DRIPPING SPRINGS, Tex. -- Grand Summit Boulevard, a not-so-broad asphalt strip meandering across Texas Hill Country near the Austin suburb of Dripping Springs, serves as our impromptu track to test the handling traits and sample the turbo-charged spirit of Volkswagen's new Golf SportWagen, a 5-door and 5-seat station wagon sized for the compact class.
The zippy new SportWagen -- cast on a rigid chassis with a goosy turbo-charged 4-in-line engine (choose either a 1.8-liter TSI gasoline burner or a 2.0-liter TDI that sips "clean" diesel fuel) directing all torque to the two front wheels which also steer -- stocks all of the components to make a responsive and sporty car but also has a rear cargo bay for utility like a hulky SUV.
The front half of this vehicle resembles a sports sedan but the back half has a long roofline to house a 4-door tourer wagon's rear cargo bay.
The front-wheel-drive MQB (meaning "Modularer Querbaukasten" in German or "Modular Transverse Matrix" in English) uniform platform of Volkswagen's seventh-generation 5-door Golf hatchback supports the slick aerodynamic structure of this shapely station wagon which has four flank doors like a sedan and flexible seating in a plush cabin plus the vast aft cargo bay with access through a tail-side liftgate.
SportWagen's body measures 12.6 inches longer and more than an inch taller than the 5-door Golf hatchback although it shares the Golf 103-inch wheelbase length.
The passenger compartment contains comfy seats for five (two front buckets and a 3-place bench) as the back bay has 30.4 cubic feet of flat-floored stow space with rear seatbacks raised and 66.5 cubic feet of room with the rear seatbacks folded down.
SportWagen's strong unibody framework is impressively stiff to resist torsional twisting when set to motion and forms a bedrock foundation to carry suspension and powertrain components.
The rack and pinion steering system gets electric power assistance, while brakes consist of large discs tied to smart electronic controls. Equipment includes an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake pressure distribution and VW's electronic stability control. Optional driver assistance features include the Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, Forward Collision Warning System and front/rear Park Distance Control systems.
Golf SportWagen TSI carries VW's gasoline-powered 4-in-line turbo-charged and inter-cooled engine, which displaces 1.8 liters with dual overhead cams and direct-injection. Power numbers tally to 170 hp at 4500 rpm with torque rising to 199 lb-ft at only 1600 rpm. A 5-speed manual transmission or electronically controlled 6-speed automatic links to the TSI plant and EPA-estimated fuel economy figures climb to 25-mpg city and 36-mpg highway using the manual shifter or 25/35-mpg (city/highway) with the automatic.
Golf SportWagen TDI totes a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that burns ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel and employs a common-rail direct injection (CDI) fuel system with electronically controlled turbo-charging to enhance engine power and torque. It feels vigorous and acts quickly, drawing on the full force of the engine's production of 150 hp peaking at 3500 rpm plus 236 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm. The TDI engine offers a 6-speed manual or a twin-clutch and 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) auto shifter, and fuel economy numbers rise to 31/43 mpg (city/highway) for the manual and 31/42 mpg (city/highway) with the DSG.
Both SportWagen's TSI and TDI versions list three levels of trim: Entry-issue S, well-equipped SE and top-drawer SEL.
SportWagen base S models provide 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery with driver's seat manual lumbar adjustment, power controls for windows and door locks, air conditioning, touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity and a media device interface (MDI).
SportWagen SE adds the 6-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, front foglamps and panoramic sunroof, keyless access with push-button start, a rearview camera and Fender premium audio kit.
SportWagen SEL rolls on 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and shows chrome rails on the roof, a navigation system in the cabin, plus automatic air conditioning, sport seats with 12-way power driver's seat and ambient cabin lighting with LED reading maps.
Our MSRP estimates for Volkswagen's 2016 Golf SportWagen stretch from $21,995 to $30,995.