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First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen [Review]

The 2015 VW Golf SportWagen proves to be a worthy replacement for the much-loved Jetta SportWagen.

Building on the brand equity garnered through seven generations of Volkswagen Golf, that little company from Wolfsburg introduces the 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen as a replacement for the late Jetta SportWagen.

The Jetta SportWagen is dead. Long live the Jetta SportWagen.

Not so fast. When it came down to a choice between an SUV and a station wagon, we've always preferred the latter. Sure, they have the Touareg and the Tiguan, but not everyone has warmed to those designs. It's clear VW has other things in mind. They took us deep into the heart of Texas, er, Austin, to tell us more about their new wagon.

New architecture. New platform. New model.The 2015 VW Golf SportWagen joins the standard Golf and Golf GTI in sharing a new modular transverse matrix platform. Known internally as the MQB modular architecture, it uses high- and ultra high-strength steel, which turns out to be lighter than the current Jetta SportWagen, and in the process, brings a new enhanced safety cell to the lineup.

But that's not all. The new SportWagen checks in lighter, bigger, roomier, while being more powerful and fuel efficient than the Jetta model it replaces. By the numbers, it is 1.1 inches longer, 0.7 inches wider and 0.9 inches lower then the Jetta. Volkswagen claims that although the new SportWagen's overall height was chopped by nearly an inch, it has increased its headroom by 0.4 inches. It features a load height of 24.8-inches and a tailgate opening of almost 41-inches.

This new SportWagen was drawn at the same time as the regular Golf Hatchback and is available in three trim levels, ranging from base S, mid-level SE and top shelf SEL. The higher SE and SEL trim levels come with more premium fitments like a twelve-way power driver's seat, Fender premium Audio, a panoramic sunroof and Climatronic automatic climate control, as well as proximity sensors, and a nearly six-inch touchscreen display.

Available driver assistance and safety features are now a part of the Golf SportWagen. Among them, is the innovative Automatic Post-Collision Braking System. Designed with the premise that collisions usually involve more than one incident of impact, sensors apply the brakes to minimize further movement after the initial contact. Further rounding out the suite are Forward Collision Warning and Park Distance Control systems.

Looking outsideThe SportWagen's exterior is still very much a Golf. But there are cues that set the Wagen apart from its Hatchback brethren. Items including the D-pillar, roof rails and rear end help to separate this liftback from the previous one. Now with bi-xenon headlights, but with an available adaptive lighting kit, the look is conservative and at the same time, upscale. All SportWagens will be equipped with alloy wheels as standard, with 18-inches on the SEL models. VW marketing types offer how the rear of the car reflects the fun-to-drive aspects of the car.

The petrol-powered TSI starts with a $21,395 base price, which is $200 more than the previous Jetta SportWagen but with more than $700 in additional equipment, which includes standard touchscreen radio, and V-Tex Leatherette. The TDI Diesel in base S trim, starts at $24,595. That's $2,000 less than the previous (Jetta) TDI SportWagen.

Designed for the Euro-minded buyer, VW says the diesel will have a higher take rate, claiming that up to 80-percent of their buyers will opt for the TDI engine in a SportWagen. They expect the same with the manual transmissions. VW claims the Golf will appeal to current customers as well as bring in new ones who want the versatility of a SportWagen with the TDI powerplant, at a much lower price than before.

The SportWagen's interior is largely influenced and shared with the standard model Golf, except for the larger accommodations of the Wagen, er wagon. Conservative and well sorted in typical Teutonic fashion, with aluminum-like trim pieces that give it a more upscale feel, it includes soft touch material throughout and features a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Even the base S-trim level found a well-outfitted cabin, with V-Tex leatherette. Excellent in most situations, the vinyl-based material displayed its shortcomings because of a torrential downpour in an otherwise drought-addled Texas, where we managed to get soaked while getting in and out of the vehicle. After a short while, and with rain-drenched jackets, we did notice the sticky hotness that comes from sitting on vinyl seating. While VW officials tell us, "the US Customer is happy with Leatherette,” cloth seating will be available during the 2016 model year. Although no period was indicated, they also admitted to be working on a power liftgate option for sometime in the future.

With the seats up, there is 30.4 cubic feet of cargo space in the way-back. That figure grows to 66.5 cubic feet with the second row seats down, which VW claims is more than Chevy Equinox, Mazda CX-5 and Jeep Cherokee. As for playmates, look for the Toyota Prius V, Subaru Outback and XV Crosstrek. Overall, the Golf's size is comparable to the last version of the VW Passat.

With the extra cargo capacity comes other utilities. Side-mounted levers fold down the rear seats automatically. The rear cargo hold is also the location for an available 110-volt household outlet. The Golf SportWagen is just the thing for someone who needs the versatility of an SUV, with the driving attitude of the Golf.

MotivationPower for the Golf SportWagen, as imported into the North American market, will come from the EA888 turbocharged and direct-injected 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine that makes 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and can be had with a buyer's choice of five-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic transmission. It replaces the not-so dear and departed 2.5-liter five-cylinder that powered the Jetta SportWagen. When ordered with the six-speed automatic transmission, buyers will get a five-mpg bump (to 35 mpg) over the outgoing engine's fuel economy. Man-tran buyers will get even more, at 36 mpg.

Those who appreciate the stump pulling capabilities of a diesel engine will be happy to know that the EA288-model 2.0-liter direct-injected turbodiesel with 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque is also available. Conversely, it comes with a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG (dual-clutch) automatic transmission. Mileage increases by one with the manual transmission to 43 mpg, while the automatic pulls a "George Jefferson,” movin' on up from 39 to 42 mpg.

Suspensions are similar at the front end of the equation with both gas and diesel models sharing a MacPherson type arrangement with lower control arms, coil springs and 22-mm anti roll bar. It's at the rear where they diverge. While the gas-burner gets the big-whoop Multilink kit with coils and dampers at the rear, the diesel-powered unit is equipped with a traditional Torsion beam suspension with springs and shocks. Steering in both is via an electric power-assisted rack and pinion setup.

Drive timeThe gasoline EA888 inline four-banger offered plenty of low-end kick from the start. It doesn't do so quietly, although it calms down considerably once the Golf reaches cruising speed. The engine's loudish bad behavior was generally quieted down by the well-insulated interior.

The EA288 turbodiesel is torquey enough but its no 3.0-liter Mercedes diesel. The manual transmission felt slightly rubbery but not so much that it became a guessing game as to which gear was currently selected.

During low to mid-range power use, the 2.0-liter diesel displayed good pulling power. Don't expect to win any land speed records, though. Able to leap past slower moving pickup trucks in Texas Hill Country, we came across a high-end dead spot where the engine moves up in revs, but at the same time, seems to peter out at the top end of its power band.

Steering displayed a well-weighted on center feel, but turned slightly numb on either side of neutral. To most drivers, it will not be noticed. For an enthusiast, it might be a point of contention. Not a jarring ride, it was also a very quiet one on most roads.

Leftlane's bottom lineVolkswagen simplifies its lineup by killing the almost-to-be-redundant Jetta SportWagen with the newly introduced Golf SportWagen. Along the way, it betters the content, capacity and performance of its late cousin. Good things in small packages, indeed.

2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TSI Base Price: $21,395.2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI Base Price: $24,595.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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