LAWNDALE, California—Is it possible to fall in love with practical? Yes, and it’s really easy to do with the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen. It’s a standard- issue, low-profile machine with four doors, a rear hatch, and ample cargo room, and it looks just like, well, the small station wagon it is.
There’s room for five and some gear, and while the design is somewhat dated—a new Golf generation is launching in Europe soon—its best angle may be from way up high. The panoramic sunroof is epically huge, stretching nearly the entire roof. Opening it up is the closest you can get to a convertible Golf in the States, and the glass panel is flanked by long roof rails that add even more practicality. Our test car wore Deep Black Pearl paint over a contrasting Beige leatherette interior. The car is simply comfortable, functional, and good to drive.
The 2019 model may also be the last SportWagen sold in the U.S., as the next-generation Golf may only come here in GTI and R hatchback forms. But for now, the SportWagen is available in America, and in three trims: S, S 4Motion, and SE. We tested the SE, which adds LED headlights, a set of fog lights, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, 17-inch aluminum wheels, and that epic sunroof for just under $31,000. If you want more equipment, the Golf Alltrack—a lifted, be-cladded version of this car—is available in SEL guise, although it can get pricey for its size.
While the S 4Motion is powered by the same 1.8-liter turbocharged four- cylinder found in the Alltrack, the other SportWagens—including the one we drove—use the 1.4-liter turbo four from the latest Jetta. It offers 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, down 23 horses and 16 lb-ft compared to the 1.8T. A six-speed manual transmission is available on every SportWagen save for the SE, but its standard eight-speed automatic transmission is adept at choosing gears and never makes a nuisance of itself.
Also, this is nice: The SportWagen’s 13.2-gallon fuel tank can be filled with regular unleaded with no penalty to performance, which can shave a few cents off the cost of fill-ups. Not that you’ll be doing them extremely often, as the 1.4T is rated for 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway; if the onboard computer is to be believe, we managed roughly 30 mpg even while driving aggressively pretty much most of the time. The electrically assisted steering is precise and responsive, and it offers some of the best road feel among its competitive set.
In terms of storage, there is 30 cubic feet of stowage space behind the rear seats—about 13 more than the standard Golf—which grows to 67 cubes with seats folded. That’s more than enough room for most hardware hauls or a vacation, especially if you make use of the aforementioned roof rails. The back seat can accommodate two adults comfortably—add a third in the form of a kid or a dog if you like—and folks back get a set of HVAC vents, although not much else. A USB port or two would be more than welcome back there; despite having been refreshed for 2018, its onboard technology is the weakest point, with a sometimes slow-to-respond infotainment system and limited connectivity options for devices. But what’s there is nicely finished, well laid out, and intuitive.
Standard safety tech for the SE trim includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, active blind-spot monitoring with rear-traffic alert, and more.
It might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but few cars drive as nicely in its segment as does this Golf variant, and in these crossover-crazed times, there aren’t exactly a lot of options for Americans in the small-wagon arena. So if you’re looking for a decently equipped small car that satisfies from behind the wheel and can tote more than most compacts, the SportWagen is easy live with—and even easier to fall in love with.
|2019 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen 1.4T SE Specifications|
|PRICE||$30,890 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||1.4L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/147 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 184 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD wagon|
|EPA MILEAGE||27/36 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||179.8 x 70.8 x 58.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.0 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|