AUSTIN, TX – Station wagons get a bad rap. It’s wrong for people to diss them as unhip. To avoid sinking to that level, I shouldn’t stick up for station wagons by putting down CUVs. I shouldn’t. But I will.
I’ve nothing against CUVs in general, but the compact ones make no sense. Their cargo space is limited. You can’t take them offroad without a tow truck as your chase vehicle. Small CUVs get so-so fuel economy considering their size. Otherwise, they’re great.
The bigger CUVs aren’t so bad. Nor is the concept. Create a vehicle that looks like an SUV, but rides like a car. Congrats to who came up with that. Subaru says it did, with the Forester. Honda and Toyota claim firsts of sorts with the CR-V and RAV4, respectively.
But what is a CUV if not a station wagon on stilts? Sure, some people like high seat positions. That’s why we have bar stools and highchairs.
It’s unjust to call high-rider CUVs functionally cool and low-rider station wagons hopelessly square. That’s stereotypically where we’re at, though.
Once a mainstay, heckled station wagons virtually left the market with their long tails between their legs. Seeing a reincarnated version of the Ford Country Squire or Buick Estate Wagon is as likely as spotting a pterodactyl in the yonder sky.
But not every automaker has bailed from the segment. Just, like, 99% of them. One notable member of the 1% (and I mean this in the best sense of the percentage) is Volkswagen.
The German brand is rightfully proud of its latest SportWagen that has undergone some recent alterations, including a name change for this model year. It had been a Jetta. Now it’s a Golf. The new wagon is wider, longer and lower than its other-named predecessor.
Part of the switchover has to do with the ’15 vehicle now on the same Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) architecture that’s shared by the Golf lineup.
“We finally called the SportWagen for what it is, a Golf,” says VW product planner Mike Klopotowski.
VW also is riding on the fame of the Golf winning the 2015 North American Car of the Year award.
Although the new model for all intents and purposes is a station wagon, VW isn’t going quite there. Wagen, as in wagon, is fine. But the modifier “station,” as in “see-you-at-the-train-station-when-the-6:33-arrives,” isn’t. What’s a better descriptor? How about “Sport”? Put that in front of Wagen and squeeze the two words together. You have yourself a nice car name.
“The car is designed as a wagon,” Klopotowski says. “It’s not a Golf hatchback. Obviously being a wagon, the versatility is huge. And it’s fun to drive.”
Station-wagon owners of old didn’t extol the joy of driving.
But the SportWagen, going on sale in April, offers that. It comes with more torque than its Jetta predecessor. It shows self-confident stability and agility as we drive through the hill country outside of this capital city. And in town, it’s right at home as a car with an urbane look, including a hood that slopes down, horizontal design cues and distinctive D-pillars.
Who Buys This Vehicle?
The car has a relatively small but loyal and unconventional following. VW sold about 20,000 SportWagens in the U.S. last year.
Eighty percent of those buyers opted for the diesel engine, a remarkable take rate for the U.S., not known for diesel mania.
Here’s another eye-popper: 40% of that 80% went with the manual transmission. That’s in a nation of drivers who, but for a single-digit percentage, don’t know how to operate a stick-shift or what that third pedal is for.
The 1.8L TSI gasoline engine replaces the 2.5L 5-cyl. in the previous Jetta SportWagen. The 170-hp engine is mated to either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. With the automatic, its rated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway (9.4-6.5 L/100 km).
The engine weighs just 290 lbs. (126 kg) thanks to a compact design, thinner castings and lightweight materials.
The optional 2L 4-cyl. diesel is rigged with turbocharging and direct injection. It reaches 150 hp at 3,500 rpm. Torque is at 236 lb.-ft. (318 Nm) at 1,750 rpm compared with 199 lb.-ft. at 1,600 rpm for the gasoline engine with an automatic.
The diesel’s fuel economy is 31/43 mpg (7.6-5.4 L/100 km) for the manual. For the automatic, it’s 31/42, the latter a 3-mpg (78 L/100 km) increase over the engine it replaces.
The SportWagen’s base price is $21,395. Add $3,200 for the diesel. The topline TDI SEL starts at $30,345.
The SportWagen’s body style provides more interior room than the Golf sedan. Occupants get 94.3 cu.-ft. (2,670 L) of space. With rear seats up, the cargo capacity is 30.4 cu.-ft. (861 L). A 60:40 rear-seat split increases that to 66.5 cu.-ft. (1,883 L).
VW is not out to start a station wagon revival. It’s just offering a viable vehicle to a niche market. Defying the station wagon’s boring image, SportWagen buyers often are driving enthusiasts, outdoorsy types and outliers attracted to different-looking European vehicles.
“A lot of buyers are into bicycling, and they don’t want to have to use a ladder to put their bike on a roof rack,” Klopotowski says, praising the SportWagen and taking a swipe at those high-top CUVs.
SportWagen buyers cross-shop compact CUVs. Among other things, they’re drawn to the former’s better fuel economy. “The car sells itself,” Klopotowski says.
Yet, he tells WardsAuto, the station wagon stigma lives on. “Frankly, we’ve done clinics, and people still think of the station wagon as the car in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation.’”
2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Specifications
|Vehicle Type||5-passenger, FWD compact station wagon|
|Engine||1.8L inline 4 cyl. turbocharged DI|
|Power (SAE net)||170 hp @ 4,500 rpm|
|Torque||199 lb.-ft. (269 Nm) @ 1,600 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||82.5 X 84.1|
|Transmission||5-speed manual/6-speed automatic|
|Wheelbase||103.5 ins. (2,630 mm)|
|Overall length||179.6 ins. (4,562 mm)|
|Overall width||70.8 ins. (1,799 mm)|
|Overall height||58.3 ins. (1,481 mm)|
|Curb weight||3.063 lbs. (1,389 kg)|
|Competition||Subaru Outback, Subaru XV Crosstrek|
|Fun to drive||Station wagon stigma|
|Agile||Unimpressive infotainment system|
|Sporty, functional||Not for everyone|