When the first “crossovers” arrived on the market, their manufacturers characterized the vehicles’ riding quality as “car-like.” Volkswagen has done them one better in recent years by turning out all-wheel-drive wagons that offer the utility of a crossover and a true “car-like” ride, probably because they’re actually cars.
Meet the VW Golf SportWagen, a model that surfaced in 2015 and remains in a class by itself in 2019. It sports VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, seating for five, up to 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space, and turbocharged performance.
Our test car, a Golf SportWagen 1.8T S with 4Motion, had a sticker price of $26,840. It was well equipped, though the mix was a little odd. It had heated front seats, power seatback adjustment (with manual fore-and-aft controls), rear-view camera, and the optional Driver Assistance Package. This $450 package included forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Consumers who want satellite radio, sunroof and faux leather upholstery have to move up to the Golf SportWagen SE, which has a base price of $29,995; or the AllTrack, ranging in base price from $26,895 to $34,995. In a nutshell, the SportWagen SE and AllTrack can be upgraded to near-luxury status; the same cannot be said of the SportWagen S. And even the well-equipped SE has a weak spot: It is available only with front-wheel drive.
We didn’t notice much difference in ride, handling and performance between the Golf models we’ve driven recently and the SportWagen. It rides and corners like a sporty subcompact sedan or hatchback, and its controls, seating positions and overall feeling of quality are well executed. There’s plenty of room up front for two, but knee and foot room for rear passengers is tight unless the front-seat occupants scoot forward a few inches.
Fuel economy is average at best: 22 mpg city, 29 highway. Models equipped with front-wheel-drive and the 1.4-liter, 147-horsepower Four are rated at 29 and 37 mpg.
The cargo compartment is spacious enough to accommodate two sets of golf clubs and two carts without lowering the back seat. Under the rear deck can be found space above the doughnut-style spare tire as well as a separate compartment behind the rear seat. Crossovers and sport-utility vehicles may accommodate taller items, but the Golf SportWagen is no slouch when it comes to swallowing luggage and cargo.
The SportWagen isn’t a big seller for Volkswagen, but it holds its own. The best-selling Golf, the GTI, achieved sales volume of 16,684 last year, compared with 14,123 for the SportWagen and Alltrack – which outsold all of the other Golf models. Nevertheless, a VW spokesman told Car & Driver magazine last month that the future of the SportWagen in the U.S. market is “still under consideration.” Upcoming Golf models are due for a redesign with the 2021 model year.
With automakers trimming their car lines, good luck finding sport wagons (as opposed to crossovers and SUVs) in the SportWagen’s price range going forward.
2019 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged inline Four, 168 horsepower, 199 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automated automatic
Weight: 2,844 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 16×6.5-in. alloy
Tires: 205/55R16 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 30.4 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 66.5 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gal.
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.