By on July 15, 2021

In the concluding chapter of the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen story the other day, I was asked by a frequent commenter to share some of the things I liked or would miss about the Golf now that it’s gone away. I’m thinking of those things now as I view its dealer listing, recently updated with many photos. They never did replace the cargo area trim panels, I can see the scratches from here!

Anyway, the positives. The most enjoyable thing about the Golf was its fun to drive nature. Even though it didn’t have a lot of power at 147 horses, that just meant you could use more (or all) of the power more of the time. It was one of those cars where there’s not really enough power for anything bad to happen should you floor the throttle. That made it fun to rev up and toss around on back roads, an area where it shone. The steering was communicative enough to let you know what the front wheels were doing, and the brakes strong in the event of a tractor appearing suddenly around a bend (that happens here). Though there wasn’t a ton of grip from the slimmish tires, the power level was well-matched to said grip. There weren’t really any situations on dry pavement where things were going to get out of hand, everything felt planted all the time.

The engine was also a highlight. Smaller than the power plants in the vast majority of cars in this country, it was smooth and had excellent NVH characteristics. At idle it was almost entirely silent from inside the cabin. Handled roughly, the 1.4 provided eager small engine noises and it never sounded as though you were thrashing it too hard, even at the red line. To get the most out of it, it was best to put it in manual mode and shift with the paddles to keep up the revs. Even when you drove it aggressively for some hours in a given tank of fuel, it would still return between 29 and 31 miles per gallon. Over my 18-month experience, it was the most consistent fuel economy of any car I’ve ever owned (hand calculated). Pity that engine was available only on 2019 models, and only on the SE in wagon format. Same goes for the eight-speed automatic, which was not a complicated DSG like in the Alltrack. It was crisp and responsive, not indecisive and jerky like in the current Tiguan.

Fit and finish were great as well, especially considering its compact non-premium class. Everything had a solid feel, and most of the surfaces you touched were of pretty good quality. It was interesting to see how the same climate control knobs across Golf, Passat, Jetta, and Tiguan felt a bit different in each car: They were put together the best in the Golf. Doors made a nice heavy sound and an equally nice sound upon opening them. Touch-sensitive door handles sometimes reacted a bit too slowly, but always had a nice return action. Seats were comfortable enough (the SEL seats were better, but dropped for 2019), and the problem-prone glass roof and light-colored vinyl provided a bright interior. I can’t recommend light interiors enough when the only other option is black.

Having Android Auto was nice as well, though I suspect I’ll get used to not having it like every year before I had the Golf. The large screen was intuitive, and so were the rest of the interior controls. Special shout out to the dials, which were clear and easy to read, and looked slightly nicer than the similar dials in other Volkswagen products. This compliment won’t apply soon though, as all VWs are in process of the switch to fancy screen-based gauges. Speaking of things no more, I liked that it was a regular Golf with a wagon body, which allowed for the aforementioned roof and lots of cargo space. Folding the seats was a breeze from the side or the rear levers, and the cargo area was enormous for such a small car. The interior overall was pretty spacious, especially so with front legroom and acceptably so at the rear.

Overall (and I know it’s cliché to say) it felt like the Golf had a bit of personality in a segment largely devoid of it. I liked that you didn’t see it everywhere, either, but that’s really a reason for its cancellation rather than a positive. I don’t see myself owning another Volkswagen at any point (and the new Golf does not appeal at all per reviews of the thing), or another wagon in the near future. The Golf then will be a one-off, some happy driving times during a pandemic, interspersed with inconvenient factory quality control, and overly complex, fussy German engineering. Until next time.

[Images: Corey Lewis / The Truth About Cars]

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45 Comments on “Where Your Author Considers the Finer Points of Golf...”


  • avatar
    jbltg

    Kind of tragic. So many very positive attributes not the least of which is a small miracle of packaging, which is rarely seen anymore.

    But, VW.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Just curious – if they’d done the sunroof repair right the first time, would you have kept it?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Mfrs fail to realize how important the dealer experience is. Producing a decent vehicle isn’t enough if the dealer poisons the well with poor attitude or poor service.

