2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TSIPosted on March 13th, 2015
New activity vehicle joins the Golf family
By Nina Russin
For athletes, a car is more than transportation: it is also, in a sense, a giant gym bag- its cargo capability every bit as important as performance. The fact that the former Jetta SportWagen could deliver on both fronts made it a perennial favorite at our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition. The new Golf model, based on the same MQB architecture as its hatchback siblings, promises to do the same.
The SportWagen comes with a choice of two engines: a 1.8-liter 170-horsepower gasoline block and 150-horsepower turbo-diesel. Buyers can choose between a five-speed manual gearbox and six-speed automatic for the TSI model. The turbo-diesel comes with either a six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automatic transmission.
Pricing for the base S grade gasoline car begins at $21,395, excluding the $820 destination charge. Standard equipment includes fifteen-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lamps, heated side mirrors, a cooled locking glovebox, leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, satellite radio, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and cruise control.
The upscale SEL priced from $29,345 adds automatic dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, formula-style shift paddles for automatic transmission cars, rearview camera, navigation, Fender premium audio, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry with pushbutton start and cruise control.
A split-folding second-row seat across the model lineup lengthens the cargo floor.
Test drive in Austin, Texas
At a media preview in Austin, I had the opportunity to test drive both the S and SEL versions of the TSI: one with the five-speed manual transmission and the second with the six-speed automatic. The drive route included city streets, highways and two-lane thoroughfares in the surrounding hill country.
Volkswagen is unique for its success in marketing a wagon to US buyers, who typically shun the genre. Its je ne se qua is not unlike a woman who walks into a party in mismatched clothes, only to start a fashion trend.
As with its predecessor, the new model is remarkable for its attention to detail. Thoughtful features such as a storage compartment below the driver’s seat, the cooled glovebox for stashing beverages, a beautifully-designed instrument panel with soft-touch surfaces that extend all the way to the windshield and D-shaped steering wheel that gives a nod to the brand’s racing heritage all contribute to the car’s panache.
Like its hatchback siblings, the newest Golf delivers satisfying performance, with peppy acceleration and crisp shifting. Weight difference between the hatchbacks and the wagon is about 150 pounds. Turbocharging gives both available blocks an abundance of low-end torque, helping to minimize the impact of weight gain on the car’s performance.
For those who don’t mind pushing a clutch pedal, the manual gearbox is the better option, since the automatic transmissions shift early to favor fuel economy. The clutch pedal is light enough to be workable in stop-and-go traffic. The gears are quite long, so drivers needn’t worry about constant shifting.
The standard fifteen-inch alloy rims provide an ample footprint for average driving conditions. Those who want to push the performance envelope can upgrade to eighteen-inch wheels on the SEL.
The TSI model comes with a four-wheel independent suspension, while the turbo diesel has a torsion beam rear end. Ride comfort in the TSI test cars is impressive: on the drive route, the suspension did an excellent job of absorbing jousts on uneven road surfaces.
The electric power steering system is nicely tuned to the car. A 35.8-foot turning circle is impressive for a vehicle with a 103.5-inch wheelbase, making it possible to perform U-turns on two-lane roads. There is a slight hesitation in on-center response at speed, but the driver by no means feels disconnected from the wheels.
Engineers equipped the SportWagen with the same cross differential system as the GTI. If the suspension becomes unloaded, actuators apply braking to the driven wheel to prevent understeer, helping the driver to maintain directional control.
NVH is quite good at low-to-moderate speeds. The engine is remarkably quiet, even when the driver pushes the revs. My driving partner and I did notice significant wind noise at higher speeds. We were unable to decide whether the source was the side mirrors or the roof rails up top.
Visibility around the car’s perimeter is good. A generous-sized rear window provides good visibility to the back. The available rearview camera eliminates the problem, enabling the driver to more easily monitor cross traffic in crowded parking lots.
The SportWagen’s spacious interior is one of its greatest assets, with plenty of room for bicycles, camping equipment, skis and snowboards. The new wagon is slightly longer than the outgoing model, giving it slightly more cargo capacity. Standard roof rails allow owners to add a cargo carrier up top as well.
The interior seats five passengers. Second-row legroom should be adequate for most adults in the outboard positions. The center position has limited space due to the car’s high floor tunnel.
Keyless entry and start on upscale models saves the driver from fumbling for the key fob after dark. The cargo area’s low lift-over height makes it easier for small people to load large items in back. The liftgate opens high, making it possible to stand close to the load floor without having to bend over.
Infotainment controls are easy to reach from either front seating position. Redundant steering wheel controls minimize driver distraction. Leatherette upholstery is attractive and comfortable.
Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin to keep second-row occupants comfortable in temperature extremes. The panoramic sunroof that comes standard on the SEL grade brings in an abundance of ambient light into the interior, although it also adds some significant weight to the chassis.
The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control and tire pressure monitoring. Standard post collision braking applies the brakes to prevent further collision damage. Standard VW Car-Net provides unlimited emergency services.
The factory warranty includes complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first 12 months or 10,000 miles.
The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen goes on sale this April.
Likes: A versatile, solidly, built car with a spacious cargo area, good fuel economy and a high level of standard safety features. Fit and finish on the interior is exceptional, especially for a vehicle in this price range.
Dislikes: Wind noise at higher speeds. Bluetooth interface is not standard on the base model.
Model: SportWagen TSI S and SEL
Base price: $21,395 (S), $29,345 (SEL)
As tested: $22,215 (S), $31,855 (SEL)
Horsepower: 170 Hp @ 4500 rpm
Torque: 199 lbs.-ft. @ 1600 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 25/35 mpg (automatic), 25/36 mpg (manual)2015, Best Value 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Volkswagen
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