A lot of buyers need the utility of an SUV but don't want an SUV in the driveway. That's where a compact wagon such as the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen comes in handy. Based on the Volkswagen Golf — one of the world's most popular cars despite modest sales in America — the SportWagen builds on the Golf hatchback's practicality with an extra foot of length and a squared-off body. With up to 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space, the Golf SportWagen hauls just as much luggage as a comparably sized compact SUV, and with optional all-wheel-drive (albeit only on the base model), it's well-equipped for snowy days.
There's more to like about the Golf SportWagen than its utility. We've always been impressed by the Golf's interior, which is constructed of premium materials and presents a no-nonsense, distraction-free driving environment. The turbocharged engine is quick and fuel-efficient, and the driving experience is responsive, if not exactly sporty. For those who need an SUV but don't want an SUV, the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is a great alternative.
Current Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen
The Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen is available in S, SE and SEL trim levels. Even the base model is nicely equipped, with roof rails, heated front seats, a backup camera and power accessories, though we find the sunroof-equipped SE with the optional Driver Assistance package (autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot warning) to be the sweet spot of the Golf lineup. The top-of-the-line SEL has the Driver Assistance package as standard, along with navigation, dual-zone climate control and an automated parking system.
Whichever trim level you buy, you'll find a 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood. S models offer a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and a manual or automatic transmission, but SE and SEL trims come exclusively with an automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. EPA fuel economy estimates range from 25 mpg combined for the all-wheel-drive Golf SportWagen up to 29 mpg for front-wheel-drive automatic SportWagens.
The driving experience is solid, though not as sporty as in other Volkswagen models. The extra weight of the wagon takes the edge off acceleration when compared to a regular Golf hatchback, but the Golf SportWagen still feels quick and responsive. The same goes for the handling, which is energetic but not as thrilling as in some other VW models. We like the fast-shifting nature of the automatic transmission, but it's prone to sudden lurches when accelerating slowly from a stop or when making a sudden change in speed.
Our favorite aspect of the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is the interior, and not just from a functionality standpoint. The airy passenger cabin is finished with premium materials, which make the Golf SportWagen feel like a car that has risen far above its station. We also like the no-nonsense dash layout. Backseat space is tight, especially compared to similarly sized SUVs, but utility is hard to beat, with 30.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in place and more than twice that much (66.5 cubic feet) with the rear seats folded.
Used Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Models
Volkswagen introduced the Golf SportWagen for the 2015 model year, and made a host of changes for 2016, updating the standard stereo and adding a Driver Assistance option package with blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. S models lost their faux leather upholstery in favor of cloth. 2017 brought the addition of optional all-wheel drive (though, strangely, only for the base model), a standard-fit rearview camera, and standard forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert for the SEL model.