      It’s probably why brand loyalty is so low across all mfrs. Even Subaru – the best in this category – is only 60.5%.

      https://www.jdpower.com/sites/default/files/file/2020-07/2020046%20U.S.%20Automotive%20Brand%20Loyalty.pdf

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        Manufactures very much understand the importance of the dealership experience. The problem is that they have limited ways of influencing that experience. Dealerships are totally independent businesses and often sell products from multiple manufacturers. If Subaru wants its dealership experience s to improve that involves making changes at Bob’s BMW, Toyota, Hyundai, Jeep, Chrysler, Subaru Auto Group. LLC. Which, as you can imagine, isn’t easy.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          How did Bob get the rights to the VW franchise though?

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            It was 196X and his grandfather took a gamble on VW. It’s the same way he got Subaru and Honda back in the day.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            What percentage of Volkswagen franchise agreements were made in the 1960s compared to over the last 30 years? And, for the ones made in the 1960s what was the usual length of those agreements?

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            ajia.

            I believe franchises can be sold with limited input from the manufacturer. Am I correct that your understanding is that manufacturers have significant operational control of their franchised dealerships?

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I’m not an expert on automobile franchise agreements or the laws in every state but the manufacturer has the ability to vet the fitness of applicants before granting a franchise and (at least in the states I checked) can disapprove of a sale/transfer related to a franchised dealer.

            Here a Florida Supreme Court ruling related to Ford denying a franchise transfer due to poor customer service at the purchaser’s other dealership:
            https://tinyurl.com/4fk7aduu

          • 0 avatar
            Kendahl

            Forty years ago, even in fairly large markets, Subaru, VW, Saab and Mazda were off brands that big, existing dealerships didn’t want to handle. The only dealers interested in them were those who couldn’t qualify for major brands.

            I was about to buy a new 1985 RX-7 from a dealership that also sold Saabs and Subarus. It was a used car lot that was working its way upmarket. In the end, I bought a used RX-7 from a Chevy dealer because it was the same car for 30% less money but I serviced it at the “used car” Mazda place. They ran a good shop that did everything on the manufacturer’s service schedule.

            I moved on when they sold out and the new owner began cutting corners. Service was cheap but incomplete. I still remember arguing with the service manager that repairing my car should only be his second priority. His first should be advising me, honestly and correctly, what needed fixing. He explained that he had just been chewed out by a father who a accused him of conning his daughter into an unnecessary brake job. She had 1/32″ left on her pads.

        • 0 avatar
          tedward

          VW was in a weird position with that one. Some dealers became expert at the roof issues, others got burned early and would actually send the cars out to fix or even refuse the work. There was one in vt that i believe was telling people it was unfixable, which wasn’t true. Any place that sold a lot of gsw tdi’s would be my recommendation for that repair btw.

        • 0 avatar
          wolfwagen

          Tim and Corey,

          Future QOTD: “Dealerships – What can they do to suck less?” Not so much a bitch session, but solid recommendations that could be presented to dealer groups or a bitch session whatever you prefer.

          Also, “What are the oddest dealer Mashups that the B&B have seen?” I’ll start. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in eastern Pennsylvania there was a dealership that only sold GMC trucks and Volvo cars. Again this was the ’70s and ’80s where trucks were for work and volvo was not a premium brand as it is now

          • 0 avatar
            pc talon

            Was this in Lackawanna county by chance?

          • 0 avatar
            wolfwagen

            @ PC
            Nope – Northampton County. The place was on a two-lane country road. Farmer fields to the West and North A small industrial area to the East and a very small residential area to the south

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, I felt quite pleased with a no-clicking headliner, which (aside from dirt and grease marks) they’d installed with correct fitment the first time. I was committed to keeping it for probably most of the warranty after that point, and had not planned to dump it.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Shame on the dealer for dropping the ball so badly…they screwed themselves and the manufacturer. Derp.

