Test Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon

Though station wagons are rapidly being replaced by crossovers and SUVs, there’s still one compact wagon on the market that offers almost as much passenger and cargo room as a compact SUV, above-average ride and handling and a very affordable price starting under $23,000: the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon.

With more cargo space than a Golf hatchback, the Golf Sportwagon is a better fit for active families with more gear to haul.

Redesigned last year, the Golf Sportwagon is built on the same global MQB platform as the Golf hatchback, the upcoming VW Tiguan, and the Audi A3. All Sportwagons are powered by VW’s torquey 170 hp, 1.8L, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and offer a fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and standard 16-, 17- and 18-inch all-season tires mounted on alloy wheels, depending on the trim level.

Front-wheel drive is standard for 2016 but the soon-to-arrive 2017 Golf Sportwagon will offer 4Motion all-wheel drive as a stand-alone option on all trim levels while the new Golf Sportwagon Alltrack will have standard all-wheel drive, a higher ground clearance and an off-road mode with hill-descent control. The latter will most likely be priced at the top of the Golf Sportwagon price ladder.

Unfortunately for diesel lovers, the diesel-powered Golf Sportwagon TDI has been suspended from the Volkswagen lineup until the EPA emissions investigation is settled.

Flexible cargo area

With more cargo space than a Golf hatchback, the Golf Sportwagon is a better fit for active families with more gear to haul. Compared to the hatchback, the Golf Sportwagon is 38 mm taller and 295 mm longer with most of that behind the rear wheels. While the Golf hatchback has 490 L of cargo space behind the rear seats, the Golf Sportwagon has 860 L and a total of 1,880 L with both rear seatbacks folded down. The trunk floor measures 102 cm from the liftgate to the rear seatbacks and 183 cm to the front seatbacks when the rear seatbacks are folded down. I was able to fit two folding bikes in the cargo area behind the rear seats with the liftgate closed; with the back seats folded down, two full-size bikes could fit inside easily. Levers on the trunk sides make it easy to fold the seats down from the rear.

The split rear seatbacks also have a separate centre pass-through for skis, poles and other long items and a ski bag is available as a VW accessory. To keep the trunk’s contents out of sight, a sliding privacy cover extends from the rear seats to the rear window, and has two positions. The privacy cover can be removed entirely to increase vertical cargo space for larger items like furniture and recreational equipment – the only problem is: where do you put it while it’s not in use? It seemed too wide to fit under the cargo floor, but a query to VW Canada confirmed that it can be stored under the rear cargo floor by removing the two vertical panels near the liftgate and laying the privacy cover down into the slots on either side.

Accessing the cargo area is easy: the big VW badge on the liftgate serves as a handle which opens to reveal a large opening with a low lift-over height for easy loading. One suggestion: I would recommend buying the optional bumper protector to protect the paint surface from scuffs and damage.

The Sportwagon’s cargo area and rear seatbacks are fully lined and there are two open storage bins behind the rear wheelwells for loose items like bottles and jugs that you don’t want rolling around the trunk. The cargo area also includes a 115-volt outlet and a 12-volt outlet, two flip-out grocery bag hooks, and four tie-down hooks on the floor.

The Sportwagon’s clever, removable cargo floor folds in the middle allowing it to be used as a divider between the front and rear. It can also be removed entirely, revealing a temporary spare tire and a shallow body-width storage area just behind the rear seats.

The Golf Sportwagon also includes standard roof rails that can support bike carriers and ski racks, and roof storage units (also available as VW accessories).

Upmarket interior impresses

Even though it’s the base model, the Sportwagon Trendline has an upscale interior with quality materials, excellent panel fit, and attractive looks. A soft-touch black dashboard contrasts with silver instrument panel trim that looks just like brushed aluminum (but isn’t) while the lower dash colour matches the seat colour. The Trendline’s standard "Zoom cloth" seat fabric has a mesh pattern for the seat inserts and a smoother surface for the seat bolsters.

I found the Sportwagon’s multi-adjustable front seats very comfortable: both front seats have manual height adjusters, manual lumber adjusters, power recline adjusters and seat heaters. It’s nice to see a car where the front passenger has the same privileges as the driver! Both front doors have padded armrests and the centre armrest is also padded and slides forward to rest your arm while driving.

