport, even with our test cars' larger 17- and 18-inch wheels (15-inch wheels are standard on TSI models, while TDIs start with 16s). TDI wagons use the same strut-type front suspension as the standard Golf, but opt for a torsion beam rear suspension with coil springs and an anti-roll bar.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

Packaging is simple with three trims starting at the base S, moving up to SE, and finishing at the top-of-the-line SEL. Volkswagen says a content-adjusted entry-level S model can now be had for $2,000 less than the previous Jetta SportWagen – prices start at $22,215 for the TSI and $25,415 for the diesel.

The 2015 SportWagen carries on the Golf family reputation as a fun, ergonomic, and practical ride, only now with increased utility. Regardless of whether or not the SportWagen can sway buyers from the scorching compact crossover segment – as VW hopes – it's one of the only affordable wagons out there. The Subaru XV Crosstrek and Outback are similar to the Golf in price, but behave more like the soft and tall SUVs they emulate, and upmarket offerings like the Audi Allroad or Volvo V60 are pricey. If AWD is mandatory consideration, Subaru makes the decision easy, at least until the all-wheel drive SportWagen arrives. But if that's not a priority the SportWagen offers more refinement, a premium feel, and incredible highway fuel economy with the diesel option. In other words it's just like a Golf, but more, and we like that.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Information

Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

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