Throughout its long history in the United States, Volkswagen has manufactured two of the most recognizable cars in history, the VW Beetle and the VW Van. It also makes the Golf, and it’s arguably the most understated vehicle on the road.
The Golf’s humble exterior and simple, efficient interior define its personality. It’s about as far-removed from its individualistic siblings as possible, and that’s its appeal. It’s no-nonsense and versatile. And it’s the best-selling VW in history and third on the all-time global sales list behind the Toyota Corolla and Ford F-150 series trucks.
While the three and five-door Golf hatchbacks standard and high-performance trims have been mainstays for decades, the five-door Golf Sportwagen was introduced in Europe in late 2012 and in the United States three years later. It continues to provide an attractively priced alternative to small crossover sport utility vehicles.
The current generation Golf debuted in 2012, but has been tweaked several times, including a healthy list of upgrades for 2018 in the SportWagen, available in S, SE and SEL trims.
Front and rear bumpers and the front grille are slightly revised. Daytime running lights and LED taillights are standard and the infotainment system has been upgraded.
The SportWagen, like all Golf models, is equipped with a 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower gas-turbo engine. A six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission is available. The manual option has a smooth, short-shifting approach and adds to the Golf’s sportiness.
The SportWagen also features VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system, and it’s among only a few all-wheel-drive vehicles in the compact category. Fuel economy is 22 miles per gallon in city driving, 32 miles per gallon on the highway 27 miles per gallon combined.
Despite its smaller exterior appearance, the SportWagen has larger dimensions in 2018 and its cargo space is cavernous for the segment. It measures 179.6 inches long and 70.8 inches wide and has more overall space than some small SUVs. It’s about a foot longer than the hatchback.
The cargo area behind the rear seat is 30.4 cubic feet, but expands to 66.5 cubic feet with the 60/40 split rear seat folded. The task is simplified with easy-to-use levers on the top of each rear seat.
Driving the Sportwagen may be the most fun you’ll have driving a wagon. It’s not particularly quick, with a 0-60 miles per hour effort in 7.0 seconds. But acceleration is steady and smooth. The automatic transmission is likely the better choice for drivers who prefer convenience.
But the manual transmission, an increasingly limited choice throughout the industry in recent years, adds a welcomed “driving factor” to the SportWagen’s sportiness. Whether shifting or not, the firm transmission makes maneuvering through traffic and cornering on winding roads another pleasant surprise.
It’s unusual for manufacturers to change warranty parameters. But for 2018, VW extended the SportWagen’s bumper-to-bumper warranty to six years or 72,000 miles. Top competitors like the Subaru Outback and Kia Niro have many strengths, but they can’t match the VW’s warranty. The SportWagen is also rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
While obvious VW icons like the beetle and van are etched in car lore, the Golf has its own place. It’s unheralded, handsome, comfortable, reliable and fun to drive. The Sportwagen’s MSRP is just under $24,000. With all available options, the price slightly surpasses $30,000. But the SportWagen is still the best available wagon for the money.
2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
ACCELERATION: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds.
FUEL ECONOMY: 22 mpg (city), 32 mpg (highway), 27 mpg (combined) six-speed manual transmission.
PRICE AS TESTED: $30,500.00
WARRANTY: Bumper to bumper, 6 years/72,000 miles; Powertrain, 6 years/72,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/100,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 3 years/36,000 miles.