Let's start with the easy part. The '15 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is a Golf with a longer cargo area. Plain and simple, there it is. The EPA rates the SportWagen at 30.4 cubic feet, compared to the hatchback Golf's 22.8 cubes. For the record, that's more space than VW's Tiguan SUV. The rear seat legroom remains the same as the hatchback's while headroom gets a slight increase, on paper at least.
The exciting news for the forum fanboys will be that the SportWagen is available with a diesel engine and the holiest of all things, a manual transmission. New for this generation is the availability of the diesel engine in the base model, which means you can now get the frugal and efficient wagon starting at just $25,415, including delivery. But even the base model gets you keyless access with push-button start, rearview camera, touch-screen infotainment system, and Bluetooth, just to name a few of the features. Add another $1,100 on top of that price and you can add VW's DSG transmission.
If you can live with a still impressive 36 highway MPG compared to the TDI's 43 highway MPG, you can get into the 1.8t-powered Golf SportWagen S for a mere $22,215 with a five-speed manual. The transmission option on the 1.8t is a traditional six-speed torque convertor automatic.
The diesel is rated at 150 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, while the 1.8t is 170 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque. If recent dyno numbers are to be believed, the 1.8 is probably making those numbers at the wheels, but I digress. The 1.8t with the manual is the obvious choice for driving fun. It doesn't have the big lump of torque down low like the TDI, but it has enough to scoot around town without ever having to hit 3,000 rpm. It does move when you wind it up over 4,000 rpm, even if the little turbo runs out of breath just short of redline.
Handling is again a clone of the hatchbacks, but with a bit of a twist. If you really push the car, and I mean really push it, you will notice the greater moment of inertia from the longer backend on turn-in. The upside, however, is that the extra weight in back makes the car a bit more neutral mid-corner. But I have to imagine that I will be sorely disappointed with the percentage of SportWagen owners that will hit track days or even canyons. Around town, it is a dream to drive when compared to an SUV. Visibility is great out the back and it maneuvers through parking lots like any other car.
For those of you with a previous-generation SportWagen, this MQB-based upgrade is library quiet. Wind noise is virtually non-existent, even from the roof rails, and the tire noise is better attenuated than in previous models. A sticking point for some might be the torsion-beam rear axle on the SportWagen whereas the 1.8t Hatchback Golf is equipped with multi-link. For me, it's a non-issue. I'm as big of a suspension geek as you will likely find, and I didn't even realize it was torsion beam until someone pointed it out to me in the spec chart. If you can tell the difference between the two without driving them back-to-back on a racetrack and you aren't working as a suspension engineer, you're wasting your talents.
Some might be asking what's the point of the SportWagen when you already have a Golf that is just slightly different in size. A SportWagen with the seats folded down will allow a road bike to lie flat without the wheels. Personally, I have a folding stroller that has to sit across the entire trunk floor of my GTI; it slides in lengthwise in the SportWagen, leaving the other half of the floor space empty. My roll-aboard carry-on bag has to sit sideways in my GTI, while the SportWagen allows for two lengthwise. The size difference doesn't seem huge on paper, but in practice, it will make a huge difference during Costco runs or family vacations.
If you load up a TDI SEL SportWagen with DSG, adaptive Bi-xenon lighting package, and Driver's Assistance Package, you can hit $33,995. As much as I would like to compare that to every competitor on the market, there really aren't any. The closest thing might be a Toyota Prius v Five, which comparably equipped is $36,870. So not only is it more expensive, gets worse fuel economy than the TDI on the highway, but it's a Prius. So anyone who enjoys driving will likely have more fun on a city bus.
If you are seriously considering a SportWagen, I feel it's my responsibility to point out that the '16 model year will get an all-new infotainment system with a bigger screen and faster processor. There is also the rumored crossover version on the horizon, and we here at ec hope the GTD or even R-line with a 2.0t and AWD will become more than just fantasies for the U.S. Even without these, the MQB-based Golf SportWagen is a solid choice for hauling anything from families to gear.
H&R Golf SportWagen SEMA Project
German suspension specialist H&R always has some of the cleanest and most real-world lust-worthy vehicles at the annual SEMA show, and 2015 was no exception. The SportWagen you see here is equipped with Street Performance Tuner Coilovers and a 25mm rear sway bar. The wheels are from Rotiform and brakes from Brembo. This car demonstrates the performance potential in what most will consider the most mundane model of the Golf.