Okay, let’s just be honest with ourselves and get this out of the way…when looking at cars to help us with our mid-life crisis, a station wagon isn’t going to cut the mustard. From an aesthetic perspective, wagons are rather bland and do little to make you think that you once again had a full head of hair and a waistline that didn’t need to be coddled by jeans made with a bit of give (yup, I’m talking about spandex).
While modern station wagons will never be counted amongst the sexiest cars one could ever own, that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve your attention. In fact, given their versatility and superior fuel efficiency over say a SUV or minivan, station wagons are a great choice for most families today. Such is the case with the 2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI Wagon which I recently put through its paces as part of another Enviro Dad Test Drive.
AT FIRST GLANCE
Truthfully there really isn’t a lot that distinguishes one station wagon from the next when looking at them for the first time. You won’t necessarily find one that has a more aggressive styling than the other and wagons are not where auto designers like to let out their wild side.
The Golf TDI Wagon brings simple, clean lines to its design. One easily gets the sense that this car is about function over fashion, but having said that, I wouldn’t call it unattractive by any means either.
Sitting inside for the first time one sees a relatively simple and ergonomically friendly layout. Interior room seems generally ample and seats are well-designed and comfortable. One drawback though is its lack of headroom. Taller drivers may need to contort a bit to get in and they may feel cramped. One way of perhaps compensating for this on the Highline (or top end) model, is the powerglass panoramic sunroof. It really opens up wide and offers an almost convertible-like feel to not only front row occupants but those in the 2nd row as well. It honestly is one of the better panoramic sunroofs I’ve seen and experienced.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
As with just about anything that comes out of Germany (even though it’s manufactured in Mexico), the Golf Wagon drives well. The handling and suspension of this car is so far removed from the Country Squire wagons of my youth, it’s almost an insult to compare the two. There is no feeling of heaviness that you sometimes get with bigger SUV’s or minivans and often I forgot that I wasn’t just driving a regular car.
The Golf TDI (or Turbocharged Direct Injection) Wagon is equipped with one of Volkswagen’s renowned diesel engines. This one is a 2.0L 4 cylinder that provides 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. The Highline model I tested also came with a 6-speed automatic Direct Shift Gearbox with Tiptronic® and Sport mode. Where the combination of the two surprised and disappointed me a bit was how there was a noticeable delay whenever I needed to hit the pedal aggressively. It almost resembles the feeling of not fully engaging a clutch on a manual and it caused me to adjust how I’d drive when trying to enter the flow of traffic from a dead stop.
Like all diesels, this one tended to be a bit noisier than standard engines, however after warming up, I really had a hard time noticing that I was in a diesel at all.
THE GREEN FACTOR
The best part about a diesel engine is just how good they are with respect to fuel consumption, and the Golf TDI Wagon is no different. According to Transport Canada estimates, the Golf TDI Wagon will get you 7.0 L/100km (City) and 4.9 L/100km (Hwy). Reality is always about 10 – 15% higher but still pretty darn good for a family vehicle. While these ratings fall below the Toyota Prius V, its better than say a Mazda CX-5 or a Honda CR-V.
Annual fuel costs (based upon $1.05 per litre) would be $1380.00 and total carbon emissions are estimated at 3240kg.
The knock in the past with diesel fuel has been that it’s dirty, but with new ultra low sulpher diesel fuels being the standard and diesel engines that are far more efficient than they used to be, the old criticisms simply don’t hold true anymore. I’ve personally seen demonstrations of new diesel engines where a cheese cloth is placed around the exhaust pipe and after running the engine for a few minutes, the cloth still comes out clean.
THE FAMILY FACTOR
Station Wagons are designed for families, so it’s no surprise that the Golf TDI Wagon sets itself up as a great family car. With 32.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity and 66.9 cubic feet with the 2nd row put down, there is more than enough space for most families. I was easily able to fit six grocery bins into the back without dropping the second row and it would be easy to fit a couple hockey bags or a few sets of golf clubs in there as well.
I say it’s a good fit for “most” families simply because of the fact that it seats 5 and not 7 or 8 like it’s larger minivan or SUV competitors do. As a father of 4, 3 rows for me is an absolute must, so while I like the Golf TDI wagon, it regrettably wouldn’t meet the needs of my large family.
FOR THE TECHIES
Consistent with my earlier analogy that the Golf TDI Wagon is more about function versus fashion, there isn’t a tonne of stuff for techies to go ga-ga about.
The Highline version comes with an upgraded 8 speaker sound system and Sirrius satellite radio, as well as GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and a digital compass. These are all nice but have become more the rule than the exception in automobiles today.
While station wagons are becoming harder to find in automakers new car offerings, those that still exist offer plenty of pragmatic sensibility for most families of today. As a family car they compare favourably against SUV’s or minivans for those who prefer less bulk and better fuel economy.
The 2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI Wagon is a well-balanced, fuel efficient and pragmatic choice for families who need function over fashion. The Golf TDI Wagon is sensible and sophisticated in its own unique way and demonstrates quite well how station wagons still have a right to sit alongside other options as a viable vehicle of choice for most families of today.
BY THE NUMBERS (Out of 10)
LOOK/DESIGN - 7.0
DRIVE - 7.5
THE GREEN FACTOR - 9.0
THE FAMILY FACTOR – 8.5
TECHIE STUFF - 7.0
VALUE - 8.0
(MSRP as Tested $35,250)
OVERALL SCORE - 8.0