2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen TDI Review - Hold Right There

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson
2015 volkswagen golf sportwagen tdi review hold right there

Great. Another diesel Volkswagen. This time it’s the Golf SportWagen — a car every enthusiast said, “I’d buy that with real, non-Internet money.”

We all know exactly how this is going to go:

  • The Golf is better than the Jetta.
  • The Golf SportWagen is better than the 5-door Golf if you have two kids and a dog.
  • The 1.8 TSI is more fun than the 2.0 TDI.
  • The 2.0 TDI is more efficient than the 1.8 TSI, but not enough to justify the increased MSRP when fuel prices are low.
  • You should get the manual if you can.
  • Stop buying Tiguans and get the Golf SportWagen instead. (Never mind. Nobody’s buying Tiguans.)
  • You should also buy this if you care about manuals and wagons and diesels, especially as a package. (Brown is for Luddites.)

It’s with these points in mind I plunged into a week-long test of the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen — just a mere two weeks after driving the Jetta TDI.

And as much as I like it — really, really like it — the long-roof Golf is hard to justify for exactly two reasons.


The Tester

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI SEL [USA]/Sportwagon Highline [Canada]

Engine: 2-liter DOHC I-4, turbodiesel with intercooler, direct injection (150 horsepower @ 3,500-4,000 rpm, 236 lbs-ft @ 1,750-3,000 rpm)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, DSG with Tiptronic

Fuel Economy (Rating, MPG): 31 city/42 highway/35 combined


Fuel Economy (Observed, MPG): 39.9 mpg, approx. 70-percent city driving with a light foot

Options (U.S.): Lighting Package, Driver Assistance Package.


Options (Canada): Multimedia Package (includes bi-xenon headlights with AFS, 5.8-inch touchscreen audio with navigation, 8-speaker Fender premium audio, forward collision warning system, LED daytime running lights).

As Tested (U.S.): $33,995 ( sheet)


As Tested (Canada): $38,120 ( sheet)

But, before we get to that, let’s talk about the car in a vacuum.

Exterior


The Golf SportWagen (U.S., in Canada it’s called Golf Sportwagon … like the actual word … in English) replaces the Jetta wagon in Volkswagen’s American lineup. The wagonified compact earns its new name by being more closely related to the Golf than the Jetta this time around. Underneath its sheet metal is Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform shared with the current 3- and 5-door Mk7 Golf and Audi A3.

Thanks to a more modern platform, the Golf SportWagen is roughly 134 pounds lighter than the outgoing Jetta Wagon — and that’s with a longer, wider body. The long-roof Golf is 1.1 inches longer and 0.7 inches wider than the Jetta it replaces, though Volkswagen does make a point to mention the new wagon’s roof is 1.1 inches lower than its predecessor, possibly reducing the car’s frontal area.

The execution of the Golf SportWagon is at odds to the Charger I drove the week before. The Dodge looks completely different from its predecessor despite using the same platform, while the Volkswagen somehow looks more similar to its predecessor even while riding on a whole new platform.

Up front, the SportWagen is all Golf. Put the two side by side and there isn’t much difference. The headlights in our tester were fitted with LED daytime running lights that show up much better in person than they do in pictures on a rainy day. Below the bumper skin is a tiny square, hidden away, that houses the radar gear needed for the adaptive cruise control and other semi-autonomous and safety features. I must say that Volkswagen does a hell of a lot better job at hiding their new-fangled techno gear than most others (FCA and Hyundai, I’m looking at you two).

Around back, the SportWagen receives its own sheet metal and taillights that are tenfold more appealing than the old Jetta wagon. The taillamps festooned to the rear of the Jetta were quite rounded off and lacked even a modicum of personality. The new SportWagen says, “Yes, I’m practical, but I’m oh-so sharp at the same time.”

From the side, the SportWagen does the long-roof body style justice by keeping the D-pillar fairly upright and the lines as simple and cohesive as possible. This is no Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon and it shouldn’t pretend to be. The bright, deep shade of Silk Blue Metallic paint is enough to call attention to this long-wheelbase Golf. Other than the color, the Golf makes no sporting boasts, though the wheels are a tad much.

