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2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen: First Drive Review

Sedan owners looking for a bit more room don’t necessarily have to make the jump to a larger, heavier crossover or SUV. Instead, Volkswagen aims to fill that space with its new-for-2015 Golf SportWagen, which looks and drives like an extended Golf hatchback. That’s mostly a good thing, as Autotrader discovered on a recent test drive of VW SportWagens on the streets of Austin, Texas, and the surrounding Hill Country.

So Long Jetta SportWagen, Hello Golf SportWagen

Savvy shoppers may remember that Volkswagen offered the Jetta SportWagen until 2014. Even though the new 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is about the same size as the outgoing Jetta wagon and has the same understated exterior design that all VW models share, it’s not a rebadged Jetta. The 2015 SportWagen is entirely new under the skin, based on the Gen 7 Golf’s MQB architecture, which uses a lot of weight-saving high-strength steel. That’s good for both handling and fuel economy.

Under the Hood

As with the 2015 Golf hatchback, the new SportWagen is available with gas or diesel powerplants. We drove SportWagens with both engines. A new 1.8-liter TSI 4-cylinder turbo replaces last year’s naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 5-cylinder. The gas turbo produces the same 170 horsepower as the previous 5-cylinder, but makes its peak torque (199 lb-ft with the 6-speed automatic transmission or 184 lb-ft with the 5-speed manual) over a wider band. This makes the 1.8-liter turbo more flexible and responsive without the need to shift gears as often or rev the engine as high. The 1.8-liter turbo operates quietly, and its fuel-economy estimate of 35 miles per gallon on the highway from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 5 mpg better than that of the previous Jetta SportWagen’s 2.5-liter.

We think that the Golf SportWagen really comes into its own with diesel power. Volkswagen completely overhauled the 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel for 2015, and its EPA-estimated 43 mpg (with the 6-speed manual) or 42 mpg (with the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic) ratings match or top those of some hybrid compact SUVs. For 2015, output increases to 150 hp, but more importantly, torque is an impressive 236 lb-ft at just 1750 revolutions per minute. That means tip-in throttle response is robust regardless of engine or vehicle speed, which makes darting through traffic or keeping up with the ebb and flow of the other cars a breeze.

Proof in How It Drives

The new Golf SportWagen is about a foot longer than the hatchback version, with plenty of room to stash a dog carrier, strollers or sports equipment in the cargo bay. There’s an SUV-like 66.5 cu ft. of cargo room available with the rear seat folded down, made easier with a pair of handy rear seatback releases just inside the rear hatch. Volkswagen also found a way to keep grocery bags from tipping over; the SportWagen’s cargo floor flips up, revealing a deep well to corral the bags.

But the 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen drives more like a big hatchback than a small SUV. You can feel the German-tuned character in the precise and responsive electrically boosted steering, well-mannered shock-absorber damping, billet-like body structure and easy-to-modulate 4-wheel disc brakes. The car delivers a premium European character at a bargain price.

The 2015 Model Lineup

Speaking of bargains, the 2015 Golf SportWagen in base 1.8T S trim is actually $700 less expensive than the Jetta SportWagen it replaces. The $21,395 1.8T 5-speed manual S model we drove came with standard 15-inch alloy wheels, a 5.8-in touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and SiriusXM radio, air conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a tilt-telescopic steering column, power windows, mirrors and door locks and more.

Moving up to the $26,995 1.8T SE adds such standards as 17-in alloys, a 6-speed automatic transmission, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlamps, fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, a backup camera, push-button start and the Fender premium audio system. The $29,345 1.8T SEL upgrades to 18-in alloys, auto A/C, navigation and a power driver’s seat.

The Golf SportWagen diesel models start with the $24,595 TDI S, which in addition to standard items included on the 1.8T gains keyless entry, push-button start, a backup camera and 16-in alloys. The $27,995 SE and $30,345 SEL versions of the TDI have the same standard equipment as their 1.8T counterparts.

Autotrader Says

After driving both gas turbo and diesel versions of the new SportWagen through the Texas Hill Country, we found that the diesel offers the most engaging experience. OK, it just feels more German, and that’s cool with us, never mind that the SportWagen TDI has a higher EPA highway rating than the Toyota Prius v hybrid and incredible cruising range between fill-ups. We’d love for it to come with all-wheel drive (it’s front-drive only) and have a standard USB port, but we’re told that those things are coming soon.

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