Capsule Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
capsule review 2015 volkswagen golf sportwagen

At the launch event for the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen in Austin, Texas, a chat with one gentleman from Volkswagen AG turns to a discussion of old Saab rally cars and his affinity for Swedish cars. The future of Saab seems up in the air, but in his mind, Volvo’s is more clear-cut. “These next few months will be crucial,” he says, as talk turns to the launch of the XC90, “this is their last chance to turn things around.”

By the end of the event, I’m convinced that VW has built a better Volvo than Volvo itself.

Last year, Volvo re-introduced the station wagon to American consumers on account of popular demand from the Volvo faithful. Apparently, the longer, larger and infinitely more practical XC70 isn’t a true station wagon thanks to a slightly higher ride height and a bit of cladding. Talk about the narcissism of small differences.

What we got was the V60, which is a fine car to drive, but a poor station wagon, when examined in the context of what a Volvo station wagon traditionally is; practical, with plenty of room for people and cargo, prioritizing utility over beauty. Again, the XC70 is a better wagon, but the Puritancial enthusiasts among us refuse to accept it as a wagon. The V60 is the inverse of that formula. As much as I liked driving it, it is simply too impractical and too expensive to recommend to most people.

The best solution now comes from Volkswagen, which offers something that fills the role of a traditional station wagon while costing literally half as much as a V60. The Golf Sportwagen takes the MQB platform of the Golf, GTI and Golf R and stretches it out a bit to create a proper wagon profile. The end result is a vehicle that keeps its car-like profile, while offering more cargo space than a Mazda CX-5 or Jeep Cherokee (30.6 cubic feet with the seats up, 66.5 with the seats down). Like every other MQB car I’ve sampled, there’s plenty of space in the back for passengers too. Certainly more than the V60, not to mention the Cherokee, which is unfortunately lacking in room for anyone over 6 feet tall.

On the road, the Golf Sportwagen has the minimum amount of engagement required to keep a keen driver engaged. As Jack said, the basic Golf is a remarkably composed car for something with a giant hole in the body structure. Extrapolate that to the wagon, which has a bigger hole in it, and you get an idea of what you’re dealing with here. There’s more body roll than one would like to experience in corners, and the steering is a bit light on both weight and feel, but having driven two examples with different wheel and tire packages, I suspect that good rubber would help remedy some of these issues. On the whole, it still sits on the right side of “fun to drive”.

The new 1.8T engine isn’t bad, but the diesel is a true gem. Like any diesel, it falls off towards the upper end of the rev range, but the low-end torque more than makes up for it. It’s also remarkably smooth for a compression-ignition engine, and only when you’re outside can you hear the signature “clackclackclack” that lets you know it’s an oil-burner. But that’s a small price to pay given the numbers: 150 horsepower, 236 lb-ft of torque and 31/43 mpg city highway (42 mpg if you opt for the DSG). For me, the diesel is the obvious choice. I like the low-end torque and the refined feel, but the TSI engine has a fair bit more oomph up to (170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft) and respectable fuel economy numbers(25/35 mpg with the automatic) and the TDI may not make economic sense for many drivers. Caveat emptor and all that.

The interior materials and quality appear to be head and shoulders above the competition. As my drive partner, Jalopnik’s Patrick George, said “getting into a Focus after a Golf is a lesson in abject disappointment.” I think it’s even better than the new A3, which really does look like a cut rate Audi. My main gripe is the antiquated looking infotainment system and the lack of a USB port. Both of those will be fixed for model year 2016, when Apple CarPlay and Android support will be added, as well as somewhere to plug your devices in. The overall styling of the car isn’t going to incite sexual arousal in any human being, but it looks elegant in a restrained sort of way, like a pretty girl does when wearing head to toe Ann Taylor. It will age well, if nothing else.

My ideal Sportwagen would have the 2.0T out of the GTI, but for now, I find myself desiring a TDI Sportwagen with a 6-speed. It is the ultimate in cerebral compromise. A base TSI wagon starts at $21,395, while a TDI wagon starts at around $26,000. Loaded examples of both gasoline and diesel Sportwagens just avoid the $30k mark. you’ll have to wait until 2016 to get an all-wheel drive Golf. Volvo will sell you an AWD wagon right now, and it will have a much more powerful engine. Even so, the Sportwagen’s sticker price is nearly half that of the V60, but it in no way is it half the car.

