2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen: First Drive

March 12, 2015

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is a wagon version of the new VW Golf--and that's essentially the major thing you need to know about the car.

One of very few genuine wagons in the compact-car segment, the SportWagen shares all of the virtues and the few vices of the seventh-generation Golf hatchback on sale for a few months now.

Think of it simply as a 2015 Golf with a whole lot more storage room. At 30.4 cubic feet behind the rear seat, or 66.5 cubic feet with the seat folded flat, it has at least as much cargo volume as most compact crossover utility vehicles.

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While SportWagens in the U.S. were previously sold under the Jetta model name, VW explains that it's a Golf everywhere else in the world, and the new wagon is built on the latest Golf underpinnings.

That makes the Golf now quite a different vehicle than the older Jetta, based on an earlier generation of vehicles--so it made sense for the SportWagen to join the more modern Golf lineup.

Gas versus diesel

We drove two different SportWagen models earlier this week at the launch even around Austin, Texas.

The first was a gasoline-powered SEL model, fitted with the 170-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder TSI gasoline engine and a conventional six-speed automatic.

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The SEL is the top trim level, and our car's leather seats and array of options made it a comfortable and relatively luxurious wagon riding on 18-inch alloy wheels.

Our second test car was a rarity among compacts: a TDI diesel wagon fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, in this case the mid-range SE model.

For 2015, all Volkswagen TDI models get an entirely redesigned turbodiesel engine, now developing 150 hp from its 2.0 liters. The diesel can be ordered with either the six-speed manual gearbox we drove or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

VW points out that its entry-level SportWagen with the TDI S diesel is now $2,000 less expensive than before, at $24,595 plus an $820 mandatory delivery fee.

Both cars maintained the Golf's timeless styling, in a slightly longer package, and the straightforward black-and-silver interior that VW's best-known global model has featured for 40 years.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

Quirks of the Golf hatchback carried over into the SportWagen include a surprisingly wide center tunnel, impinging somewhat on the front passenger footwell, and an utter lack of USB ports--borderline inexcusable in an all-new car these days.

We're also not fans of the current VW display-screen audio and infotainment system, which has a small 5.8-inch touchscreen that's slow to react and not particularly intuitive.

Using the navigation isn't possible without having the audio power on, meaning that volume has to be muted if you don't want to listen to the radio at the same time you're being guided to your destination. We also noted the lack of a CD player, if that matters.

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Driving matters

But it's the driving characteristics that attract many Golf buyers, and from the driver's seat, you'd likely never notice that the SportWagen differs from the hatchback model.

It's quiet for a wagon, with mechanical noise particularly well muffled on the TDI diesel models even under hard acceleration, and none of the boominess that riding in a large empty container can produce.

Like any other car, the Golf is best with its standard tires with tall sidewalls; the more stylish larger alloy wheels come with lower-profile tires, which can increase tire noise and ride harshness, though the Golf's not nearly as bad in that respect as other cars we've tested--especially smaller SUVs.

The clutch on the manual model was excellent, both easy to learn and progressive, although it took both test drivers some time to get the gearbox gate right. Both of us chose fourth instead of sixth a couple of times.

The 2015 Golf hatchback has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), though it doesn't achieve the higher TSP+ rating due to its lack of automatic braking linked to its forward-collision warning system.

For family buyers, the one drawback to the SportWagen may be that it's not presently offered with all-wheel drive, although the company's U.S. president Michael Horn has confirmed that the company's AllTrack AWD system will be added as an option next year.

The least expensive 2015 Golf SportWagen S, with the 1.8 TSI gasoline engine and six-speed manual gearbox, starts at $21,395, though it may be a rarity on dealer lots.

Our TDI SE test car came with 17-inch alloy wheels, a large panoramic sunroof with a power-operated front panel, keyless access and pushbutton start, a Fender premium audio system, and rear-view camera.

It also had two options: a $995 Lighting package with adaptive bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, and ambient interior lighting, and a $695 Driver Assistance package including forward-collision warning and parking-distance control for front and rear.

Because our SE test car came with the diesel-engine option, which adds more than $3,000, its bottom-line sticker price totaled $30,505 including delivery. The dual-clutch gearbox would add $1,100 to that total.

The TSI SEL model adds 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, sport seats with 12-way power adjustment for the driver, and a navigation system among other features. With a Lighting Package and Driver Assistance Package, the total for this top-level gasoline model was $31,855.

The 2015 SportWagen will be only be on sale for about six months, starting in April of this year. Its 2016 model-year successor will have a few updates that may be worth waiting for (according to unofficial chats with Volkswagen personnel). Those updates include an expanded suite of electronic safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic braking as part of the collision-mitigation system. Those should enable it to achieve the top IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, VW says.

The SportWagen's infotainment system will add a new radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and finally--finally!--a USB port.

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