Interior


Inside is the same as any other Golf — good materials, well-planned design, simple dials, decent controls, all wrapped around a cheap infotainment display with crummy navigation and limited media input options — but more on that later.

When you run through a new car every week and have to wash each one, you notice some cars are much, much easier to keep tidy than others. The SportWagen only asked for a simple microfiber cloth to bring luster to the shiny plastic bits and dusting the remaining dash was a breeze.

The instrument panel is clear and easy to read — thank you, Volkswagen, for getting rid of the stupid, retina-searing blue lighting accents that left ghosts in our vision — and the driving position was perfect for my 6-foot-1-inch frame. The seats are comfortable but nothing to write home about.

But, if there’s one gold star to be given to the SportWagen — and this applies to the Jetta and Golf as well — it’s for visibility. Volkswagen has figured out how to keep passengers safe without lifting belt lines to a driver’s pupils, and that’s doubly important when driving a low vehicle with a large interior volume and a rear window that’s seemingly eleventy billion feet away from your rear-view mirror. This enhanced visibility also contributes to a very open, airy feeling in the cabin.

Infotainment


Remember when I said there are two reasons that make justifying a Golf SportWagen difficult? This is one of them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you have a modern phone that doesn’t use the old-style iPod/iPhone connector and you don’t need a Volkswagen right freakin’ now, wait until next year. There is supposed to be a better infotainment system and actual, honest-to-goodness USB ports.

Let me be clear: If you buy a Jetta, Golf, or any Volkswagen with this red-headed stepchild combination of haphazard technology and later complain about how much it sucks in the comments, I will link to this review each and every time screaming, “I told you so!” before throwing you to the rest of the B&B. The combination of no USB ports and a sub-par infotainment system in a modern car, especially one in the $30,000 range, is inexcusable in 2015.

Another niggle is the process you’re forced to go through to pair a phone or media device via Bluetooth. You, the driver, must use the steering wheel controls and instrument panel display to pair phone and audio devices instead of the center touchscreen used by every other automaker. Before you say, “Mark, I only ever paired my phone to the car once … when I first bought it,” this design introduces a problem for those of us who have passengers who want to connect their own devices as the driver is then forced to perform pairing process. Expect to see this functionality move to MIB II’s center touchscreen for MY2016 — though, by then, you won’t need it because Volkswagen will finally provide USB ports along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Drivetrain


Just like the diesel Jetta from weeks ago, diesel hesitation from a standing start is evident in the Golf SportWagen as well. Thanks to almost no initial torque from Volkswagen’s turbocharged compression-ignition four cylinder, the Golf is slow off the line until the snail starts to spin. It’s unnerving in the beginning, but you can compensate for it after a couple of days.

The six-speed DSG automatic is the same as the Jetta TDI, too. Crisp shifts are the norm and there’s no driveability issues outside of those detailed above.

The fuel economy surprised me. Even with all the additional weight of the wagon metal, the Golf still nearly crested 40 mpg with minimal effort.

However — and this is a big however — I’d still have the turbocharged, gas-fed 1.8 TSI instead. Unless you are clocking massive mileage or have an unrestrained desire to burn fryer fat on Oregon, the 1.8 TSI is more fun, delivers improved driveability and costs less initially. Also, I’d have the manual, just because.

Drive


You know what? As much as journalists admonish the Jetta and heap praise upon the Golf, Volkswagen has taken strides in making the refreshed Jetta a much more compelling proposition. So much so that — and I expect to get a bit of flack for this — the Golf isn’t really that much better than the Jetta, or at least not enough to justify the higher price.

If you were led to each car, the Golf SportWagen TDI and Jetta TDI, blindfolded, and asked to rate which one is better, 95 percent of the buying public would simply shrug and say, “They’re both good to me.”

