Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen SEL

Volkswagen has been the king of fun-to-drive, practical, and well-equipped wagons through the years, and the 2018 Golf SportWagen continues that tradition. SportWagen is a top choice for those who want the space and utility of an SUV, but the nimbleness of a Golf.

The Golf SportWagen was refreshed for this model year, with our SEL tester receiving new LED daytime running lights and taillights. An updated front grille, with upper chrome and lower chrome freshen the SportWagen’s look. It’s hard not to love the wagon silhouette and new 17-inch “Karlskoga” aluminum-alloy wheels.

Under the hood, VW’s tried and true 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder engine mates to a 6-speed automatic and produces 170 hp. The engine always feels peppy, even in the larger wagon application, and sounds refined as it churns out power. The EPA rates this engine at 24 mpg city, 33 highway, and we averaged 30 mpg across a week of mixed driving. Very impressive for a vehicle of this size and versatility.

The MQB architecture lends itself to excellent handling and a great ride. This is VW’s best riding and handling wagon ever!

Working in tandem with the excellent chassis are some electronic wizards, specifically the XDS Cross Differential System—a feature previously only seen on the performance-oriented GTI model. The technology acts somewhat like an electronic substitute for a traditional mechanical limited-slip differential, working by actively monitoring data from each wheel sensor. If the suspension becomes unloaded, the system can automatically apply braking to the driven inside wheel as needed to help reduce understeer.

Inside, the upscale environment of the SportWagen cabin is largely shared with the Golf model, with increased interior space due to the wagon body style. Passengers are treated to 94.3 cubic ft of area volume. Rear-seat legroom is 35.6 inches.

The SportWagen has a spacious cargo hold that’s in line with those of compact SUVs. With the rear seats up, the SportWagen boasts 30.4 cubic ft of space; when the 60:40 split rear seat is folded, that rises to an enormous 66.5 cubic ft of storage. The  folding rear seats are accessed by release levers in the cargo area, maximizing convenience.

Driver controls are positioned for optimal ergonomics. The seat position, height of the shifter and the spacing between the pedals are fine-tuned for increased driver comfort, valuable cabin characteristics that VW pays attention to. The center stack is angled towards the driver, and white backlighting for the controls further highlights the upscale ambience.

Premium materials  are used throughout, such as the leather-wrapped handbrake, shifter knob and steering wheel, soft-touch plastics, and piano-black trim. At night, ambient lighting with LED interior reading lights really dresses up the interior.

All SEL models also come with the Fender Premium Audio System, one of our absolute favorite audio systems available today. Interacting with infotainment via CarPlay or VW’s interface, is easy, thanks to an intuitive interface on the glass-covered 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen display. The navigation map is stunningly clear and high-def.

Standard on the SEL are driver assistance features like Forward Collision Warning,  Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring, and Adaptive Cruise Control. We were surprised by the lack of lane monitoring and automatic highbeams, but did find that the adaptive cruise worked very well on the highway with a large number of following distance settings.

And we can’t forget that for 2018, VW is offering their People First Warranty, a six-year or 72,000-mile, whichever occurs first,  bumper-to-bumper New Vehicle Limited Warranty, which can be transferred to subsequent owners throughout its duration.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling 10
Braking 10
Powertrain and Fuel Economy 10
Noise 10
Headlights 9
Interior Fit and Finish 10
Seating 10
Visibility 10
Gauges and Controls 10
Infotainment 10
Crash-Avoidance 10
Total Score  99


Make: Volkswagen
Model: Golf SportWagen
Trim Level: SEL
Engine: 1.8L
Transmission: 6-Speed Auto
Options: None

Base Price: $30,245
As-Tested Price: $31,095

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