The 2015 Golf Sportwagen may resemble the former Jetta Sportwagen, but it arrives as part of the seventh-generation Golf line, and Volkswagen says this is an all-new car.
And it is, but the traditional station wagon now being taken over by the Golf nameplate does retain what people liked about the Jetta wagon, except true enough, it is now sharper.
Why the name change? The answer has to do with the past and the future of the venerable international hatchback now riding on Volkswagen’s new modular chassis architecture, the MQB platform.
“Because the car has gravitated onto the MQB platform, and has always been on the Golf platform, it was felt that it was the correct time to align them,” said Volkswagen’s Mark Gillies, manager, product and technology communications.
And it does make sense if you think about it. About a foot longer than a regular Golf, a good way to conceptualize the Sportwagen is as an extra-long hatchback. A 1.8-liter TSI turbo gas and 2.0-liter turbo diesel version are available, in three trims choices S, SE and SEL, and the TDI diesel we tested has proven to offer more appeal.
The 2015 Golf has been bestowed with at least seven “car of the year” awards, including in the U.S., Europe, and even in Japan. Perceptibly, it’s now repositioned a notch above, and initial U.S. car shopper reception since its April launch saw the Sportwagen hit the ground running. From month-one it outsold the regular Golf TDI by a small amount, has progressively increased its lead, and last month it outsold it by nearly two-and-a-half to one. And, next to the gas-powered Sportwagen, the TDI has accounted for 80 percent of sales.
Gillies said he thinks the gas-powered TSI will sell better over time, but early Golf adopters were probably coming out of the Jetta Sportwagen, where 80 percent of sales also favored the TDI.
What’s so special about the Sportwagen? Standing unique in a sea of crossovers, like the Jetta before it the new Golf Sportwagen nearly corners the market with benefits of a more sure-footed car with cargo capacity of a compact SUV. Further, it’s probably not hurting things that is diesel prices are at a six-year low.
This year’s EA288 turbodiesel only shares cylinder bore spacing and 2.0-liter displacement with the outgoing mill. Horsepower for the front-wheel-drive car has been bumped by 10 to 150 at 3,500 rpm, torque is the same at 236 pounds-feet at 1,750 rpm.
That’s not earth shattering, but the revamped diesel engine meant to carry VW into the next decade is also intended to have increased smoothness, reduced noise, and most importantly for regulatory purposes, has improved clean air potential.
To wit, the TDI now has an AdBlue filler cap next to the diesel cap for diesel exhaust fluid, also known as urea injection, to cut down NOX from the tailpipe emissions.
EPA rated fuel economy is up slightly to 31 mpg city, 42 highway, 35 combined for the $1,100 optional six-speed DSG automatic manual with paddle shifter or gear selector operation, and the six-speed manual is rated 31 mpg city, 43 highway, 35 combined.
If you’ve read the bemoaning of reviewers that an all-wheel-drive Golf Sportwagen shown in New York was not made available, that will be remedied soon. The 2016 Alltrack with 4Motion will answer that demand, but will not simply be a discrete AWD addition, instead following in the mold of suburbanite machines with off-road design pretensions established by the likes of Subaru and Volvo.
The Golf Sportwagen is truly different from the Jetta, and Volkswagen’s entirely new MQB platform is distinguished from the Jetta’s PQ platform.
“This employs different infotainment architecture, revised engine positioning, and a different proportion, thanks to a standardized length from front axle centerline to pedal box. Suspensions and the TDI engine are new, too,” says Gillies.
Innovations with this new platform include high-strength, ultra-high-strength, and hot-formed steels adding rigidity as well as new sheet metal adorning the redesigned car.
Two solid-mounted subframes were put together with technologies including a laser clamp welder which produces “wobble seams,” and VW touts this as having up to four-times the strength of a traditional spot weld.
This contributes to a stiffer chassis on the road – as well as a more robust chassis in the event of a crash.
In short, it’s a trick platform, and Volkswagen is right proud of it.
Slightly Improved Numbers
The Golf Sportwagen is 179.6 inches long, 70.8 inches wide – 1.1 inches and 0.7 inches larger than the Jetta SportWagen, but height is 1.1 inches shorter.
Remarkably, at between 3,063 pounds and 3,246 pounds depending on trim configuration, it weighs up to 137 pounds less than the Jetta Sportwagen, and splits the difference between the Golf and Tiguan.
From the front, proportions are unmistakably Golf, and the car presents a “cab backward” impression where the hood is long and the passenger compartment is a longer way towards the back.
In the rear, the vehicle retains design cues from the Jetta Sportwagen but with a lower tallgate and 24.8-inch load height and wide aperture of 40.6 inches to make access to the cargo space easier.
Behind the seats is 30.4 cubic feet of space and with the 60/40 splt seats folded to almost flat, it balloons to 66.5 cubic feet – more than the Tiguan or a Mazda CX-5.
Aluminum wheel sizes start at 15 inch for the S gas version, the TDI S versions get 16 inchers, the gas and diesel SE get 17-inch wheels and 18-inchers are reserved for the SEL versions.
