SPORTS Utility Vehicles may have relegated the wagon to the fringes yet they still have a certain appeal and the Golf wagon, which builds on the success enjoyed by the seventh-edition hatchback, does more than enough to pique the interest.
Built on the same platform as the hatch, this VW Golf Wagon is longer, bigger, better and more efficient than its predecessor.
Packed with cutting-edge technology and good inclusions, it is offered with either a 90kW or 103kW 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine or in a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel.
Volkswagen has kept faith in the tried and tested with the interior design of the wagon a carbon copy of the hatch, in fact quite similar too to most offerings in this stable.
That is a positive in terms of fit and finish but offers little out of the ordinary for those wanting anything apart from middle of the line.
Blacks and greys abound with a few chrome highlights dotted around for effect and there is little to fault when it comes to the practicality of the cabin layout and the placement of switchgear.
It is easy enough to find a comfortable driving position and all-round visibility is good even when you are turning right.
The three-spoke steering wheel with finger-tip controls feels nice and comfortable in the hand, the instruments are clear and informative and the storage cubby-holes decent in number and size.
Seats are comfortable, not enough to sink luxuriously into, but enough to provide the support needed on extended trips.
Legroom is generous for rear seat passengers with headroom improved by a flatter roofline, with rear air vents and cup holders also adding to their comfort.
At 605 litres the boot is 100L better than its predecessor and much larger than the space offered by some compact SUVs, growing to 1620L when the 60:40 split seats are folded flat.
On the road
Our test car, the 103TSI, offered up a performance far greater than you would expect from a 1.4-litre engine, a testament then to the amazing things Volkswagen has managed to accomplish with forced induction. There is plenty of power when you need it, paired nicely with ride comfort and excellent fuel efficiency.
The steering is light and pretty direct but feedback is limited. This Golf wagon shows both a sureness and fleetness of foot, is capable in the wet and confident around corners. The latter is thanks in part to the XDL+ system which brakes the wheels on the inside of the corner to help reduce understeer and is great if you pommel into a turn too quickly.
The wagon can be a little annoying in heavy stop-start traffic as the DSG can be slow to respond and it still holds a gear too long down steeper hills but all-in-all it delivers the top-tier effort we have come to expect from this brand.
The Golf wagon is not short on inclusions with the Highline spec boasting such niceties as phone and audio Bluetooth connectivity with USB interface, dual-zone climate control, reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, chilled glove box, 14.7cm colour touch-screen, sat nav, LED interior ambient lights, front fog lights, leather trim, bi-xenon headlights and panoramic sunroof.
Safety inclusions feature seven airbags, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and EBD and hill-start assist as well as fatigue warning and multi-collision braking.
An additional safety pack ($1300) includes adaptive cruise control, auto braking with city emergency brake, automatic park assist, driving profile selection and proactive occupant protection.
The performance of engines like those in this Golf wagon is making it harder for diesels to make a strong case for economy.
We got 6.1 litres/100km (official figures are at 5.2L/100km) during our week which included a mix of distances and terrains.
Volkswagen offers a three year unlimited kilometre warranty with three year's roadside assist.
The wagon market is certainly not bursting at the seams but there are a few good ones around. The biggest challenge will come from the Renault Megane wagon (from $26,990), Holden Cruze Sportwagon, (from $26,190), Hyundai i30 Tourer (from $25,190) and Skoda Octavia wagon (from $33,540).
This wagon offers a practical alternative for those drivers who need space but don't want to go the SUV route.
It handles well, is responsive and is comfortable for all occupants too. There are plenty of storage options including two big boxes under the front seats which are great in keeping valuables hidden.
One of our biggest bugbears though was the quality of the touch-screen and sat nav.
The graphics are below par and the screen itself feels quite cheap. Even after adjusting the contrast settings for the reverse camera it was still difficult to see.
This Golf wagon seems a bit edgier than the last edition with chrome highlights on the exterior adding some interest. It is neat and without fuss with defined lines and simple but effective lights both front and rear.
It is a pity that so few wagons are sold in Australia because they would make a comfortable practical edition to most family garages. If all things were equal, the improvements made to this Golf wagon along with its performance, equipment levels, fuel economy and finish should raise the interest of buyers looking for a medium SUV.
What matters most
What we liked: Spacious interior, great inclusions, good fuel economy.
What we'd like to see: Better touch-screen, brighter interior.
Warranty and servicing: Three year unlimited kilometre warranty and three year's roadside assist. Volkswagen is currently updating its capped price servicing, but expect to pay an average of $470 over six years with servicing intervals every year or 15,000km.
Verdict: 3.5 stars
Model: Volkswagen Golf Wagon 103TSI.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small wagon.
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power of 103kW@4500-6000rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG automatic.
Consumption: 5.2 litres/100km
Bottom line plus on-roads: $34,340.
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