I'll acknowledge it's all too easy as a "car guy" to get swept off the contact patches of your driving shoes by something potent and fast with smoking-hot looks, but sometimes you find yourself thinking, "Hey, I really like this one" about a vehicle from the opposite end of the automotive heat-range - in this case, Volkswagen's Golf Wagon 2.5 L.
Introduced for 2010 as an addition to the sixth-generation Golf lineup, and replacing the Jetta wagon in VW's overall product arsenal, the Golf Wagon may be more about sensible shoes than the stylish, thin-soled footwear you'd choose for a track day. But for what is basically a chore-performer, it's got enough power and German-style driving dynamics to make you forget there's enough room behind your shoulders to stow 1,890 litres of whatever you felt you needed a wagon for in the first place.
That's about one-third more than you can fiddle into a five-door Golf hatch, in case you were wondering. And you could also lash some more to the roof rails. It's also almost 400 litres more than can be crammed into VW's Tiguan crossover.
The penalty for that additional room is wagon styling - although in this case the 335-mm rear stretch has been gracefully executed - and another 100 kilograms of weight. Otherwise the interior is the same as other Golfs, which means efficient and functional if perhaps a little on the austere side.
The leather-wrapped wheel feels good, instruments are legible with tach and speedo separated by a trip information display, the fully adjustable front seats' bolsters work well without being too aggressive (the seat heaters are nice on a cold morning) and equipment includes electronic stability and traction control, central locking, 16-inch wheels, heated outside mirrors, outside temp display and a full suite of airbags.
The optional multimedia package adds premium audio, a touch screen, a compass and Bluetooth voice-activated communications for $1,300, and the pricey ($1,780) panoramic sunroof is more glass area than I'm comfortable with - I poked my head through one after a car I was riding in was rolled over - but it does make the whole interior brighter.
The extra weight might be the reason the performance felt a touch softer than the hatchback models, but the five-speed gearbox makes good use of the 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque that the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine produces, with that distinctive five-pot growl when your foot's well into it. I consider this character rather than a character flaw. It delivers all the acceleration you need, plus easy drivability, as long as you select the right gear. The six-speed automatic might actually improve performance a bit.
Fuel economy ratings are an okay in town at 9.9 litres/100 km and a very good on the highway at 6.1 with the manual - I averaged 6.7 litres/100 km at highway cruise - and 9.1 city/6.5 highway with the automatic. The TDI, with either transmission, is rated at 6.7 city/4.6 highway.
The firmer springs supporting the wagon's extra weight and payload capability likely contribute to handling that fans of German cars will recognize and applaud for its linear responsiveness to driver direction, flat cornering and good directional stability. And presumably they won't mind that this comes at the expense of some additional ride hardness, particularly noticeable in the rear.
VW is offering the wagon with a choice of two engines, four transmissions and in three trim levels: Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. A base Trendline with 170-hp, 2.5-litre gasoline-fuelled engine and five-speed manual lists at $22,975, with the one step up from that Comfortline this review is based on priced at $24,975. The tester, with panoramic sunroof and multimedia package, plus delivery costs, pegged the price meter at $28,620. Gas motor Golfs can also be equipped with six-speed Tiptronic automatic.
The wagon is also available with VW's 2.0-litre, 140-hp but tons-of-torque, turbo-diesel TDI engine, with either six-speed manual or six-speed Direct Shift Gearboxes. Either of these would be the wagon of choice for those who anticipate rolling up serious mileage and are willing to pay the price premium. With manual box, the TDI Wagon starts at $26,875.
Apparently I'm not the only one who's seen the virtues in the Golf Wagon, as last year it accounted for 4,887 of the 10,057 Golfs of all types sold in Canada. TDI diesel version sales of 3,365 more than doubled those of the gas engine Wagon.
2011 Volkswagen Golf Wagon 2.5 L Comfortline
Type: Compact station wagon
Price: $24,975; as tested, $28,620
Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, inline-five
Horsepower/torque: 170 hp/177 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.1 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Matrix, Chevrolet HHR, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Mazda5 and a wide range of compact crossovers
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