The Sportwagen could conceivably do everything you would ever want in a passenger car, and never find yourself wanting for more. Ok, maybe something with more sex appeal, but like I said, it is the ultimate car to appeal to your head. If it’s the heart you’re after, you may want to look at something entirely different than a station wagon. Then again, if VW wanted to put their 2.0L turbo engines under the hood, the case for buying a V60 would evaporate, since a T6 Volvo wouldn’t be any faster than a GTI powered Sportwagen.

When Patrick asked the same gentleman who he thought VW competed with in the United States, he suggested Subaru (pronounced Soo-BAH-roo) and Honda. Volvo was not mentioned. But if the upcoming Tiguan and Passat (which will both be built on MQB) are this good, Volvo may have some competition for the XC60 and S60 as well.

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  • DrivrBob DrivrBob on Mar 19, 2015

    Somehow I would never think of comparing this car to a Volvo. Maybe a Passat Wagon would be a better comparison. I once had a Volvo 240 wagon and I was kind of disappointed in it. I somehow thought those Vikings knew how to make cars for the snow. But this one had some kind of weird traction control (differential slip) that made the car go sideways instead of straight. Finally I got rid of it after hearing a big cracking sound after going around a sharp hilly curve. Anyway, I now have a golf wagon TGI (has an extra tank for CNG) that I just traded in my 8 year old 2006 Subaru Legacy for. It was also a wagon, so I'll compare it that. Yes! Its a wagon and has amble room for my needs. Even though the fact sheet says it has more capacity, somehow I still feel my Legacy was roomier (definitely in the horizontal direction). With the seats down I could layin a twin size mattress. But the main reason I did the trade in was for the better mileage and with CNG it is now costing me half as much to drive. On top of that with the extra tank I can go over 800 miles before I need to refuel. As for the fun factor, with the golf the pleasure of driving is still there. Basically its a great car to drive and handles exceptionally well for a 2 wheel drive. However, next time around I'm going back to all wheel drive. One more reason I got this car was it looks. I never really liked how golfs looked in the past. But the latest generation is a huge improvement and finally large and roomy enough for my tastes. For a small car it now has that mid size car feeling to it.

  • Ismasl Ismasl on Mar 19, 2015

    I have been driving one of this for 35000km. in the last 6 months in Spain.Not a problem so far. 2.0TDI 150hp DSG with allmost every option in it google maps, sunroof, DCC... Coming from a VW CC 1.8TSI I have to admit that this oil burner is way faster in real word. The DSG is much faster than me down shifting whe needed, The DCC makes it very stable at high speed on the motorway 180km/h. way easy without the nedd to correct your steering on the way.The driving position is much better than the old Golf or Passat for a tall person 1,86m myself. It it faster than the CC but feels a bit cheaper because it is a bit louder inside, probably made on purpose to difirienciate it from Audi. But what you need is this Golf Variant GTD with the 180hp engine and GTI interior and exterior trim.

  • Jeff S I haven't seen one of these since the 90s. Good find.
  • William Piper Ditch the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance for starters….Mitzu has probably benefited less than the other two partners and it has shackled any brand creativity moving forward.
  • Tassos I knew a woman in the area, a journalist (at least she claimed to be a reporter of some kind) who owned one of these tiny pickups with a manual transmission. SHe was only 40 at the time, but she must have been hard of hearing, because she would routinely forget to shift and we would go at fairly high speeds in very low gear, which made a huge racket, which did not seem to bother her (hence my deafness hypothesis). Either that, or she was a lousy driver. Oh well, another very forgettable, silly car from the 80s (and if my first and LAST VW, a 1975 Dasher wagon, was any indication, a very unreliable one too!)
  • Tassos Now as for the Z specifically, Car and Driver had a comparison test of the new Z400, a car that looks good on paper, with plenty of HP etc, but, despite the fact that the cars that win in those tests are usually brand new models that are more up to date than their aging rivals, the Z finished DEAD LAST in the test, to my ovbious surprise.
  • Arthur Dailey Sorry but compare that spartan interior to the Marks that Corey is writing about. 'A cigarette lighter'. Every Mark had 4 cigarette lighters and ashtrays. And these came standard with 'a 3.4-liter, 182-horsepower straight-six in the engine compartment and a five-speed manual transmission'. Those do not tick off many of the luxury boxes aspired to by 'the greatest generation'.Not sure about the 7 series but one of My Old Man's associates showed up once with a brand new 5 series circa 1977 and they gave him such a bad time that he traded it for a Fleetwood within a week.