What the experts say about the 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

In this ongoing series, Boston.com talks with automotive authorities about why you should consider driving — or avoiding — a specific model.

2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

Station wagons may be a dying breed, but some manufacturers are still building attractive alternatives to those omnipresent subcompact SUVs. The 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen retains the dynamic handling of the Golf compact car it’s based upon while upping the cargo space and interior comfort.  

The five-passenger Volkswagen Golf SportWagen, which replaced the wagon version of the automaker’s Jetta nameplate a couple years ago, is the affordable companion to the more rugged Golf Alltrack wagon, a new model for 2017. Both wagons run on a 170-horsepower, turbocharged, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces the same agility and acceleration that longtime loyalists appreciate in the smaller Golf. The SportWagen comes in three trims: S, SE, and SEL. Arguably the most reasonably priced model in the segment, the S trim gets a five-speed manual transmission; the SE and SEL come with a six-speed automatic. All models can be outfitted with all-wheel drive.

The SportWagen earns high marks for its upscale, roomy interior and comfortable, supportive seats with side bolstering and ample head- and legroom. Bluetooth, satellite radio, and a 6.5-inch touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. The SE trim adds leatherette upholstery, push-button start, and a panoramic sunroof. The top-of-the-line SEL comes with a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat, interior ambient lighting, and touchscreen navigation. With its rear seats folded down, the SportWagen’s 66.5-cubic-foot cargo hold rivals some compact SUVs’ and measures significantly larger than the Golf’s.  

The 2017 model received a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and aced crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A rearview mirror is standard. The SE trim’s optional driver assistance package comes with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert. The SEL comes standard with those features and adds options for park assist and lane departure warning.

The wagon’s base model delivers class-leading fuel economy at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. Those figures fall slightly for models equipped with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

The 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen starts at $21,580, about $5,000 less than the Alltrack. The SportWagen’s SE and SEL trims begin at $27,030 and $29,970, respectively.

What the experts are saying

Affordable utility

“The SportWagen takes all the traits we like in the VW Golf — fun driving dynamics, hatchback utility, and handsome yet understated design — and enlarges them. This is most notable and most literal in terms of cargo space. Thanks to its longer length, the Golf SportWagen has the roominess of a small SUV. Bolstering this wagon’s resume is available all-wheel drive, which makes it an alternative to the Subaru Impreza hatchback, and a more dynamic one at that. The SportWagen is the base for the ruggedized, higher-riding VW Golf Alltrack, but the SportWagen’s low-$20,000 starting price is several thousand dollars cheaper.” – Matt Degen, senior associate editor at KBB.com

Good safety ratings

“The 2017 SportWagen earns our Top Safety Pick award for good performance in crash tests across the board, and an advance rating for its optional front crash prevention system. Front crash prevention systems are usually optional at this stage, but they’re worth the money to buy as an extra because they’re proven to significantly reduce crashes as well as injuries. On the SportWagen, the optional Driver Assistance Package includes a forward collision warning system that can alert a driver of an imminent collision, and an automatic emergency braking (AEB) feature that kicks in if the driver doesn’t react fast enough. Systems with AEB are shown to reduce front-into-rear crashes by 50 percent and significantly reduce injuries. It’s good to be protected if a crash happens. It’s even better if the crash doesn’t happen at all. Unfortunately, the SportWagen’s headlights are rated poor so this car doesn’t qualify for our top honor of Top Safety Pick+. If you do a lot of driving at night, you may want to consider another vehicle.” – Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway

Why a wagon

“SUVs have been taking over the new vehicle market, but some people still prefer their practicality and utility in a low-slung car. There are those who still prefer the road hugging feel that only a passenger car, as opposed to a high riding SUV, can provide. For them, Volkswagen is happy to sell them a Golf SportWagen, a wonderful vehicle that combines small SUV-like practicality with a premium German car drive experience. The Golf SportWagen feels expensive beyond its MSRP. It is hushed and quiet, and the structure feels rock solid. It smothers bumps in the road with a muted confidence that contributes to its premium feel. The interior materials feel similarly upscale. And it handles twisty pavement in a manner that no small SUV can hope to match thanks to its low center of gravity and meticulously tuned suspension and steering. Wagons may represent a niche segment in today’s SUV-mad market, but for driving enthusiasts who need SUV-like practicality, the Golf SportWagen is truly a godsend.” – Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at marketing research and consulting firm AutoPacific