2015 VW Golf SportWagen TSI S

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TSI S Review

Nevermind the Crossovers, Here's the Perfect Car

By: David Merline

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: June 29th, 2015

You don't need a crossover. That's right, you. I don't care how big your family is; you can count the number of times they're all in the car together on a cartoon character's right hand. For the vast majority of your driving needs, you don't need to seat more than five people, and you don't need to carry a studio apartment's worth of crap around with you.

What you need, if you have a typically sized American family (2.54 kids, according to latest census figures), is a wagon. Yes, we know, wagons are so uncool (but, of course, those roided-out SUVs you're all forgetting you ever owned were totally cool, right? And so are the slightly slimmed down but still impossible-to-tell-apart crossovers that currently crowd every parking lot across America, right?), but let's face it; what you consider cool stopped being cool a long time ago.

Let's leave discussions of what is or isn't "cool" in Fonzie's office, where they belong; let's talk about what you actually need in a car - because if you actually need it, there's a good chance the Golf SportWagen has it. If it's look-at-me luxury you want, or comfort befitting a particularly lazy king, stick with those jacked-up wagon-wannabes - you don't need all that extra money anyway.

  • Exterior

    The greatest thing about modern wagons is that they don't look like the wood-paneled mistakes of 1970s culture that we imagine them to be. Car design has changed drastically (for better or worse) since the era of the Griswold family, and wagons have changed right along with them.

    When designed correctly, the wagon becomes the car in its fullest expression. Whereas hatchbacks always look prematurely truncated (they really are kind of the mullet of the car world, don't you think?), wagons allow a car's rooflines and beltlines to find their own extremities. The Golf's various angles and creases are subtle but effective; the front-end is a series of angles moving outward from the car's center, like imaginary air-flow patterns. The SportWagen's dimensions allow these lines to resolve, not dissipate as they do on the hatchback.

    The wagon isn't a small car made bigger, like the Fiat 500L, the Mini Countryman, or the Prius V, it's a small car made full-size. Not super-sized, not over-sized, just full size.

  • Interior

    The hallmark of VW's interior design style has always been one of extreme minimalism bordering on uncomfortably barren. "This is a compartment to deliver a living person from one location to the other," you can almost hear the folks in the design room muttering to themselves. "There is no time for nonsense when you are driving. Nothing should distract you from the task at hand." And so nothing does. Even the bug-free, but annoyingly laggy, infotainment system manages to communicate the great wealth of information it's capable of in a manner that's all business; stark white narrow type appears on an ink-black screen. There are no pretty colors, no soft-edged lines, no painstakingly rendered icons. Surround yourself with hi-def distractions elsewhere, this car is here to do a job, and so get slightly comfortable (any more would be sloth), turn on the ignition, put your Golf in gear (assuming you've done the right thing and ordered yours with a manual transmission), and go about your business.

    The Golf is plenty comfortable, mind you, it's just clearly designed for efficiency, in every sense of the word. No area that could hold something goes underutilized, and all things a driver needs to reach are placed within close visual and spacial proximity. Second-row passengers have plenty of room, assuming they're not above-average height and they don't have legs that are a bit too long, and the hatchback area is appropriately hatchback-area-sized.

    Fold down the second row, however, and the true beauty of the wagon is revealed. What seemed like a four-door hatchback is now shown to be a crossover-in-waiting. With 66.5 cubic feet of storage, the SportWagen is bigger on the inside than the BMW X5. That's right - you get a crossover's worth of space at a decidedly un-crossover price.

  • On the Road

    Aside from its aesthetic and ergonomic niceties, the Golf SportWagen has a very peppy turbocharged 1.8-liter inline-four, and with the manual option, there's more than enough torque on demand to get you to Oktoberfest on time.

    Like the non-wagon Golf, the SportWagen may look ordinary from the outside, but there's nothing ordinary about the driving experience. Even though the SportWagen has grown in length over the previous model, the rear springs have been suitably tweaked, and - true to the promise that the wagon actually delivers - this elongated Golf drives exactly like a car.

    And not just any car, mind you. Only one of the best cars on the road. Only the Car of the Year, thank you very much. The Golf has an option that lets the display screen behind the steering wheel make suggestions about when to shift gears. These are intended for efficiency. For fun you can more or less ignore the number 5 and you'll never hear any complaint from the engine bay. You won't hear much, actually; the cabin is nicely soundproofed.

    Lest anyone be put off by the thought of having to use both hands and both feet to drive the five-speed manual, the SportWagen's setup is hands down the most effortless on the market. I can't say exactly where the clutch integration point is, or indeed if it even has one (maybe the clutch pedal is just a disconnected lever, there only for its old-school appeal), but I can say that it doesn't matter. Driving the Golf SportWagen with a stick is only very slightly more difficult than driving the automatic. And since the automatic has VW's impressive dual-clutch DSG, you really can't make a wrong decisions in the transmission department.

  • Conclusion

    Sure, you can continue to fool yourself into thinking that a higher seating position makes you safer (it doesn't), or that stepping up into your car is better than sitting down into it (it isn't), or that you need everything soft and fluffy, except for the parts that are bright and shiny. The fact remains that everything you actually need out of that trendy crossover you've been eyeing is here in this car - made better, made more sensibly, and let's not forget the best part, more affordable.

  • Specs & Prices

    Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-four

    Transmission: Five-speed manual

    Drivetrain Layout: Front engine, front-wheel drive

    Power Output: 170 hp / 184 lb-ft

    Fuel Economy (mpg): 25 city / 36 highway

    Base Price: $21,395

    As Tested: $22,215 (incl. $820 destination)

    Available Features:

    VW Car-Net, heated power side mirrors, cooled glove compartment, touchscreen AM/FM radio with CD player, MDI port, Bluetooth connectivity, multifunction display with trip computer.

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