It’s no secret that Americans love crossovers. Like a husky preteen addicted to Butterfingers, our relationship with these car-based utility vehicles is completely unhealthy.
Engine: 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder
Power: 170 hp, 199 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (MPG): 25 city, 35 highway, 29 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.3 city, 6.9 highway, 8.2 combined
As-Tested Price: $30,335 including $820 in delivery fees ($40,677 CDN)
And it’s a real shame because this fixation has blinded us to the viability of other automotive options, chiefly the humble station wagon. Once a staple of our nation’s roadscape, these supremely versatile autos have been driven to the brink of extinction in what was once their natural habitat.
Gazing across the Atlantic, European drivers are still wise to the benefits provided by wagons. They understand that these models offer maximum versatility in a trim package that’s easy to park and cheap to fuel. What’s not to love? Well, for many Americans, probably a ride height that’s an inch or so too low, a lack of tacked-on body-cladding and the option of all-wheel drive.
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However, Volkswagen even has the most discerning of crossover buyers covered. Four-corner traction, extra cladding and a lifted suspension are available in the Golf Alltrack, a more rugged version of the SportWagen. Checkmate, crossover drivers, checkmate.
As it stands, this car offers a metric ton of great features and clever touches. Despite wearing somewhat monotonous styling, it’s the real deal, an incredibly well-thought-out product that feels like more than the sum of its parts; in short, it’s simply outstanding.
The most obvious benefit this Germanic schlepper brings to market is its abundance of cargo space. With the second-row seatbacks up, you’re treated to a commendable 30.4 cubic feet of room. Fold ‘em flat and that figure more than doubles. At 66.5 cubes, this car more accommodating than a Mazda CX-5, VW Tiguan or Jeep Cherokee.
You can thank the Volkswagen Group’s versatile and efficient MQB architecture for all that capaciousness. This underlying structure supports an array of vehicles from diverse brands including Audi, Škoda and Seat. It also serves as the foundation of the seventh-generation Golf.
Aside from interior roominess, structural stiffness and loads of refinement, MQB also provides tremendous safety. Proving this, the SportWagen has earned a coveted Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the watchdog organization’s highest score.
Luxury on a Budget
But one thing these decidedly left-brain facts and figures fail to convey is just how beautiful the SportWagen’s interior is. From a quality standpoint, this car exceeded my every expectation, which is still hard to believe.
I’m fortunate enough to evaluate top-tier luxury vehicles from some of the most prestigious manufacturers in the world. I get to experience the latest and greatest first hand, so it’s not often I’m blown away by a product, much less one at this price point.
From a materials standpoint, this car’s cabin would not look out of place in an Audi, that’s how premium everything is. Likewise, the design is elegant and mature without being staid. Richly textured soft plastics abound, the switches and knobs operate with watch-like fluidity and even the leatherette seating surfaces feel nice when you run your fingers over them. Inside, this humble VW absolutely shames Toyota’s Camry, which is the most popular sedan in America for some mysterious reason.
About the only place where any cost-cutting is visible is on the rear door panels. Their tops are rendered in hard plastic rather than something plush. Also, the instrument cluster’s display is substandard, resembling the screen on an old graphing calculator.
Even though it comes with a stellar interior, the SportWagen won’t send you deep into debt. The midrange SE tester I put through its paces cost an exceedingly reasonable $30,335, including $820 in freight charges. Base price for this trim is about three grand less. Options including the driver-assistance ($1,495) and lighting ($995) packages were responsible for inflating the entry-level figure.
Making that base price even more impressive, every SE variant of the SportWagen comes with a panoramic glass roof, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth, fog lights and 17-inch wheels wrapped in all-season rubber. A premium Fender audio system is included as well and it kicks ass, providing as much crystal-clear sound as your eardrums can bear, all without distortion or annoying resonance.
The Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
I’m a big fan of the Volkswagen Group’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Really, you won’t find a smoother four-cylinder anywhere. For 2017, the only powerplant offered in the SportWagen is a member of that EA888 family. A diesel is no longer available and I can’t imagine why…
Motivating the SportWagen is a 1.8-liter gasoline unit that delivers 170 horses and 199 lb-ft torque. You can opt for either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Our test car featured the latter and surprisingly it made an absolutely sublime combination. These two components are perfectly matched to one another.
This car’s drivetrain is so responsive and refined, it could truly serve under the hood of a luxury car. The engine also provides plenty of oomph, though perhaps if you’ve got a load of cargo and passengers onboard an extra helping of power would be nice. Tuned for torque, this engine is most enthusiastic in the midrange, exactly where everyday driving takes place.
As for consumption, this 2016 SportWagen should average 29 miles per gallon, an impressive figure. It’s rated at 25 mpg in city driving and 10 more on the highway, meaning it’s damn efficient, more so than crossover rivals like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.
Much like an Audi, this VeeDub’s steering is feather-light at low speeds, but it firms up once you exceed parking-lot velocity. Its chassis is definitely tuned for comfort over sport, so don’t expect this wagon to carve canyons like a GTI. The ride is composed, cabin quiet and handling predictable.
But it’s not all praise and worship; I do have a couple minor gripes about the SportWagen. For starters, I wish its fancy infotainment system came navigation, which is reserved for top-tier SEL models. At least it supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, nice substitutes, though ones that are of little value to a Windows Phone user (we are the 1 percent!). Also, the brakes are so mushy it feels like the pedal is going squish between my toes, like stepping on a turd barefoot… not that I’ve ever done that…
The Verdict: 2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is an impressive product in so many ways. It has a luxury-car cabin and crossover-esque interior space with a drivetrain that’s both commendably efficient and incredibly refined.
Against the odds, this VeeDub is one of the best cars I’ve driven in recent memory. It’s just too bad Americans aren’t going to buy them in any significant volume since, well, you know, it’s not a crossover. I just hope VW can move enough of them to keep the species from going extinct in North America.
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