On the Road Review: Volkswagen Golf TDI SportWagen S

In a juggling of its lineup, VW moves the former Jetta SportWagen under the popular Golf umbrella here in the States — just like it is in the rest of the world. The Golf SportWagen joins its other siblings — Golf, Golf TDI, GTI, Golf R and E-Golf electric — to create the largest assortment of compact car offerings available from any automaker. The Jetta wagon will return this fall as a slightly larger wagon with a Subaru Outback-like stance including an AWD option.

It is no secret that I am a large fan of both the Golf/GTI/R series of compact cars as well as the TDI-turbo-diesel engine that VW employs in several of these cars. In wagon format, buyers get crossover-like space out back, but with the positive driving dynamics embraced by the Golf series.

Jumping from car to car every week, it is easy to make initial first impressions that can be countered after the miles pile up, as it isn’t unusual to note dramatic variances from our visiting press fleet. The hangover from leaving one favored car and then entering a less than competent replacement often takes some perspective and rationalization.

The opposite was true with this week’s VW SportWagen, as the Golf proved to be a tight, solid, user-friendly driving machine that just happened to get over 43 mpg during its stay. The Golf wagon was pushed up the highway to Presque Isle and back, over to western Maine, down to southern Maine, and along the coast from Rockland. I think there was a song written about the VW’s visit; “I’ve been there, I’ve been everywhere….”.

Every day behind the Golf’s tilt-and-telescoping wheel was pleasurable. With 10 more horsepower this year, 150 peak hp, the TDI is a strong runner. It had good low-end thrust around town, due to the low peak-output (236-pound/feet realized at only 1,750 rpms) of the turbo-diesel engine, plus the Golf TDI pulls smoothly on the highway, maintaining your selected cruising speed without pause or dramatic action from the six-speed DSG automatic. Diesel power relies on strong torque output and the 2.0-liter VW motor delivers in spades.

Barely broken in, arriving with less than 1,600 miles on the odometer, the Golf TDI immediately set the pace for fuel economy for the week with an initial return of 58 mpg coming to Ellsworth from Rockland. Power and economy is always an intoxicating combination.

Add composed driving dynamics — with very good steering feel — and the VW proved to be a fun economy car, too. The continuous flow of power makes acceleration easy and relaxing for all driving needs, while the possible range of the VW — up to 550 miles between fill-ups with the tiny 13-gallon tank — also makes the Golf TDI a great traveling companion.

In base ‘S’ trim, $24,595, you get leatherette seating in the Golf. This leather look-alike material — a favorite of the German automakers — gives the interior a premium look, but not necessarily a premium feel. Nice cloth surfaces, preferably heated, are more than adequate in this class and would be more comfortable in all four seasons.

The rear seat splits to fold, increasing the already roomy cargo hold. Rear seat occupants have good head and elbow space, yet long-legged passengers will want the front seat occupants to move the seat up a notch so their knees are not crowded. Visibility is good all around, giving the Golf an airy feel even without the sunroof available on SE and SEL trims.

Switches and controls are normal buttons and knobs with just the 5.8-inch color screen requiring direct finger touches to alter your audio system selections. With Sirius satellite radio here, the Golf also features a multi-function steering wheel with audio and cruise operations. Equipped with excellent headlamps, quiet control stalks, and above-average ergonomics the VW draws praise for the space where the driver works. The only caveat is that climbing in and out of the supportive seating seemed to be difficult, as the small-ish doors don’t afford a lot of extra space for larger operators.

At 179.6 inches long, the 3,246-pound SportWagen is smaller than most all compact crossover wagons, yet it delivers a much better driving feel. You do give up some forward visibility, sitting lower than crossovers, but the fuel economy, the car’s over-the-road operation, and overall utility counter that argument. The Golf, however, does not offer AWD; the new Jetta wagon will.

Turbo-diesel efficiency and power is currently setting the Golf apart from its compact class rivals, as none of the VW’s competitors in this market offer either a wagon, or, a TDI-engined version. Some rivals have hybrid powertrains available, as does the E-Golf, but no rival has the Golf TDI’s combination of power and elevated fuel economy. Road warriors that do lots of driving know about the TDI’s legendary capability for long miles at high miles per gallon.

EPA ratings are 31/42/35-mpg for the SportWagen TDI. Comparable gas models earn a 25/36-mpg estimate. Our 43-plus mpg average for a long week destroys the EPA estimate and indicates the potential for even greater fuel economy numbers.

Gas SportWagens start at $21,395 with the six-speed manual gearbox. Our ‘S’ trimmed TDI wagon listed for $26,515 with the six-speed automatic transmission. SE trimmed models are $27,995 while top SEL TDI wagons begin at $30,345.

Two thumbs up for the Golf SportWagen. It is a fun, easy to drive commuter vehicle, a great long-distance road car, as well as a very efficient economy car.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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