2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 1.8T S

2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 1.8T S

A small car with big loading potential

All the excitement in Volkswagen’s Golf SportWagen family has recently been focused on the new AllTrack, a model I personally applied plenty of praise to earlier this year, but last year’s redesign of the AllTrack’s more traditional five-door sibling deserves some well earned attention too, even if I already know you’re only marginally interested.

How can I know that? Let’s face it, when an automaker still provides the ability to build 2016 (and 2017) model year vehicles in their online configurator, and doesn’t even mention there’s a substantively refreshed 2018 model already on sale to crazy Canadian wagon lovers just north of 49th parallel, they’ve got a problem garnering interest. You can use this to your advantage and drive a hard bargain for a 2017 Golf SportWagen, or an even harder one for a 2016, or you can merely read this in perplexed curiosity, as if you’ve stopped during your walk through the park to poke a stick at a dead squirrel. Just remember later when climbing aboard your compact crossover SUV, this oddball VeeDub wagon likely hauls more gear and is more fun to drive, unless you own a Golf AllTrack.

After a comprehensive ground-up makeover for 2016 the Golf SportWagen moved into 2017 mostly unchanged, except for some minor package updates, which is fine by me as it was near ideal already. It’s lighter now thanks to VW’s new MQB platform architecture that also underpins a wide range of models from subcompacts like the Polo, unfortunately not available here, to larger SUVs including the new mid-size Atlas, while its interior gets all of the premium upgrades enjoyed by other new Golf models.

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This said the Golf SportWagen has always been a near-premium product, but it’s hard not to appreciate the redesigned model’s more sophisticated instrument panel, the impressive leatherwork and finely detailed switchgear on the new steering wheel, the state-of-the-art infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, MirrorLink, proximity-sensing digital-buttons, and the many more improvements all around.

As noted the Golf SportWagen will get a mid-cycle update for 2018, which sees a noticeable smoothing out of the grille and front fascia, new headlamp clusters, new LED daytime running lights, new LED taillights, a new rear bumper, and new wheels, while even the base S model will receive rain-sensing wipers, leather wrappings for the steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle, heated front seats, and a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with proximity-sensing controls in place of the 5.8-inch display found in base 2017 models.

Base S features pulled up from 2017 to 2018 will include heatable power-adjustable side mirrors with LED turn signals, a rearview camera, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Mirrorlink smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth audio streaming, voice activation, USB input, roof rails, tire pressure monitoring, all the usual active and passive safety features, and much more.

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The Golf SportWagen’s overall roominess will continue forward too, this being a key selling point over other small wagons and many compact SUVs. Not only is the passenger compartment spacious front to back, with excellent head, shoulder, hip, leg and foot room, plus inherently comfortable and supportive seats, but it’s an equipment hauler’s dream thanks to 30.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats and 66.5 cubic feet when folded flat. What’s more, the 60/40-split seatbacks include a center pass-through so that two rear passengers can sit comfortably while long items, such as skis, are stowed down the middle.

Another good reason the SportWagen, and all Golfs for that matter, has a small but dedicated legion of diehard fans is performance. It’s not a rocket off the line like the GTI or Golf R, but its 1.8-liter turbo-four should still be quick enough for most in the compact class thanks to 170 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, the latter from just 1,600 rpm. It moves the little wagon from standstill to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds when fitted with the six-speed automatic, but take note the base model is even quicker.

At $22,400 the Golf SportWagen S comes standard with a five-speed manual that really helps the car live up to its sporty name, but even if a desire for convenience lures you into the $1,100 automatic you’ll enjoy its Sport mode that quickens shift intervals and allows the engine to rev higher before swapping cogs, or alternatively you can shift manually via the shift lever. Additionally, if you upgrade to 4Motion AWD, which starts at $23,830 and is only available in base S trim (other than with the AllTrack), the automatic transforms into a six-speed DSG sequential manual.

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On the road, the Golf SportWagen provides steering feedback and response to input that’s much above average in the compact class, although this is hardly unusual for the Golf or Volkswagen on the whole. Move up through the SportWagen range and the 16-inch alloys grow to 17s or 18s, which aids handling, but really there’s nothing wrong with the way this base model moves through fast paced corners or cruises down the freeway, while it’s plenty good at winding through congested inner city traffic too.

Driven conservatively the Golf SportWagen is efficient as well, the manual EPA rated at 25 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway and 28 combined, and as-tested auto “even better” at 25 city, 34 highway and 29 combined (don’t ask me how the EPA came up with these backassward numbers, but that’s what they’re claiming). I suppose I should mention the 4Motion AWD’s estimated mileage as well, which is 23 mpg city, 30 highway and 25 combined.

The Golf AllTrack is a good alternative to the SportWagen, even if only for its rugged good looks that include tastefully applied SUV-style body cladding and aluminum-look design elements to go along with its 0.6-inch increase in ride height, larger 18-inch alloys, 15 lb-ft of extra torque, and loads of standard features.

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Of course, you can upgrade a regular Golf SportWagen with more too, $5,450 pricier SE trim adding all the new stuff the 2018 model gets as standard plus the automatic transmission as standard, 17-inch alloys, fog lights with static cornering lights, proximity-sensing access, leatherette upholstery, a powered panoramic sunroof, and driver assistance, while the $8,390 dearer SEL adds 18-inch alloys, ambient interior lighting, rain-sensing wipers, chrome exterior detailing, sport seats, a 12-way powered driver’s seat, leather upholstery, dual-zone auto HVAC, navigation, and more.

There are additional options packages with both upper trims, the SE model available with $595 Driver Assistance including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, and blindspot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, whereas the SEL can be had with the $1,995 Driver Assistance and Lighting package that adds adaptive HID headlights with auto high beams, LED signature daytime running lights, lane departure warning with lane change assist, semi-autonomous parking assist, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. So equipped the Golf SportWagen can venture into compact premium territory, but to be fair it’ll have more features and be at least as nicely finished despite its more humble VW badge.

Near premium German engineering combined with high quality finishings has long been part of Volkswagen’s value proposition, and as far as North American offerings go the Golf line does this best. The only significant way they could make the Golf SportWagen better would be a GTI upgrade, but don’t hold your breath. Right now you can search out a good deal on a 2017 Golf SportWagen (or a great deal on a 2016 model, as noted earlier) or hopefully soon you can pay a little more and enjoy all the 2018 improvements, which will include a new six-year, 72,000-mile warranty. Either way it’s a good choice.

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Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press

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