An available panoramic sunroof carries over from previous wagons, and new is a package with Bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, and Volkswagen’s Adaptive Front-lighting System. This swivels the headlight beams up to 15 percent as the steering wheel is turned to illuminate corners at speeds over 6 mph.
The system is clever, and really works. A side-ward aimed halogen lights corners, then fades away, and the bi-xenons are a bright color temperature, as would be expected, with good beam pattern for superior lighting.
Inside, the Sportwagen is 100-percent Golf, which means one of the nicer and better thought-out interiors. Materials are largely soft-touch on most surfaces, with some hard touch, and quality and fit throughout look good.
Front seat legroom is a substantial 41.2 inches, and shoulder room is 55.9 inches. Front and rear headroom is slightly improved to 38.6 inches.
In sum, it’s spacious and comfortable, and the “driver-centric” orientation has the centerstack angled toward the driver. Ambient LED lighting interior is comprehensive on buttons, knobs, and with light strips on the doors, and makes for an inviting interior at night.
The 5.8-inch touchscreen display is a bit on the small side, but it works well and utilizes a capacitive touch sensor enabling gesture controls like swiping and even pinch-zooming.
A host of infotainment features are available including navigation, standard SiriusXM Satellite radio, car analytics and settings. A proximity sensor can tell when a hand is nearby and switches the display to a more finger-friendly layout.
With the same wheel base as a regular Golf, the Sportwagen really is similar albeit with an extra 12.1-inches of length aft of the rear wheels.
Acceleration is brisk, though we’d personally prefer the manual, and saving the $1,100 would be icing on the cake.
To be fair, the DSG is one quick-shifting unit. Very precise, and superior to the regular automatic in the TSI. Where it leaves us wanting is a few milliseconds of lag time between when you punch the accelerator and when the car decides to accept your invitation to go.
On the road, horsepower begins to taper as the tach sweeps past 3,500 rpm, but it will rev out to 5,000 rpm. With maximum torque at 1,750, it’s like having a little tractor engine to deliver a different drive experience than the TSI – itself a celebrated turbo engine which pulls harder toward redline, and may be the more sporting of the two.
The advantage of the diesel are of course 6 mpg better combined economy, a tendency once broken in to beat EPA numbers, and the easygoing TDI is less stressed and potentially long-lived by not needing to be revved as hard to make maximum haste.
We saw 36-38 mpg in carefree mixed driving. Stomp on it, and the numbers will drop to lower 30s , upper 20s.
Sensibly driven, and the EPA numbers are not exaggerated. A full 13.2-gallon tank of diesel is rated for 462 miles range to dry, and greenhouse gases are ever so slightly better for the diesel than the gas version.
Zero-to-60 may be in the mid-eight-second range, but the car never feels underpowered and is satisfying to drive, except for the slight hesitation with the DSG from a standstill.
At any speed, heading straight down the highway, or zipping around bends, it is sure footed. Compared to crossovers and SUVs with higher centers of gravity, it’s a refreshing alternative, and benefits from a suspension set firmer per European practice.
That’s not to say we confused this with a GTD (the diesel version of the GTI). The Golf Sportwagen is just competent with a strut-type front suspension is firm to match the TDI’s rear compact torsion beam rear suspension with coil springs and telescopic dampers. Note, TSI models get a multilink rear suspension with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar, so the bean counters had their way here.
Stopping power is plentiful via 11.3-inch vented front discs and 10.0 inch rear discs – gas models get 10.7-inch rear rotors.
As for the utility of the vehicle, the extra room in back over the Golf hatchback makes it easier to stow all kinds of miscellaneous items – boxes, bags, or a bike with the front wheel taken off and seats folded down. We even stuffed in a 10-foot 2-by-4 on a Home Depot run, though the board did have to go all the way over the front seats to the dash, so we will officially not recommend this for safety reasons.
The point its, in a pinch, the bigger cargo space is useful, what people normally buy crossovers for, but this one drives like a car (because it is a car, not a truck-car).
That also means a more-controlled vehicle, which could mean improved safety margin. Speaking of which, the Golf comes with several passive and active safety functions. The SE as we drove, and SEL models are available with a Driver Assistance Package coupling Forward Collision Warning and front and rear Park Distance Control systems. Including standard is VW’s new” Automatic Post-Collision Braking” system. This applies the brakes after an accident to keep the car from careening forward into more impacts.
The Golf Sportwagen, like sportwagens before it, strikes a balance between car-like comfort and driving manners, and crossover utility.
Prices for the Golf Sportwagen are: $25,420 for the S; $28,820 for the SE; $31,170 for the SEL. This includes the $825 destination charge, and you can tack on $1,100 each for the DSG, if desired.
Its new look is more handsome to our eyes from the proportions of the overhangs, to reshaped sheet metal, to new design cues – from every angle it’s balanced and mildly refined.
But a certain contingency of loyalists already know this and eight out of 10 Sportwagen buyers have gravitated to the TDI.
It’s not hard to see why.