This VW Golf Wagon Is Great, But It Isn't As Good As Other Golfs

Please return your seats to the upright position. The Earth continues to spin peacefully on its axis. Donald Trump is a candidate for the Republican nomination for POTUS, thank heavens. Ian Callum still pens Jaguars.

Glory be, you’ve just laid eyes on a 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI, the closest thing to an automotive health food store for your malnourished, car-loving belly. Don’t worry, you’ll get over yourself, and you’ll be breathing normally in short order so long as you don’t reach back into the far-flung corners of your mind to remember that even BMW will allow you to buy a new, brown, diesel wagon right now.

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Once you’ve regulated, there’ll still be one problem. Save for the cargo-hauling part, the Golf SportWagen isn’t as good as other Golfs.


You’ve probably just commandeered Aunt Maybelle’s fainting couch, such is the degree of blasphemy present in this here Kinja.

Let me state my case, in part by reconfiguring my case. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen TDI Highline DSG isn’t as good as other Golfs.

With a new car landing in my driveway every single week thanks to generous automobile manufacturers, I’m becoming ever more aware of the fact that the way in which the car is specced by the PR office matters hugely. Yes, we all knew that a Camaro V6 doesn’t match a Camaro ZL1 when it comes to acceleration. Other instances aren’t so obvious.

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Two similarly powerful engines can present wildly different real-world characteristics, as is the case with the let’s-not-bother-with-revs Fiesta 1.6 and the rev-me-baby-please Fiesta 1.0L EcoBoost. Same car, but different.

No kidding, the way in which a Camry XSE V6 is comfortable on a rural road and the degree to which an XLE V6 isn’t represents quite a change for the oft-maligned but best-selling car in America. Same car, but different.

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Yet when one might assume that there would be nothing more than subtle differences between, say, the handling of a Hyundai Genesis V6 and a Hyundai Genesis V8, one discovers that the former can be an enticing car and the latter an undesirable car, so sufficiently striking are said differences. Same car, but different.

The answer to the question truck reviewers are so often asked – “F-150 or Silverado or Ram?” – depends largely on the specific truck in which the reviewer spent time: an F-150 SuperCrew with the 6-1/2’ box or an F-150 SuperCrew with 5-1/2’ box? Because an extra 11.8 inches of wheelbase makes a world of difference. Same truck, but different.

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We’ve now reached the point where selectable driving modes offer such striking character alterations that you could drive a Ford Mustang EcoBoost in normal mode with comfort steering and find it to be a sedate cruiser, while in track mode with sport steering, I’ll find that it’s champing at the bit. Exact same car, but different.

Attempting to spray a banner overhead which says, “Fiestas Love To Rev,” won’t be accurate. “Camrys Love Twisty Roads,” isn’t entirely true. “Hyundai’s Luxury Car Won’t Turn In,” doesn’t tell the whole story. “F-150s Are Massive,” is true, but lacks nuance. “New Mustang Steering Sucks,” is the exact opposite of truth.

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Thus, tempted though we may be to render verdicts with phrases like, “The new Mustang is more of a sports car than a muscle car”, as if one overarching phrase effectively covers all the bases for cars as varied as the V6 and GT; as if an all-encompassing judgement will sate demand for a conclusion regarding Mustangs as diverse as the EcoBoost Performance Package with a manual and the 5.0 with an automatic, it behooves a car enthusiast to answer questions with a question.


Scenario #1: Dude at work passively/aggressively reveals he got the promotion that you deserved by asking, “I’m thinking of getting a new car. Can’t decide. 3-Series or C-Class?”

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Says you: “Are you looking at an un-optioned 320i or the 335i Sport Line on optional 19s?” And if you don’t like the guy, you’ll tell him that his mother-in-law will like the way the latter car handles pavement imperfections. (When you mention pavement imperfections, he’ll realize you sound so much like a car reviewer that you must know what you’re talking about. Especially if you mention that the shifter in the C-Class doesn’t exactly fall readily to hand.)

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Scenario #2: Interloper at the family reunion asks, “Is the new Golf any good?”

You answer, “Which Golf are you looking at?” Or you could say, “At which Golf are you looking?” if you want to sound delightfully pompous.

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You’ll ask, because it matters. The term “Golf” is Volkswagen’s way of branding, but that doesn’t mean all the cars which utilize that nomenclature look the same or behave similarly. Perhaps the admin assistant at your office just bought a basic 3-door Golf with a manual transmission and the standard 1.8L turbo and finds it disarmingly quick, but we’re discovering this week that – yes, here comes the heretical Golf SportWagen criticism – adding a lot of features and extra bodywork and a diesel and a DSG to that Golf makes it, well, not quick. Not as nimble. Not as fun. Not as much of a frolicker.

True, diesel-powered VWs typically don’t accelerate as though launched out of a cannon, and no current Volkswagen with the 2.0L TDI has ever been accused of being downright swift. But they always feel abundantly torquey and they don’t typically feel in need of more.

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The admin assistant’s gas-fired Golf 1.8 TSI with the 5-speed manual weighs 2906 pounds, however, requiring each of its 170 horsepower to cart around just 17.1 pounds.

The car Volkswagen Canada loaned to GCBC this week is a 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon TDI Highline, a fully-equipped diesel wagon with the direct-shift, dual-clutch automatic. It weighs 3349 pounds, 15% more than the basic 1.8 TSI (6% more than the two-steps-down Golf Sportwagon Trendline) and it produces 20 fewer horsepower. With 22.3 pounds per horsepower, the Golf TDI Highline DSG’s weight-to-power ratio is 30% worse than the 3-door’s.

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30%.

Thirty per cent.

Don’t get me wrong. The Golf Sportwagon, or SportWagen in Americanese, is a dreamy little thing, even at CAD $38,120. (Gulp. Gasp. Puffer, please.) But it doesn’t handle with the level of agility that’s so apparent in the basic Golf, it doesn’t ride like a basic Golf, and it certainly doesn’t get up and go like a basic Golf. Volkswagen Canada also wants an extra $269 for every extra cubic foot of space behind the rear seats.

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Diesel wagon love? Of such love I have enough and to spare. But Golfs, like every other new car available today, clearly can’t all be painted with the exact same brush.

Spec matters. 443 extra pounds add up. Verdicts, therefore, must differ.

Our final verdict on this Golf, in which we haven’t set tire on a highway yet still find to be averaging 40 mpg in normal driving, is about a week away. (Update: It’s live now.) If you catch me writing, “It feels just like a Golf with a longer roof,” you’ll know I’m too lazy or too inept to understand the impact of 443 additional pounds.

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While we’re bothering to differentiate, it’s worth pointing out that Volkswagen of America does indeed differentiate between models when it comes to sales figures, bless their souls. The Golf family is America’s 77th-best-selling vehicle line through the first-half of 2015. 16% of all Golf sales are SportWagen-derived. 1873 of them were sold last month.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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