- Overall Rating
- Good looking, responsive, cheap to operate and highly drivable. You'll like this car if you appreciate practicality with a little class thrown in.
- Looks Rating
- Arguably the best looker in this price range.
- Interior Rating
- A little shy on headroom, and damn that self-locking mechanism.
- Ride Rating
- Nicely calibrated, responsive and firm without being uncomfortable.
- Safety Rating
- Full roster of active and passive safety equipment.
- Green Rating
- Outstanding fuel economy, both on the highway and around town.
Right now, across Canada, you can pick up a new Jetta for less than $16,000 before extras. That's a pretty good deal and Volkswagen is selling them by the trainload.
Unfortunately, VW's pricing strategy does not 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 attractive its sedan counterpart.
Available with two engine choices – the five-banger or a 2.0 turbo-diesel – the Golf wagon is still a nice package. For one thing, it could be one of the nicest-looking wagons on the market these days – certainly in this price bracket, and reveals abominations like the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube for the harpies that they are.
Different models, you may argue, but if I'm in the market for a handy city carry-all under $25,000, I'd include these three on my list, as well as the Chevrolet Orlando and 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.
Anyway, a few particulars. 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 more than 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 back 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 much 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-ness 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 and, were I in the market for this vehicle, 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 a price tag 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 also 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, 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 the majority of 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 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, 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 and better-engineered station wagon.
A few gripes, however. First and foremost, and I complain about this with just about 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 premium. Getting into the car involves scrunching down nice and low and then easing your backside in. Taller drivers may find it cramped, although you can adjust (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 higher upscale ambience than anything else in this price range and punches above its weight when it comes to drivability and handling.
2012 Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI
Type: Compact station wagon
Base Price: $27,015; as tested, $32,895
Engine: 2.0-litre. Four-cylinder, turbo-diesel
Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/236 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.0 city/4.9 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Chevrolet Orlando, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Mazda5, Mini Cooper Countryman, Kia Rondo, Hyundai Elantra Touring