We live in an age of self-service.
Store clerks no longer provide much in the way of assistance. Increasingly, they don’t even ring up our orders; we do. We also tackle projects around the house once reserved for skilled tradesmen, even if we don’t do them all that well. And, as we have become like those who once served us, our clothing has changed too. Fine wool trousers and sophisticated dresses have given way to denim and T-shirts.
Similarly, vehicles once mostly used for hauling lumber have crept upmarket and now serve the office dwellers of the self-serving middle class. After decades of acceptance, sedans and coupes are succumbing to utility vehicles, which have become preponderant in our driveways, parking lots and hearts.
And that’s why a small-but-growing segment of buyers are looking for something different.
Enter the 2017 Golf SportWagen, an antidote to the crush of crossover utility vehicles. At 179.5 inches long, its compact dimensions aren’t much different from those of many diminutive utility vehicles. And like them, it offers 30.4 cubic feet of cargo; 66.5 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. And similarly, it’s powered by a fuel-efficient-but-peppy 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm.
But there’s one significant difference: The SportWagen can be fitted with a manual transmission. So if you want to shift, you have to serve yourself. In this regard, it’s in tune with modern America.
Interested? Here’s the lowdown.
The SportWagen is offered with front-wheel drive and a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. If you get it in the 4Motion all-wheel-drive trim, you can choose between a six-speed manual and dual-clutch automatic.
Like other Golfs, the SportWagen employs Volkswagen’s impressive MQB modular construction platform and sports a fully independent suspension, something VW previously avoided on U.S. versions of the Passat and Jetta to save money. As you’d expect, its handling is an impressive blend of ride compliance and agile handling, with quick steering, a responsive gearbox and enough power to keep a smile on your face. It’s fun to drive — something you can’t say about many, if any, utility vehicles.
And after testing a SportWagen 4Motion, it’s obvious that what one might think is this model’s raison d’etre, tackling icy interstates, is just part of its prowess.
As with many all-wheel-drive setups, that of the SportWagen operates in front-wheel drive under most conditions. The rear wheels are decoupled to conserve fuel. But when needed, the rear wheels engage, using up to 50 percent of the car’s power to maintain footing. Once winter retreats, you’ll find this sweetheart precisely and confidently remarkable with a firm-but-not-jarring ride.
The interior is well-assembled, with supportive front bucket seats and generous leg room. But the throttle is placed too far to the right, forcing longer-legged drivers to press their leg uncomfortably against the center console. The rear seats are firm and comfortably high, but legroom isn’t as generous. Regardless, the cabin is hushed at highway speeds and its expansive glass ensures a good view out.
Most models come with an easy-to-use 6.5-inch infotainment screen with all sorts of smartphone connectivity, including the ability to read out your text messages and play music from its USB port, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, or HD Radio. But it also assists you in staying in your lane on the interstate, applies the brakes if it thinks you’re going to crash, warns you of vehicles in your blind spot, and helps you park, along with a million other things. In this regard, it’s serving itself, just like you do.
Even better, it performs as well as any trucklet, but does so without blending into a sea of sameness. And that makes the SportWagen a true Volkswagen, in the tradition of the Beetle.
2017 Golf SportWagen
Base prices: $21,580-$29,970
Engines: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Torque: 199 pound-feet
Fuel type: Regular
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 25/35 (manual); 25/34 (dual-clutch automatic)
Wheelbase: 103.5 inches
Length: 179.5 inches
Cargo capacity: 30.4-66.5 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,063-3,422 pounds
NHTSA rating: 5 stars
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