The intersection between driving fun and utility is not the SUV — it’s the wagon. No better proof of this exists than the 2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen.
Its dynamics remain a step ahead of competitors, but the Golf SportWagen lags behind the field when it comes to fuel economy and safety features, which may turn off some buyers.
The Golf SportWagen’s competition includes cars as varied as hatchbacks, such as the Subaru Crosstrek and Honda Civic hatchback, to compact sedans, such as Volkswagen’s own Jetta. I’d put the Golf SportWagen’s driving experience up against any of those cars, and it outdoes them all on cargo room, as well. But the Golf SportWagen isn’t perfect.
The look of the Golf SportWagen was freshened for 2018. There are a few changes, but nothing moves the needle too far in either direction. The front and back feature slightly different styling, but one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this year’s model and last year’s. LED daytime running lights and LED taillights are now standard across all trims.
The SportWagen is offered in three trim levels: the S at $22,535 including destination charges, SE at $28,170 and SEL at $31,095.
SE models see a large boost in safety features, adding forward automatic emergency braking and blind spot warning as standard equipment, along with an 8-inch touch-screen. The SEL adds built-in navigation, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, pedestrian detection for the forward emergency braking system and adaptive cruise control.
It’s not often that we get to test out the base model of a vehicle, but that’s what I drove for a week: a 2018 Golf SportWagen S. The only option checked was a $1,100 6-speed automatic transmission, which brought the car’s final price to $23,635.
There’s only one engine for the Golf SportWagen, but it’s a good one: a 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder. Transmission choices include a 5-speed manual (S only) or a 6-speed automatic in front-wheel-drive models. An all-wheel-drive version of the Golf SportWagen is offered as well, but only in the S trim level (called the S 4Motion) for an extra $2,250.
The driving experience is generally not a strength for vehicles in this class and price range, but I’m happy to report that the Golf SportWagen is a true member of the Golf family. Its dynamics and powertrain are both very much up to par. The automatic model benefits greatly from all the torque it has on tap: The engine is very responsive, with sharp acceleration when called upon and smooth power delivery in mid-throttle conditions.
If the powertrain has one shortcoming, it’s fuel economy. Golf SportWagen returns an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg overall. It doesn’t match up with less thirsty competitors such as the Honda Civic hatchback, which offers up to 34 mpg combined.
Though the base model’s interior is sparse and feature-lean (as the empty switches by the gear selector indicate), it does come with a few important technologies that make the experience more than bearable. Its standard 6.5-inch touch-screen is among the best of the base model screens in this class.
Another weakness of the Golf SportWagen is the distribution of safety features across trim levels. Standard features include a backup camera and a post-collision braking system that’s designed to prevent secondary accidents from happening if the airbags deploy in a crash.
Driving the base version of the 2018 Golf SportWagen proved the car’s merit and value, and there isn’t much at that price that I would choose over it as an everyday car. But once you move up the trim levels, the value part of the equation diminishes quickly as the price rises and the gas mileage stays low. An S model with additional safety features would be my choice, but that’s something we probably won’t get until the Golf SportWagen gets another round of changes.
All in all, Golf SportWagen artfully meshes utility and fun into one vehicle.
What Stands Out
Engine: Fun and peppy
Infotainment: The touch-screen is one of the best
Gas mileage: Lags rivals
2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
What? A compact five-door station wagon
When? On sale now
Where? Made in Puebla, Mexico
What makes it go? a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 170 horsepower
How thirsty? A ho-hum 25 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg overall with the manual transmission. Subtract one mile per gallon for the automatic.
How big? 14.9 feet long
How much? Starts at $22,535 including destination charges
Overall? Fun to drive, but safety features and gas mileage are not its strong points
The article “2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Review: A True Member of the Golf Family” originally appeared in Cars.comApril, 2018, on Cars.com
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