        • 0 avatar
          Kendahl

          In the mid 1970s, I bought a used Volvo 145 wagon that had been repossessed by my bank. Volvo was a second line for one of the Chrysler Plymouth dealers and wasn’t favored by the service department. On one occasion, I took the car in because it could hardly stagger away from a stop sign. After listening to my detailed list of symptoms, the service writer wrote, “Repair to run properly.” At the end of the day they called me to pick up the car. No charge since they couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

          At the time, Volvo used the same fuel injection system as Porsche. A friend of mine, who worked for the local Porsche/Audi dealer suggested I have one of their mechanics look at the Volvo. He blipped the throttle twice and announced, “You have dirty injectors.” He cleaned one and replaced another which made the car run well enough for me to dump it.

          Also in the shop at the Chrysler Plymouth dealer was an Alfa Romeo that they had taken in trade. The engine needed rebuilding but the dealership owner was too cheap to pay a trained Alfa mechanic to do the work. The engine was scattered all over the workbench because the pushrod mechanics couldn’t cope with a double overhead cam engine.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Yup!

          Even if VW was the best thing since sliced bread, I’d literally travel out-of-state to avoid the POS VW dealer in my town!

          • 0 avatar

            I feel your pain. My GSW SEL ’18 has had 3 Pano roof leaking incidents in under 8k miles. I travel over an hour to escape the orbit of my multi-franchise dealership dumpster fire of a business.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    This is a stellar write-up.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I wish I could have gotten that color interior in my VW, or at least the GTI tartan seats. The red threading isn’t enough to give it color.

    Agree with the gauges – simple, easy to read, no fuss. I’ve had VW loaners with the virtual dash. It looks nice, but given VW electronic gremlins, that was a hard pass.

    I’m convinced you had a bad Tiguan. I’ve had a couple as loaners. The engine felt sluggish off of boost, but it didn’t feel harsh. My sister just got a 2021 before prices went way up and doesn’t say anything negative about the engine/transmission combo, and they’ve had multiple VAG vehicles.

    I’m thinking the infotainment system/Android Auto might be the next hill I either die on or make my stand. It just greatly enjoys either crashing or locking up at random times. But I’ve seen this with Ford products as well, so it might be more an AA issue and not a VW issue. But simple to use, and very easy to read.

    And I think that’s the VW issue. They make attractive, easy to use vehicles that check the right boxes. But sweating the details and making things work even 80% of the time…they can’t seem to cross that finish line. Water pumps, window motors, windshield wipers, sunroof drainage, exterior lighting, body and interior trim – things that last for 100,000+ miles in Japanese cars turn into problems early on in VWs. This has been going on for a long time – do they even want to fix those issues?

    • 0 avatar

      There were actually two or three total occasions where the screen simply did not turn on after the car was running and I pressed the power button. I had to wait and press it several more times.

      I think on the part of the fussy engineering, it’s an arrogance thing. They’ve known about the sunroof issues for years and have had to buy back some as lemons with water damage. All they have to do is remove those little drains, which could be done at the factory with scissors – no part redesign needed. Instead they produce sunroofs with drain issues over multiple years and generations of car.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        Sometimes mine turns off randomly and won’t turn back on. I need to pull over and then hit the ignition button, open the door to totally turn off the car (Don’t forget to grab your cell phone), and then turn everything back on. Normally it will sync up right away, but not all of the time.

        There have been no wiper faults in the last 3,000 miles so that’s setting a record there…

        Take the next car up to Eden Park next time. You’ll get some good shots with the car and skyline in the background.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I like non-black interiors too.
    Not comparable, but similar in size, I’m curious to see the Toyota Corolla Cross when it comes out. It seems to check a lot of my boxes, and while it will be less refined, elegant, and driver-focused as this, everyone knows it has a good chance of being on the road well past the warranty period.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Corey, those first few sentences could have been written by nearly everyone who suffered through owning a British ‘sports car’.