While the rear seats in many cars are less comfortable than the front ones, the rear (outboard) seats in the Sportwagon are very comfy and all three have tether anchors for child seats. The centre seat, though, has a harder cushion and backrest (which serves as a fold-down armrest and cupholder). As well, the centre console protrudes into the centre passenger’s space.

Rear legroom and headroom are generous for adults, and the Sportwagon’s passenger cabin seems very roomy for a so-called compact wagon.

Our test car’s Shetland white interior really brightens up the cabin and it looks great in the photographs, but I’d highly recommend that parents choose the Titan Black interior instead for reasons that are obvious to anybody with children under 12.

The driver faces a simple, illuminated white-on-black instrument display that includes an information display between the gauges that can be scrolled between values such as average fuel economy, distance to empty, range, compass, and current radio station. A multi-function, tilt/telescopic, leather-wrapped steering wheel offers buttons for audio volume and station seek, voice activation for Bluetooth telephone and audio, info display and cruise control, allowing the driver to adjust these controls without taking hands off the steering wheel.

Standard in the Trendline trim is a centre 5.8-inch colour touchscreen that displays audio, telephone, vehicle settings, and a rearview camera image when the shift lever is in Reverse gear. The standard AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM audio system is compatible with smartphones, (Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Mirrorlink) when connected to a USB or auxiliary port under a panel at the bottom of the centre stack and there is an SD card slot in the glovebox. Though it’s not a premium audio system, it does include eight speakers which provide clear, surround sound-like audio.

As the standard touchscreen is not very big, VW saved screen space by making some menu items pop up when you wave your hand in front of the screen and pop down again when your hand is removed. Another fancy feature is the ability to move screen icons laterally by sliding a finger across the screen. But major functions, such as Menu and Phone, are accessed using the hard buttons surrounding the screen while sub-menus are screen-operated. Overall, the Trendline’s standard touchscreen is easy to use and see despite its small size. Higher trim levels in the Sportwagon are available with a larger 8-inch touchscreen.

Storage areas in the cabin are numerous but not particularly spacious: to the left of the steering wheel is a drop-down coin tray; at the bottom of the centre stack is a covered bin for a cell phone with auxiliary and USB ports; a centre armrest lifts up to reveal a small bin with a 12-volt charger; under the driver’s seat is a pull-out drawer; the passenger side has a glovebox; and all the doors have open pockets.

Overall, this is a well-made, spacious and comfortable cabin. Even the base Trendline model includes leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake handle, power windows all with one-touch up/down; power heated mirrors and washer nozzles, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and remote keyless entry.

Nice combination of performance and fuel economy

Though it’s longer and heavier than the hatchback, the Golf Sportwagon still offers the same kind of brisk acceleration, stable handling and wonderful ride that the hatchback is known for. The turbocharged 1.8L, four-cylinder engine delivers 170 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque starting at just 1,600 rpm – throttle response is almost immediate and acceleration is quick for a family wagon: AJAC acceleration tests show a 0–100 km/h time of 8.5 seconds when equipped with the automatic transmission. I found that the six-speed automatic transmission surges slightly when accelerating slowly, but most of the time it shifts seamlessly and quickly.

For sportier performance, the driver can select Sport mode which alters transmission shift timing to delay upshifts and maintain higher engine revs; alternatively, the driver can shift manually by slapping the gear lever over into manual mode and tapping the lever forward to shift up and back to shift down. These sequential manual shifts are quick.

Cruising leisurely on the freeway at 100 km/h, the 1.8L engine turns over a relaxed 1,800 rpm in sixth gear, and 2,200 rpm when in Sport mode.

During my test drive, I averaged 7.7 L/100 km, quite close to the NRCan rating of 8.1 L/100 km combined. Happily, the 1.8L turbocharged engine in the Golf Sportwagon uses regular grade gasoline rather than premium.

Though not quite as nimble as the Golf hatchback, the Golf Sportwagon feels very stable and secure when cornering quickly, and its independent suspension soaks up road bumps and pavement cracks well with no creaks or groans emanating from the suspension. To improve handling grip when cornering fast, the Sportwagon features a standard Cross Differential System (XDS) which acts like a limited-slip differential to prevent the unloaded inside front wheel from spinning when cornering. This helps improve traction and reduce understeer. During our test drive, the standard Continental Conti Pro Contact 2015/55R16-inch all-season tires provided good grip on both dry and wet surfaces and tire noise was minimal.