The Golf SportWagen TDI suffers from the same off-the-line latency as its diesel sedan counterpart. They both have competent suspensions, but both feel a bit heavy, probably due to the big diesel lump at the front. Both testers had brakes you needed to lean on before they’d really grab those discs.

And this is a great segue into the second reason to not get a SportWagen.

Unless you really, really want a wagon, get a Jetta. Now, you probably noticed I didn’t say Golf, and there’s a reason for that, too.

The Golf SportWagen is, like DR Period says, “money”. One cannot simply ignore the massive bargain for which a Jetta can be had. If you are looking to get a car today, go out and lease a cheap Jetta for next to nothing, wait out the term, and go back to the Volkswagen dealer to see what improvements have been made in three years. This is a good solution for the aforementioned infotainment/USB problem above, as well. It gives you the car you need now — even though it might not necessarily be the one you want — and you bridge the gap to newer, better product at a cost that amounts to lint-covered pocket change.

So, there you have it: the best Golf SportWagen TDI is a diesel Jetta. You’re welcome.

Comments
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  • Kyree Kyree on Jul 24, 2015

    As someone who moved straight from a Jetta SportWagen to a Golf SportWagen, your observations of the new one versus its predecessor are spot-on. Overall, the car just seems much more upscale in its character and purposeful in its design. The infotainment/navigation system absolutely does suck, and even though I've had the car since April, I'll let you scream, "I told you so!" But I will say that I wasn't forced to pair the phone via the instrument cluster screen; I did it through the touchscreen. Like a lot of newer cars, I do like that you can have two different Bluetooth devices connected at once, one for phone calls and one for audio streaming. That came in handy when I put my friend on DJ duty during our long road trip last weekend.

  • GeneralMalaise GeneralMalaise on Jul 26, 2015

    My son's response to the review: "A couple things. Theres only a 13.2 gallon tank so the diesel extends range massively to the 1.8 turbo. Diesel now is around $1 less than premium as you know (cost me $36 to fill wagon up). The diesel has major resale value, less depreciation. The nav isn't great yes,/only basic but I don't understand people whining on no USB ports- you have multiple 12V phone chargers and can stream everything from phone (music, nav) via Bluetooth. Just read the CUV comparo in Motor Trend and while the Mazda CX-3 is very nice and the Honda HR-V has great packaging, the engines are all dogs and they still don't have the cargo capacity of our wagon seats up or down nor can they touch the MPG. The closest thing to sportwagen is BMW 3 series diesel wagon at $46K+ I knew all about the pending infotainment upgrades for MY 2016 but wasn't going to wait for something I thought was trivial."

  • Jkross22 Gavin Newsom may not be aware of the fiscal problems of the state he leads, as his focus is on criticizing other states. It's actually better that he has someone shining a laser light on a map so he can stop making things worse here. Just lace his hair gel with some catnip and have him hit himself trying to get to it. Things in LA are getting so bad that even the leftists and progressives are showing up to LA city council meetings with mirrors to protest, well, everything - gas prices, the homeless pandemic, the house pricing pandemic, the crime pandemic. It shocked the City Council that their subjects dare attempt to ask for accountability. The Council president insisted that people with mirrors be escorted out, lest the council be reminded of their incompetence and hubris. That being said, there is no connection being made between the way LA subjects vote and the results it yields. Never underestimate the stupidity of the typical CA voter. The state is a basketcase but voters keep electing the same retreads every time.
  • ScarecrowRepair Too much for too little, unless you treat it strictly as a toy.
  • DedBull Mk2 Jettas are getting harder to find, especially ones that haven't been modified within an inch of their life. I grew up in an 85 GLI, and would love to have one in as close to stock configuration as I could get. This car isn't that starting point, especially sitting 3-4 years in the NY dirt. It's a parts car at best, but there might still be money in it even at that price, if you are willing to take it down to absolutely nothing left.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I bet it has some electrical gremlins as well. Nonetheless it might make an interesting El Camino pickup truck conversation with one of those kits.
  • GrumpyOldMan "A manual transmission is offered, as is a single-clutch auto. "What is a single clutch auto?
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