    “The most enjoyable thing about the Golf was its fun to drive nature. Even though it didn’t have a lot of power at 147 horses, that just meant you could use more (or all) of the power more of the time. It was one of those cars where there’s not really enough power for anything bad to happen should you floor the throttle. That made it fun to rev up and toss around on back roads, an area where it shone.”

  • avatar
    ajla

    This is similar to how I felt with that my Charger. I enjoyed driving it but I didn’t enjoy getting it fixed so much. In the end there are other fun to drive vehicles I can afford that won’t be such a time sink.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    great looking car. I’ve long lusted after one. But anecdotal evidence of poor quality has kept me away. 147 hp and only 31 mpg? That’s horrible. My 4 year old civic has around 178 hp and easily gets around 44 highway. I’m no longer a fan of Honda but if they built a wagon version of the Civic I would give them more of my money. Same is true if Toyota built a Wagon Corolla or Camry. And no, not interested in an CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      It’s REALLY dependent on how hard your right foot keeps it in the boost. With the 2.0L I-4 w/ 228hp, I average 28-ish in stop-and-go and normal around town driving. But on highways with the cruise set between 75-80, I’ve easily topped 40 mpg (tested at gas station, not trip computer) without trying, with the a/c on. That’s with the 7-speed DSG and 80 mph is barely over 2,000 rpms.

  • avatar
    2kriss2kross

    Ownership experiences like these are why I haven’t pulled the trigger on a VW. I have gotten seat time in Golfs before, it’d be the perfect car if they can get a consistent reliability and quality control reputation. I’ve always pined for a Golf and recently the Arteon, but VW ownership seems to be like playing Russian roulette.

    Some people rave about them while others can’t wait to get rid of them and I don’t want to make that gamble. I don’t have the time, patience, and eventually money.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s sort of a no-win with the wagon at the end. You can have an S with the old transmission and a 1.8 that’s less efficient. Or you can have the SE with 1.4 and the 8AT which has the problematic roof.

      S also makes you do without nice wheels, the LED lighting, modern info screen (you get the one from about 7 years ago), powered seats, push button start, and you have cloth seats. It’s too basic for me.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        I’m not a fan of the panoramic sunroofs! I’ve had two minor issues with the moonroofs in 26 years of Hondas (no leaks or other intrusion), five cars, but a panoramic roof seems like a target for leaks, rattles, and other unpleasantries. More surface area, and usually a two-piece design, equals more potential problems.

  • avatar
    Mackie

    I snapped up a base 2018 Golf manual while it still had the 170 hp engine. Practical, quick, really fun to drive. No problems, no flashy styling, no regrets.

    • 0 avatar
      modemjunki

      We bought an automatic equipped 2017 Wolfsburg with the same 1.8. It’s too much motor for the standard fuel efficiency oriented tires but it’s a hoot to drive. To date we’ve had zero issues with the vehicle.

  • avatar
    cruster

    I have a ‘16 GSW I bought new. Pushing 80k and I’ve never had an issue. Love the giant sunroof. Last year I put turbo out of a GTI (IS20) in it. A set of good tires and it’s a blast to drive fast or slow. Maybe the best daily driver I’ve ever had.

  • avatar
    Funky D

    The problem with VW now is that they don’t build anything truly different anymore. Their entire lineup consists of cars that have a nice underdone style to them (an increasing rarity in the market), but little else to compensate the owner for plasticky-parted cars that generally begin to burned the owner in repairs for the owner almost as soon as the warranty runs out.

    I bought my 2012 Eos at 78k miles, with the complete understanding that the previous and original owner traded the car in just before a major maintenance interval, something that I used in the price negotiation. Fortunately, it also came with a complete set of maintenance records showing that all of it had been performed without fail. So far, this had resulted in an ALMOST trouble-free ownership going on 28k miles so far. The only exception was a water pump (nice of VW to bury it so far down in the engine compartment!) and driver seat motor which has been 2k in repairs over 4 years. I am sure that I am having a above-

    Still, I doubt that I will own another VW as they just don’t offer anything that would justify the ownership costs over the long haul.

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