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VW Golf wagon: Anything an SUV can do, it can do better

Overall Rating
8.5
Overall
Wagons may be passé in 2014, but the Golf version with the thrifty diesel is a really good alternative to an SUV.
Looks Rating
7
Looks
The outside is a nondescript station wagon execution that clearly aims at function over form
Interior Rating
8.5
Interior
Function over form in the shape means an interior with more cargo room (seats up) than a Ford Explorer SUV.Great seats, sensible controls and a surprising amount of passenger space.
Ride Rating
8
Ride
If you’re looking for a car to take on a road trip, this should be on the short list. It’s quiet and comfy, but the handling isn’t clumsy like your typical SUV. And the fuel economy is astounding.
Safety Rating
9
Safety
The Golf is not a Top Safety Pick, but it certainly performs well enough in crash tests.
Green Rating
7.5
Green
The fuel economy is terrific, but because this one’s a diesel,we can’t go higher on the score – gotta leave room for cleaner hybrids.

Once upon a time, the station wagon was king, a wildly popular vehicle during the 1960s and early '70s. Alas, no more.

A long time ago (say, the 1960s) in a land far, far away (a wondrous place called suburbia), The Greatest Generation took its baby boomer offspring on road trips and camping holidays. The entire clan would pack into the most wondrous of vehicles, station wagons, and take to newly built highways free of potholes, train-size tractor trailers stretching to eternity like moving skyscrapers and endless road construction.

Those were the glory years. of the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and the Ford Country Squire, the Rambler wagon (the '67 was great) and the Studebaker Wagonaire. Chevrolet even made a Corvair wagon in the early 1960s. Alas, a wonderfully useful wagon such as the 2014 Golf TDI wagon I just tested is a niche vehicle, an anomaly, oddity and curiosity.

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And that's a shame.

Why? What happened? Go no further than this headline: "Enter the Wagon: The Twenty Most Memorable Mom-Mobiles of the Past 50 Years." That's from a 2010 GQ magazine pictorial history of stylish and "fierce" five-doors, strung together to commemorate Mother's Day.

Author Dennis Tang suggested that "the wagon can be all things to all men – and women."

Ah, no. He is sadly mistaken. Once any vehicle is dubbed a mom-mobile, the kiss of death has arrived with a loud smack. Today, minivans are suffering the same mom-mobile fate as station wagons.

Okay, the Golf wagon is not entirely alone in the market. Wagons may be an endangered species, yet you can still find a Subaru Outback, Audi allroad, Toyota Prius v and Ford C-MAX hybrid.

Even Honda's Crosstour and Toyota's Venza are station wagon versions of the Accord and Camry, respectively, though Honda or Toyota types have sworn never to let the words "station wagon" slip from their lips.

Yes, the market has a handful of wagons available, but none like the diesel-powered Golf TDI with its stupendously torquey and shockingly thrifty 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel. Buy it and you're in for at least a 10-year, 350,000-kilometre run.

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Diesels like this just grumble along seemingly forever.

Quietly though, because the little oil burner at work here is not some unsophisticated tractor engine. It's modern, refined and reasonably clean, though certainly not nearly as "green" as the equally fuel efficient hybrid power trains in the C-MAX or the

Prius v.

Volkswagen soldiers on with the Golf wagon at a time when Mazda long ago cancelled the Mazda6 wagon for lack of interest. Bravo VW. Your wagon has nearly twice the cargo volume in back when the seats are up as a classic SUV such as Ford's Explorer, and the VW has 83 per cent of the Ford's maximum cargo volume, too.

Yet the Golf wagon has a much smaller footprint, which means it is far easier to park. The VW uses about half the fuel of the thriftiest Explorer, and the front-drive Golf wagon with the diesel starts at $26,375, which is thousands less than $29,999 for the least-expensive front-drive Explorer.

But the Golf is a station wagon and appears smaller, less imposing and pedestrian compared with a sexy, bruising Ford SUV. However, the Golf wagon can do just about anything a front-wheel-Explorer can do, only better – if you're one of those who think small is the new big.

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You will need to slide down into the Golf, compared with climbing up into the Explorer and its ilk. The Veedub is lower to the ground, as cars tend to be, especially when they are pleasant and responsive to drive like this Golf.

Yet the seats are among the best you can buy in any car, in terms of support and long-range comfort. Head room is fine, too, front and back.

VW presents the instruments and controls in a simple and easily understood way. The small, touch screen infotainment control panel is a model of simplicity and function and the gauges present themselves in a way that is a salute to unadorned, intelligent design.

True, VW has plenty of work yet to do on durability and reliability. The VW brand hangs out near the bottom of quality studies from J.D. Power and others. That seems inexcusable for a brand that asks for premium mainstream pricing.

So the Golf is safe, robust and refined, given it's a compact car. It's no Studebaker Wagonaire, but good nonetheless.

Tech Specs

2014 Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI Highline Wagon

Type: Compact station wagon

Price: $33,185

Gas engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel

Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/236 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.7 city/4.6 highway, using diesel fuel.

Alternatives: Toyota Prius v, Subaru Outback, Ford C-MAX

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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