2017 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen TSI S with 4Motion
1.8 liter I-4, DOHC, turbocharged (170 hp at 4,500 rpm, 184 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm)
Six-speed DSG automatic transmission with all-wheel drive
22 city / 30 highway / 25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
23.7 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price: $25,750
As Tested: $25,750
Prices include $820 destination charge.
I’ve no idea how, as I’ve lived in the same Ohio county for all of my 30-plus years (sounds better than nearly 40) on this earth, but I stumbled upon an unfamiliar rural road not far from home last week while testing the new 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen. New roads are naturally meant to be explored, so I flicked the signal lever and looked for adventure.
The weather was typical for late December: brisk, with frost in spots making the fallen leaves a bit slick. My first instinct was to drive cautiously, but I realized that I never get opportunities like this. A few hours alone behind the wheel, in daylight, with nowhere to be. The 4Motion all-wheel drive should save me if things get hairy, right?
Alas, there was no trouble found; only fun times behind the wheel in the twisties. VW takes the Sport part of SportWagen seriously. Heck, even the DSG transmission was remarkably enjoyable, shifting quickly and seamlessly.
It’s not as fun to look at, sadly. In low-spec S trim, it’s positively dowdy and entirely too familiar. It’s a new car with a new drivetrain, but the package remains anonymous. Squinting at it from certain angles reminds me of the E90-chassis BMW 3 Series wagon — especially in how the horizontal character line cuts across the flanks, just below the door handles — but it’s not a stunning masterpiece that budding designers will study in years to come.
That’s OK, though. Sometimes an incognito ride is warranted, if not desired. It’s not like our most popular people-and-cargo haulers of the day will ever appear in a museum. The driving experience of the Golf SportWagen, especially compared to modern CUVs, makes up for the lack of visual panache.
S, SE, and SEL trims are offered for the standard front-drive Sportwagen, and on the Golf Alltrack like the one Tim drove last week, but the all-wheel-drive shopper who doesn’t want the extra ride height and body cladding of the Alltrack is limited to the base S trim, where the only option is manual or DSG transmission — if you can even get the manual. You can’t configure a manual-transmission 4Motion on Volkswagen’s website now, but I’m told that it’ll arrive toward the end of January.
Before you say it, I’m aware the old cars I love don’t have any of the luxury or safety features found even on the base model Golf. But eliminating any upgrade path seems rather unusual.
The S trim does include standard heated front seats, which were welcome to keep a couple pizzas toasty when driving them home on a frosty evening. The touchscreen infotainment system — now with USB port! — worked well and synced flawlessly with my Samsung via Bluetooth. But I’d love to see leather(-ish) seats, larger alloy wheels, and the panoramic sunroof fitted to the 4Motion SportWagen, yet it’s not possible.
The optional safety features available on other, non-4Motion trims would be welcome, too, including adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring. The sight lines out of the wagon are quite good, so blind spots aren’t as prevalent as those in my usual steed, but it’s a welcome feature I’d willingly pay for in my next car.
I did find the actual passenger space a bit tight. I’m broad in the shoulder and I should have played left tackle and not become a theatre geek in high school, so my wife and I were rubbing shoulders when driving together. My kids weren’t cramped in the rear seat, though. The seats themselves were reasonably comfortable, though I did note a lack of upper lumbar support on a long drive, which left me slightly sore.
The cargo area is quite roomy for such a small car, reminding me that it doesn’t take a CUV to haul a bunch of stuff. The rear seat backs fold, but don’t quite give a flat load floor. Nonetheless, VW quotes 30.4 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 66.5 cubic feet folded. Those figures are within reach of compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, and are even larger than Volkswagen’s own Tiguan. No need to fear big strollers or a couple sets of golf clubs.
The long freeway cruise made me thirsty, which gave me an opportunity to appreciate a true delight — its deep, wide door pocket. Yes, that’s a 32 ounce Nalgene wide-mouth bottle nestled snugly in the door. I tested the popular stainless steel, 30-ounce Yeti tumbler, too, but the angle the cup assumes might lead to spillage if filled to the brim. Still, a car as efficient as this benefits by accommodating bladder-busting thirsts, and it’s a great feature for me.
Long freeway cruises require entertainment, of course, and the Golf SportWagen delivers adequately. The MIB II infotainment system is solid, though the sound quality wasn’t as great as the Fender-branded speaker system in the Beetle Dune I drove in September. Again, higher trim levels of the front-drive SportWagen offer the premium speaker setup, but not this all-wheel-drive version. The 6.5-inch touchscreen also displays the standard rear-view camera, which is cleverly hidden beneath the large VW badge on the hatch. That camera is perhaps too clever, as the mechanism that raises and lowers the badge is noisy, only drowned out by loud music or loud kids.
(Tim experienced some issues with MIB II in the Golf Alltrack, which you can read about here.)
I also found I could ignore the camera by punching the right pedal liberally. While the 1.8-liter turbo four isn’t overwhelming with 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, it’s surprisingly quick when paired with 4Motion. Pulling the DSG lever back into Sport mode enables firm, quick, full-throttle upshifts, launching the family hauler briskly.
Better yet, the venerable MQB platform was solid and surefooted. Freeway expansion joints were absorbed nicely. The ride is firm, but never jarring. And when the road turned twisty, the Golf SportWagen cornered with minimal body roll. Still, I wonder if the front-biased system helps to reduce torque steer. None was evident during my spirited drive, even though torque is only sent rearward when slip is detected.
Would I buy the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen 4Motion?
I’m not certain I would — at least not as tested. It was a remarkably fun car to drive, but I’d need a few more features that were simply not available with the 4Motion package. If I were to buy a SportWagen, I’d opt for a front-drive SE trim and add the $595 SE Driver Assistance Package.
The SE adds the V-Tex leatherette over cloth in the S, power seats, panoramic sunroof, and the Fender audio system, while the Drive Assistance Package adds adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, and a blind spot monitor — all useful features.
While I’d forego all-wheel drive, the front-drive with good tires is plenty in nearly all conditions I’d ever encounter. As equipped, the price would be $28,445 — a $2,695 jump over my tester — but better equipped for my needs.
[Images: © Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]