By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
As titleholder of the only budget-priced compact station wagon sold in the U.S., VW’s 2016 Golf SportWagen should be an automatic sales success. It shares the same taut suspension and handsome interior as the VW Golf, but its longer wagon body means there’s more room for people and cargo. Although the TDI diesel is in limbo until VW and the government come to some resolution over emissions-tampering accusations, the excellent 1.8-liter TSI turbo is still a great second choice, offering robust power and good fuel economy. If you’re shopping for a compact SUV, but you don’t need the added ride height or all-wheel-drive (AWD) ability, the fun-to-drive Golf SportWagen for 2016 may be a better option.
If you need the cargo-carrying capacity of a compact SUV, but not the added bulk or average fuel economy, the 2016 VW Golf SportWagen is the perfect solution. Enthusiasts will love the available manual transmission and sporty handling.
Without AWD, the 2016 Golf SportWagen from Volkswagen can’t compete with the Subaru Outback or Impreza 5-door. All that may change in another year, however, should the all-wheel-drive Golf SportWagen Alltrack debut.
The 2016 VW Golf SportWagen gains a rearview camera as standard equipment. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are added to the new MIB II audio system, while an updated Driver Assist Package gains adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and prevention, lane-departure warning and park assist.
With ride and driving characteristics nearly identical to the 2016 VW Golf, the 2016 Volkswagen SportWagen may just be our favorite compact family hauler. The 1.8-liter TSI turbocharged gasoline engine...
... is more than up to the job, with surprisingly good low-end punch for passing and merging. Both the manual and automatic gearboxes are thoroughly satisfying in their own way, and the car’s steering, suspension and braking are unmistakably German. The ride is firm but not jarring and the cornering precise with little evidence of body lean or torque steer. But, what make the SportWagen so good are its sedan-like road manners and SUV-like interior accommodations. There’s plenty of legroom front and rear, and some of the most comfortable front buckets in this or any price segment. Sadly, until VW resolves the emissions issues, the TDI diesel model is off the menu.
DRIVER ASSISTANCE PACKAGE
With helpful features like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and autonomous braking, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic detection, the Drive Assistance Package makes even the most distracted driver better at avoiding accidents.
REMOTE SEATBACK RELEASE
Being able to fold the rear seatback from the cargo area might not seem like a miracle of automotive technology. However, once you figure how useful it is not to have to run to the car’s side, open the rear door and manually fold down each seat, you’ll understand its importance.
Like the rest of the current-generation Golf family, the 2016 Golf SportWagen gets high marks for its interior. Materials use and fit and finish all look like they're from a higher class of car. Comfortable seating includes the rear seats, which offer decent legroom and headroom, even for taller passengers. The generous cargo area doesn't result in any additional road noise, as is often the case with wagons. We're not hugely fond of the touch-screen infotainment system, although having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a nice upgrade. New cloth seats on the base S trim are a welcome change, too.
From head-on, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the new SportWagen from any other Golf. From the side, of course, it's a different story, with the long roof and upright hatch giving the 2016 VW SportWagen a distinctively European look. Surprisingly, it's not much bigger than the regular Golf. The wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear wheels – remains the same, and overall length only grows a few inches. Options include bi-xenon headlights with LED accents, and they give the SportWagen a distinctive and upscale appearance.
The base model VW Golf SportWagen S for 2016 comes pretty nicely equipped. For starters, the SportWagen TSI gets standard 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a 5-speed manual transmission, cloth seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated side mirrors, rearview camera, air conditioning, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever. The standard touch-screen audio system includes Bluetooth, a CD player, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Volkswagen's Media Device Interface to connect your smartphone via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink. Safety equipment includes front, side and curtain airbags, and hill-hold assist.
Options are mostly divided among trim levels. Higher-level Golf SportWagen models (SE and SEL) get a standard automatic transmission. SE equipment also includes 17-inch wheels, heated front seats, keyless entry and ignition, corner-illuminating fog lights, panoramic sunroof and a Fender audio system. SportWagen SEL models add upgraded leather seats with 12-way-power adjustment for the driver, automatic climate control, navigation and ambient lighting. A lighting package includes bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights, while a Driver Assistance Package adds front-and-rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, parallel park assist and a forward-collision warning system with autonomous braking.
Standard issue on the 2016 VW Golf SportWagen is Volkswagen's 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Known as the TSI, this model is available with either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, and puts out 170 horsepower to the front wheels.
1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4
170 horsepower @ 4,500 rpm
199 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/36 mpg (manual), 25/35 mpg (automatic)
The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for a 2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen starts low, with the 5-speed-manual-equipped TSI S starting at about $22,500. An automatic transmission adds $1,100 to the price of any SportWagen. We think the mid-level SE grade offers a solid mix of standard and available features for just under $28,000. A loaded SportWagen SEL costs about $33,000. Not cheap, but it's hard to find a better-equipped or more fuel-efficient people-and-things hauler at the price. Of course, you want a good deal, so check out KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see how much people in your area are paying for the new Golf SportWagen. As for resale, the jury is out for now. VW’s recent problems regarding its diesel emissions shouldn’t harm gasoline-powered models, which for now hold strong value right up there with the Honda CR-V, Subaru Outback and Toyota RAV4.