Drivability puts the Golf Wagon out front
One of the best automotive deals going right now has to be the Volkswagen Jetta, which you can pick up for less than $16,000 before taxes and extras. That’s a bit of a bargain, and VW is selling them by the truckload.
However, VW’s pricing strategy doesn’t extend to the Golf Wagon, which is essentially a Jetta with more storage room. The base Golf Wagon—a Trendline with a five-cylinder engine—starts at $23,000, give or take, which is still reasonable but not as rock-bottom as its sedan counterpart.
Available with two engine choices—the aforementioned five-banger or a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel—the Golf Wagon is still an attractive package. For one thing, it could be one of the nicest-looking wagons on the market these days, certainly in this price bracket, and makes abominations like the Kia Soul and the Nissan Cube look like the harpies they are. Different models, you may argue, but if I were in the market for a handy city carryall under $25,000, I’d include these three on my list, as well as the Chevrolet Orlando and the Mazda5. This is an odd corner of the market, and buyers really don’t have a lot to choose from when it comes to compact station wagons. Compact SUVs tend to rule the roost here.
The Golf Wagon has 1,897 litres of rear cargo area with the back seats folded down. By way of comparison, the Kia Soul has just over 1,500 litres, while the Chevy Orlando has about 1,600 litres. So on paper, at least, the Golf Wagon takes it for carrying stuff.
Not a lot of headroom back there, but you can stash lumber, golf clubs, dogs, and most small cargo in the back. Fold the seats up again, and you can get three adults in the back, although the person in the middle won’t be particularly comfortable.
But what sets the Golf Wagon—and most VWs, for that matter—apart is its sheer drivability. This is a fine automobile to drive, with above-average road manners, outstanding braking, and acceptable, if not scintillating, performance. Although it’s manufactured in Mexico (alongside the Jetta sedan), the Golf Wagon has a definite European ambiance about it and will run rings around most other similarly priced offerings.
That said, my tester, which was powered by VW’s TDI turbo-diesel, wasn’t exactly a pavement scalder. It was matched to a six-speed Tiptronic automatic ($1,400), which slowed things down even more. Were I in the market for this vehicle (which isn’t out of the question), I’d probably stick with the regular gas engine. At the very least, I’d look long and hard at the manual gearbox.
Yes, the TDI delivers top-of-the-heap fuel economy, but with its price at least $3,000 higher than the five-cylinder—for the base version—you’d have to rack up a lot of kilometres to even things out. That said, the TDI is quieter and smoother in operation and is completely hassle-free—even during winter cold starts.
My tester was the Highline model, which, at about $31,500 to start, is the most expensive of the lot and comes with extras such as 17-inch wheels and tires, Bluetooth, leather seats, a power sunroof, and Sirius satellite radio. Aside from the leather and Sirius, I can manage without most of these goodies. You could also make the argument that most people who are interested in a turbo-diesel station wagon won’t give a fig about fancy extras and are buying it for reasons of thrift. For these folks, the Comfortline TDI starts at about $27,000 for the manual-transmission version.
Standard equipment on both versions includes cruise control, power one-touch windows, tilt/telescoping steering, and heated front seats. This latter feature is a three-setting arrangement, and works like a treat. Safety-equipment level is also high, including the usual roster of front, side, and side-curtain airbags, as well as a vehicle stability system, a locking differential, and disc brakes all around, with both hydraulic and electronic braking assist. For the money, you simply won’t find a more sophisticated or better-engineered station wagon.
A few gripes, however. First and foremost, and I complain about this with just about every VW I drive: the self-locking mechanism. If you are considering purchasing this vehicle, have VW disable this stupid feature before you take it off the lot. You’ll be glad you did.
Secondly, because of its design, driver headroom is at a bit of a premium. Getting into the car involves scrunching down nice and low and then kind of easing your backside in. Taller drivers may find it really cramped, although you can move (at the expense of rear passenger legroom) the front seats back to compensate.
Nonetheless, the Golf Wagon has a lot going for it. It has a more upscale ambiance than anything else in this price range and punches above its weight when it comes to drivability and handling.