The little Golf is Volkswagen’s smallest vehicle — and its most versatile.
VW campaigns five distinct vehicles — a mix of hatchbacks and station wagons — under the Golf banner. They range from the essential five-door Golf hatch ($21,845) to the track-friendly Golf R ($40,395).
Between them lie an array of front- and all-wheel-drive models, including a pair of wagons, the SportWagen ($21,895) and the AWD-only, off-road-ready Alltrack ($26,895).
We drove a 2019 Golf SportWagen S.
The Golf shares platforms with Audi’s luxury-sport A3 and the shared DNA was evident in our tester’s chassis rigidity, responsiveness and refined ride quality. The Golf’s ride is compliant and supple despite the apparent tautness of its suspension.
A sturdy chassis also contributes to cabin tranquility by curbing the dread NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).
The Golf’s understated cabin features high-quality materials — our tester’s cloth seats were more pleasing to the touch and likely more durable than faux leather offered by some competitors — and exceptional fit and finish.
The Golf wagons are a foot longer than their hatchback siblings, the main beneficiary being the cargo hold. Dropping the split-folding rear seatback yields 66 cubic feet of cargo space, just shy of what most small crossovers offer.
Limited cabin storage
Up front, there’s enough legroom and headroom for four six-footers but the rear-seat’s bottom cushions are too low for an adult to be comfortable for longer than a brief spell.
Casual cabin storage is limited but includes a phone shelf that includes a USB port and an auxiliary jack, a shallow bin under the center armrest and a pair of large door pockets.
The infotainment system interface feels dated, largely because its standard 6.5-inch touchscreen is too small by contemporary standards (an 8.0-inch screen is available) and is located too low in the dash. Still, its menus are easily parsed and critical functions are easily accessed.
The SportWagen is ideally sized for city traffic. Out on the open road it has the settled feel of a larger car.
The all-independent system corrals body lean in corners. Steering feel is sharp and well weighted, though it communicates only moderate amounts of information from the road surface. The Golf responds instantly and accurately to driver input.
For 2019, VW prunes the SportWagen lineup. It drops the previous top-level SEL, trimming the choices from three trims to two, S and SE ($29,995). With the departure of the SEL, key features like navigation, automatic climate control and a premium audio system are not available.
This year, a new 147-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine powers front-wheel-drive models. It can be mated with a six-speed manual or a six-eight-speed dual-clutch automatic.
We found that engine to be smooth, quiet and stout enough to propel the SportWagen from 0-60 in the high 7-second range.
AWD models stick with last year's 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder which makes 170 hp and is paired with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automated manual.
So equipped, the SportWagen accelerates from 0-60 in about 7 seconds.
Advancing the breed
Counter-intuitively, the SE is available only with FWD and the smaller powerplant. Standard features include keyless entry and ignition, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, simulated leather upholstery, a 115-volt outlet, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, a CD player and auxiliary audio input.
Standard S features include heated side mirrors, roof rails, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, front seats with partial power adjustment and 60/40 split-folding rear seats with a center pass-through.
A rearview camera, Bluetooth and VW's Car-Net App-Connect are standard.
AWD S trims get heated wiper nozzles and heated front seats.
Perhaps the prime Northwest setup is the S fitted with AWD and the Driver Assistance package, with forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Those features are standard on SE, which also adds adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam headlights.
Wagons don’t get as much love as they should; we’re heartened that a stalwart like VW continues to advance the breed.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at email@example.com.
2019 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen S FWD
Vehicle base price: $21,895
Trim level base price: $21,895
As tested: $23,240 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Driver Assist Package (forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert)
EPA rating: 32 combined/29 city/37 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified