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William Maley

Review: 2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen SE

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There is a running joke in the automotive world that the perfect vehicle for an enthusiast is a rear-drive station wagon with a diesel engine and manual transmission. The closest we ever got to this ’nirvana’ was the Volkswagen Jetta and Golf SportWagen. While not rear-wheel drive, the Jetta and Golf wagons did offer a diesel and manual transmission combination. Not only did they become one of the darlings of the automotive press, but consumers would soon jump on the diesel wagon bandwagon thanks to Volkswagen’s ‘clean diesel’ ad campaign. 

But we would learn this ‘clean diesel’ campaign was a fallacy as Volkswagen was found to be using illegal software that allowed their diesel vehicles to cheat emission tests. One of the key selling points for the Golf SportWagen was taken off the table and Volkswagen’s reputation would take a nose dive. This brings up an interesting question, is there more to the Golf SportWagen than the availability of a diesel engine? 

Describing the design of the Golf SportWagen is quite simple - take a standard Golf and add a foot to the overall length. Otherwise, the clean design of the Golf is still here with a narrow front grille and smooth side profile. Some will complain that the SportWagen is a bit boring to look at. We can’t disagree with this as it kind of exists with no real standout design trait.

The interior follows the same ideals as the exterior with a plain jane look. The choice of black and sliver for the interior trim only reinforces this thought. But Volkswagen should be given some credit as the design does allow for a simple layout of controls and are within easy reach for driver and passenger. Also, a lot of the materials used throughout the interior are soft-touch and make the SportWagen feel quite premium.

Finding a seating position in the SportWagen is simple thanks to the combination of manual and power adjustments for the front seats and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel. The seats earn top marks for comfort and support for long trips. The back seat offers plenty of head and legroom for most folks. This is impressive when you take into account our SE tester comes with a panoramic sunroof as standard. As for cargo space, the SportWagen offers 30.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats (7.6 cubic feet larger than the standard Golf) and 66.5 cubic feet when folded (13 cubic feet larger than the Golf). To give you some idea of the space on offer, I was able to fit a desk from Ikea that measured 53.5 inches long with no issues.

On the technology front, all Golf SportWagens feature a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Volkswagen’s Car-Net infotainment system. This is one of our favorite systems thanks to an easy to understand interface, buttons around the screen to take you to the various parts, and fast performance. The only item we would like to see Volkswagen address is the screen. The matte finish on it sucks some of the color and brightness. Any 2016 Volkswagen fitted with the Car-Net infotainment system will feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Being an iPhone person, I tried out the CarPlay integration and find it to be one of the best implementations. It only takes a few seconds for the system to detect the phone before bringing up the CarPlay interface. Apps launched quickly and showed no signs of slowdown or crashing.

At the present moment, the Golf SportWagen is only available with a turbocharged 1.8L four-cylinder producing 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. This engine is paired with a five-speed manual (only available on the S) or a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. The 2.0L TDI four-cylinder is currently on probation due to the diesel emission scandal. The 1.8T is one our favorite engines as you never feel wanting for power. Torque arrives at low 1,600 rpm which allows the Golf SportWagen to leap away from a stop. More impressive is engine responding with power in an instant if you need to make a pass or merge onto the freeway. We wish we could say the same of the DSG transmission. As we noted in our quick drive of the Passat V6, the DSG doesn’t like low-speed maneuvers as it exhibits signs of hesitation and lurching. At higher speeds, the transmission is lightning fast with shifts.

EPA fuel economy figures for the Golf SportWagen stand at 25 City/35 Highway/29 Combined. Our average for the week landed around 28 mpg.

Ride and handling characteristics for the Golf SportWagen can be described as balanced. The suspension provides a well-damped ride over rough roads. In the corners, body motions are kept in check and the wagon feels very agile. The steering provides a decent amount of weight and feel that will please most drivers. One area where the Golf SportWagen truly shines is in noise isolation. Barely any wind and road noise makes inside the cabin, making it a perfect long-distance companion. 

The 2016 Golf SportWagen kicks off at $21,625 for the base S. Our midlevel SE tester starts at $27,025 and comes with keyless entry, push-button start, leatherette upholstery, Fender audio system, and 17-inch alloy wheels. We had the optional driver assistance (adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, park distance control, and park assist) and lighting (bi-xenon headlights that can swivel when the steering wheel is turned and LED daytime running lights) packages that brings our as-tested price to $30,335. We think the SE with the driver assistance package is the sweet spot for Golf SportWagen as you get most everything you need.

The dark cloud of the diesel emission scandal still lingers over Volkswagen. Whether or not the company can turn back their fortunes in the U.S. remains to be seen. But if I was Volkswagen, I would be putting the likes of the Golf SportWagen in the spotlight. Yes, it is one of the vehicles affected in the diesel emission mess. But take the diesel out of the equation for a moment and you still have a strong vehicle. From increased practicality for both passengers and cargo to the right balance of comfort and support in the ride, the Golf SportWagen is an interesting alternative to growing segment of compact crossovers. 

Disclaimer: Volkswagen Provided the Golf SportWagen, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas

Year: 2016
Make: Volkswagen
Model: Golf SportWagen
Trim: SE
Engine: Turbocharged 1.8L TSI DOHC Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM: 170 @ 4,500
Torque @ RPM: 199 @ 1,600
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 25/35/29
Curb Weight: 3,120 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Puebla, Mexico
Base Price: $27,025
As Tested Price: $30,335 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge)

Options:
Driver Assistance Package - $1,495.00
Lighting Package - $995.00


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No diesel, no go.  Really a shame as the third design, like my car (the 2015's E288, the 2015 only engine) was very close to meeting the limits without the cheat. But the 1.8T and 2.0T motors only offer so so reliability, and they are not putting the DSG in some models.  manual is going to be a five speed only.

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