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2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Overview
The ultimate combination of fun, form, and functionality, the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen has proved so popular with buyers since its launch in 2015 that it now outsells the standard Golf hatchback (by just a smidgen). Taking over for the Jetta SportWagen, which was retired a few years ago, the Golf SportWagen started with everything buyers loved about the basic Golf and added more, stretching the body and adding additional cargo space while retaining the fun-to-drive factor. For 2017, VW spices up the SportWagen with the addition of an optional all-wheel-drive system, as well as a number of new safety features.
The SportWagen continues to come in S, SE, and SEL trim levels for 2017, equipped with both manual and automatic transmissions. In the biggest update this year, VW makes its 4Motion all-wheel-drive (AWD) system available on the entry-level S trim for the first time. Using some of the same underpinnings as Audi's quattro system, 4Motion improves the SportWagen's handling and stability, especially when pushing the car through tight corners and at high speeds. The AWD system favors the front wheels by default but sends torque to the rear wheels when needed for additional traction. In a rarity today, buyers can pair the AWD system with the manual transmission on the S trim, enhancing the wagon's sporty driving experience. Trims without the AWD system continue to ride on a front-wheel-drive chassis.
In addition, VW beefs up the SEL's safety equipment for 2017, adding such features as adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking. Finally, the optional Driver Assistance Package, available for all SportWagen trims, gains such features as park assist, a lane-departure warning alert, HID headlights with LED daytime running lights, and the automaker's Light Assist high-beam control feature, which automatically brightens or dims the high beams depending on speed and oncoming traffic.
As in previous years, a turbocharged 1.8-liter TSI 4-cylinder engine drives all SportWagen trims. The same engine powering the Golf hatchback, it develops 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque and provides plenty of power for the wagon, which weighs only 100 pounds more than the hatchback (3,063 pounds vs. 2,963). For the S trim, buyers can choose from a 5-speed manual transmission, which comes standard, or an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shift and a Sport mode. SE and SEL trims receive the automatic as standard equipment. Fuel-economy numbers check in at 25 mpg city/36 highway/29 combined for all trims.
While the SportWagen rides on the same wheelbase as the hatchback, both at 103.5 inches, the SportWagen's overall length stretches a foot longer, to 179.6 inches vs. 167.5 inches for the hatchback. That extra length boosts interior cargo space significantly. The hatchback offers 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, which expands to 30.4 cubic feet for the wagon. With the rear seats folded down, total cargo space to the hatchback measures 52.7 cubic feet, while the wagon boosts that to 66.5 cubic feet. Both body styles can carry five passengers, with plenty of legroom and headroom in both rows of seating.
The Golf hatchback has never displayed a splashy exterior, and that extends to the SportWagen. It favors clean, simple lines over something more sculptured or curvy, making it easy to lose in a crowd of flashier vehicles. Still, the SportWagen cuts a svelt figure and never looks boring. Rather, there's a certain elegance to its design, aided in part by the straight sidelines, subtle wheel wells, gently sloping roof, and long, well-proportioned tail. Black roof rails, heated side mirrors, and daytime running lights are among the standard exterior features for the S, while the SE and SEL both add a panoramic sunroof, as well as automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers with heated nozzles.
Inside, the SportWagen borrows its look and feel from the Golf hatchback, which routinely receives high marks for its comfortable, attractive, and well-equipped cabin. Passengers will find high-quality materials, soft-touch surfaces, comfortable seats, and good ergonomics throughout. The angled dash puts controls within easy reach of the driver, and tech features are generally easy to operate and configure. Functional storage spaces include seatback pockets, a cooled glovebox, 6 cupholders, and a sliding tray under the driver's seat.
Standard features for the base S trim include 8-way partially power-adjustable front seats, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an infotainment system with a touchscreen, satellite radio, a rear-view camera, an 8-speaker audio system, and VW's Car-Net connectivity system with smartphone app integration.
The SE adds push-button start, adaptive cruise control, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, and a Fender premium audio system. In addition to its new safety features, the top-level SEL trim also comes equipped with touchscreen navigation, front sport seats, a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, and ambient lighting.
Beyond important factors like its sporty performance and spacious cargo-carrying capability, the SportWagen's real attribute remains its ride and handling. One factor separating the SportWagen from compact crossover vehicles and SUVs remains its lower ride height, which keeps the wagon's center of gravity closer to the ground, aiding stability and handling. The well-tuned suspension and Servotronic rack-and-pinion steering provide a controlled and comfortable ride, along with precise, agile handling. Like the Golf hatchback, the SportWagen displays some body lean in tight corners and shows some limitations when it's pushed too hard, but daily drivers should be pleased with the overall ride experience.
The SportWagen continues to come equipped with all the expected safety features, including antilock brakes, brake assist, side-protection airbags, an automatic post-collision braking system, and electronic stability control. The Golf hatchback has routinely been tapped as one of Car and Driver's 10 Best Cars, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has named the 2016 Golf a Top Safety Pick, which should carry over to the SportWagen for 2017, especially with the inclusion of new safety features this year.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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