With big windows all around and a standard rear wiper/washer, the driver’s visibility outwards is very good and the standard rearview camera really helps when backing into a tight parking space. Unfortunately, blind spot and rear traffic warning systems are not available on the base Trendline model, but they are available as part of an option package on the Comfortline and Highline trim levels.

In the event of a collision, the Golf Sportwagon features an Intelligent Crash Response system which automatically unlocks all of the doors, turns on the hazard lights, and turns off power to the fuel pump. The Golf Sportwagon has a 5-star crash test rating from the NHTSA.

Sportwagon or crossover?

How does the Golf Sportwagon compare to compact crossovers? In terms of size, the Sportwagon is about the same length as most, but is considerably lower in height and slightly narrower. As a result, the Sportwagon has approximately 10 to 20 percent less cargo room than in a typical compact SUV. But as it is around 100 kg lighter than most compact SUVs and has a lower centre of gravity, performance and handling are generally superior while fuel economy is generally comparable. The front-wheel drive Sportwagon doesn’t offer the higher ground clearance and all-wheel drive common to many compact crossovers but the 2017 Sportwagon will offer optional all-wheel drive and the Sportwagon AllTrack will also have a higher ground clearance - albeit at a higher price.

Pricing and standard equipment

2016 VW Golf Sportwagons come in three trim levels, Trendline ($22,895), Comfortline ($25,595) and Highline ($31,795).

The well-equipped base Trendline model, like the one pictured here, is probably the best value. Starting at $22,895 with a five-speed manual transmission and $24,095 with an optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, the 2016 Golf Sportwagon Trendline comes standard with premium cloth seats with height and lumbar adjusters and seat heaters for the front occupants, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks with centre pass-through, 860 L (30.4 cu. ft.) of cargo space behind the rear seats, 115-volt power outlet in the cargo area, and sliding rear cargo cover.

The instrument panel features a standard 5.8-inch centre touchscreen, CD player, Sirius satellite radio, SD card slot, smartphone integration and voice control, 8 speakers and rearview camera, Bluetooth wireless phone and audio, USB port, and trip computer with average fuel economy display.

As mentioned before, even the base Trendline trim includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake handle, heated mirrors and washer nozzles, and remote keyless entry.

However, some notable features – such as a sunroof, blind spot warning system, bi-xenon headlights and navigation – are only available in the higher Comfortline and Highline trims, and only as a part of an option package that includes other features you may not want. Basically, the Sportwagon Trendline trim comes as is – take it or leave it – with no options available except the automatic transmission.

For its base price of $25,595, the Comfortline trim adds beefier 17-inch all-season tires and "Madrid" alloy wheels, simulated leather upholstery, separate driver and front passenger temperature controls, push-button ignition, and front fog lights.

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Two option packages are offered with the Comfortline trim: a Convenience Package ($1,995) with navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, SD card, automatic headlights, blind spot monitor and rear traffic alert, panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, and front and rear reading lights. A Light & Sound Package ($1,510) includes bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, and a premium Fender audio system.

The top-of-the-line Sportwagon Highline ($31,795) adds 18-inch all-season tires with "Durban" alloy wheels, more chrome exterior trim, real leather sport seats with a 12-way power driver’s seat, chrome matte interior trim, ambient interior lighting, panoramic sunroof, navigation, automatic headlights and high-beams, rain-sensing wipers and blind spot warning.

Optional on the Highline are the Light & Sound Package ($1,510) and a Technology Package ($1,795) with navigation, Blind Spot Monitor and Lane Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Automatic Emergency Braking, Park Distance Control, Parallel Parking Assistant, rearview camera, and premium Discover Pro radio.

Golf Sportwagons are available in seven different colours: Tornado Red, Night Blue Metallic, Platinum Grey Metallic, Silk Blue Metallic, Tungsten Silver metallic, Pure White and Deep Black Pearl. The interior is available in Shetland (white) or Titan Black. There’s no extra charge for any of the available colours.

The 2016 VW Golf Sportwagon is assembled in Puebla, Mexico.

Competitors:
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Elantra GT
Hyundai Tucson
Jeep Cherokee
Kia Soul
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-5
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Subaru Crosstrek
Toyota RAV4
VW Tiguan

2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon Trendline
2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon Trendline
Base Price $24,195
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,605
Price as Tested $25,900
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.4
9 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
9 Interior
9 Comfort
7 Fuel Economy