Alright all you Internet automotive enthusiasts, it's time to put your money where your incendiary-comments are. VW is answering the constant "save the manuals!" — "Give us fast wagons!" — "I can haz cloth interiors!" battle cries. Although the big news for the 2017 model year is the Golf Alltrack and later the new mid-sized three row SUV, the real news is the base Golf Sportwagen with 4motion and a 6-speed manual transmission. This will be the cult-classic — the Time Bandits of the car world; fun for the whole family and it'll hold up for years.
The Sportwagen S 4motion is the enthusiasts dream, an affordable, all-wheel drive turbocharged, manual-transmission wagon with three pedals. When I say affordable — it will sticker under 25 grand. Right out of the box, the car is reasonably quick with a rated 170hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, but we all know those numbers are underrated. The real story however is how easy it is to make this thing faster. With just an ECU flash, you can take the EA888 1.8TSI over 250 hp and nearly 300 lb-ft of torque. Add a downpipe to that and your looking at 260 hp and just over 300 lb-ft. But for the ultimate upgrade, find a friend that's upgraded their GTI to the IS38 turbo and give them a couple hundred bucks for the IS20 they took off and suddenly your little sleeper Sportwagen can have 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The Golf R is rated at 292hp and 280 lb-ft from the factory.
They might also give you a great deal on the factory GTI 18-inch wheels to replace the 16-inch wheels that come on the Golf S models. I might be tempted to find some understated, lightweight 17-inch wheels.
You will need to look to the aftermarket for suspension upgrades, as the extra weight in the back of the wagon won't allow you to use either GTI or Golf R take-off parts. I would try to find some options that don't lower the car that much, to keep the stealth appearance and ride quality. Everyone slams Sportwagens on the ground — be original. For brakes, unless you plan on track days, I would upgrade the pads and call it a day, although again, some GTI parts would be tempting.
I spent two hours driving this car around the twisty roads between Seattle and Snoqualmie Washington at VW's 2017 full-line driving event. At one point I had to choose between time in a Golf R and this Sportwagen, I went with the wagon. I didn't think I'd ever turn down time in a Golf R, but there is something new and refreshing about the Sportwagen. It just disappears into traffic, yet it has great communication in terms of what it's doing on the road. In typical VW fashion, the chassis dynamics are sorted to a level that most buyers will never appreciate. This takes me back to cars that made me love VW in the first place. If I had the money, I would own a MK7 Golf R. I would go buy one today! However, for the money, a car like this is going to be tough to pass up, especially if VW lease deals are as attractive as they are right now.
There's nothing that proves your car-guy cred like driving a high performance car that doesn't advertise its abilities. While the trendy masses buy the lowest spec powertrain and the highest spec appearance package, those of us who drive cars for ourselves want the polar opposite. We want to be able to slice up the road, without drawing attention from either the boy-racers or the boys in blue. The 2017 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen S with 4-motion is going to fit that bill exactly. If you go full-boat with GTI IS20 turbo, some decent tires and a couple suspension mods, you will be looking at a car in the mid 4 second range 0-60 mph and it'll trap a little over 100 mph in the quarter-mile and the handling will be pretty close to that Golf R as well. We just need to keep this fairly quiet; as much as I want to say this is the affordable Golf R Wagon the US will never get, I want to keep dealerships from gouging customers with Golf R markups.