Day-to-day life with the SportWagen
That’s a wrap on 22,000 plus miles of commuting, road tripping, and exploring the path less taken in the wagon version of Motor Trend’s 2015 Car of the Year. And yes, you’ve heard it all before. Wagon sales in the U.S. make up a trivial market, one struggling to survive in the giant shadow cast by the endless rollout of new crossovers. Yet Volkswagen still has faith in wagons, and for many years it offered a unique and strong-selling product with their TDI SportWagen. Of course, with the revelation in 2015 that VW was cheating its diesel emissions, the TDI engine was scrubbed from the lineup, leaving the SportWagen with only one engine to entice potential crossover buyers.
Before the diesel debacle, this red wagon was ordered with the now notorious TDI four-cylinder. With that order canceled, I instead opted for the gas-powered four-cylinder with a manual five-speed and cloth seats. This base-model TSI, known as a 1.8T S, came equipped with heated and partially power-adjusted front seats. Other notable standard features include black roof rails, heated side mirrors, and leather wrapped around the steering wheel, shift knob, and e-brake lever. Also included is a 6.5-inch touchscreen that detects when your fingers are reaching for it and reacts by enlarging its digital buttons that are otherwise hidden. What the base model doesn’t offer is keyless entry/ignition, a 400-watt audio system, or dual-zone climate control. Total price is a modest $22,715.
Day-to-day life with the SportWagen is decidedly affable. The seats are firmly cushioned and comfortable on long drives, and the driver has access to lots of conveniences such as carved-out door pockets for big/tall bottles, a hidden phone/wallet drawer at the base of the seat, and another hidden storage bin in front of the shifter housing lined with grippy rubber to help keep your phone from flinging across the car during fast cornering.
Although it took a while to get used to the manual transmission only having five forward gears, the ratios are a good match for the 1.8T’s powerband, with second and third gears delivering the needed grunt to dart and dash through the lanes of city traffic. Five speeds also means longer gearing, allowing me to reach 60 mph with a single upshift. And although it’s hard to imagine VW will continue offering a five-speed for much longer, it still persists in 2017 SportWagens with FWD. AWD versions come standard with six-speed manual transmissions.
Think of this as an SUV for those who want to avoid a tall center of gravity and unnecessary weight, or for those who simply believe a wagon is a smarter alternative to a crossover.
Operating this transmission was not always smooth and seamless, though, because the sensitive clutch would require additional revs if the car was weighted down with back-seat passengers. This realization didn’t occur to me until after falling victim to a few embarrassing stalls with a car full of passengers.
Our in-house Real MPG test crew ran the SportWagen through their standardized protocol and cleared Real MPG numbers of 25.5/39.0 city/highway. Although these numbers won’t please previous TDI owners, the combined RMPG of 30.2 is respectable among the competitive set.
One of my favorite parts of this car is the rear cargo area. VW has paid a lot of attention to this area of the car, drenching it in utility. The liftgate is easy to open, and although it’s not power operated, the actuation is light and smooth, making it easy to fling open or swing closed with one hand. Also, whereas most crossovers require you to remove their retractable cargo covers, this cargo cover can be neatly stowed out of the way under the load floor. And unlike the thin and flimsy offerings from much of the competition, this cover is robust and sturdy.
Pry further into the design and packaging of the rear cargo area, and you’ll find a neatly hidden floor jack behind a panel on the driver’s sidewall, not stuffed under the load floor, inside the spare wheel, as is typical. Lastly, VW has mounted two retractable hooks on either side of the wall that can support heavy hauls of groceries.
While in fleet, the SportWagen did not suffer any major mechanical setbacks, and it only visited the VW dealer twice, both times for scheduled maintenance at a cost of approximately $140 per visit. Our 2015 Mazda CX-5, 2015 Honda CR-V, and 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander all came in at less than $120 per service, making the VW a noticeably pricier car to maintain. That being said, our 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk cost a hefty $159 for each of its service visits. But there was one unexplained incident in which the SportWagen’s rear-seat bench randomly popped out of its clips. I was able to coax it back in with some elbow grease, and the problem never repeated. Also worth noting is the visible unraveling of the carpeted trunk liner, caused by the Velcro-like action the cargo-organizer blocks. These blocks often came in handy in keeping loads from sliding around, but the rapid wear and tear to the carpet makes me second-guess their value.
Overall, this Golf variant is competent, handy, and versatile. Even in bare-bones trim, it’s rich in content and features. In addition, equipped with a five-speed and a torquey turbocharged engine, it’s fun to drive on most any road. My time with the SportWagen was hassle- and drama-free. Perhaps without intentionally trying to be so, this VW offering is an affordable and genuine alternative to a crossover, one that many potential SUV buyers will find is a better match.
MORE ON OUR LONG-TERM 2016 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF SPORTWAGEN:
- Update 1: Shaming Crossovers With So Much Space
- Update 2: A Very Large Surfboard Fits Inside
- Update 3: Peeling Back the Logical Layers
- Update 4: Rethinking Shift Habits
- Update 5: A Golf to Ski With
- Update 6: 7 Delightful Interior Details on Our Long-Term 2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
|SERVICE LIFE||14 mo / 22,187 mi|
|OPTIONS||Monster Mats ($235); First aid kit ($35)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$22,715|
|AVG ECON/CO2||28.8 mpg / 0.67 lb/mi|
|MAINTENANCE COST||$276.71 (2-oil change, inspection; 1-tire rotation, air cabin filter)|
|3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*||$15,500|
|*Automotive Lease Guide data|
|2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TSI (S)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, iron block/alum heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||109.7 cu in/1,798 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||170 hp @ 4,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||184 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||17.9 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||11.3-in vented disc; 10.7-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||6.0 x 15 in cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||195/65R15 (91H) M+S Continental ProContact TX|
|TRACK, F/R||61.0/59.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||179.6 x 70.8 x 58.3 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||35.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,040 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||56/44 %|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.6/38.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.2/35.6 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.9/53.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME BEH, F/R||66.5/30.4 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.8|
|QUARTER MILE||15.8 sec @ 89.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||117 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.3 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,900 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$22,715|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||13.2 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||25/36/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||135/94 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.67 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||25.5/39.0/30.2 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular|