Right now (Spring/2012), you can pick up a new Jetta sedan for less than $16,000 before extras. That's a pretty good deal and VW is selling them by the trainload.
Unfortunately, VW's pricing strategy does not extend to the Golf wagon, which is essentially a Jetta with more storage room. The base Golf wagon – a Trendline with a five-cylinder engine – starts at $23,000, give or take, which is still reasonable but not as attractive its sedan counterpart.
Available with two engine choices.the aforementioned five-banger or a 2.0 turbo-diesel.the Golf wagon is still a nice package. For one thing, it could be one of the nicest looking wagons on the market these days..certainly in this price bracket, and reveals abominations like the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube for the harpies that they are. Different models, you may argue, but if I'm in the market for a handy city carry-all under $25,000, I'd include these three on my list, as well as the Chevy Orlando and Mazda5. This is kind of an odd corner of the market, and buyers really don't have a lot to choose from when it comes to compact station wagons. Compact SUVs tend to rule the roost here.
Anyway, a few particulars. The Golf wagon has some 1897 litres of rear cargo area with the back seats folded down. By way of comparison, the Kia Soul has just over 1500 litres, while the Chev Orlando has about 1600 litres. So, on paper, at least, the Golf wagon takes it for carrying stuff. Not a lot of headroom back there, but you can stash lumber, golf clubs, dogs, and most small cargo in the back. Fold the seats back up again, and you can get three adults in the back, although the guy in the middle won't be particularly comfortable.
But what sets the Golf wagon and most VWs, for that matter apart is its sheer driveability. This is a fine automobile to drive, with way above average road manners, outstanding braking, and acceptable, if not scintillating performance. Although it's manufactured in Mexico (alongside the Jetta sedan), the Golf Wagon has a definite European-ness about it and will run rings around most other similarly-priced offerings.
That said, my tester, which was powered by VW's TDI turbo-diesel, wasn't exactly a pavement-scalder. It was matched to a six-speed Tiptronic automatic ($1400), which slowed things down even more and, were I in the market for this vehicle, I'd probably stick with the regular gas engine. At the very least, I'd look long and hard at the manual gearbox. Yes, the TDI delivers top-of-the-heap fuel economy, but with a price tag at least $3000 higher than the five cylinder – for the base version – you'd have to rack up a lot of kilometers to even things out. That said, the TDI is quieter and smoother in operation and is completely hassle-free.even during winter cold starts.
My tester was also the Highline model, which, at about $31,500 to start, is the most expensive of the lot and comes with extras such as 17-inch wheels and tires, Bluetooth, leather seats, power sunroof, and Sirius satellite radio. Aside from the leather and Sirius, I can manage without most of these goodies. You could also make the argument that the majority of people who are interested in a turbo-diesel station wagon won't give a fig about fancy extras and are buying it for reasons of thrift. For these folks, the Comfortline TDI starts at about $27,000 for the manual transmission version.
Standard equipment on both includes cruise control, power one-touch windows, tilt/telescoping steering and heated front seats. This latter feature is a three-setting arrangement, and works like a treat. Safety equipment level is also high, including the usual roster of front, side, and side curtain airbags, as well as a vehicle stability system, locking differential, and disc brakes all round, with both hydraulic and electronic braking assist. For the money, you simply won't find a more sophisticated and better engineered station wagon.
A few gripes, however. First and foremost, and I complain about this with just about VW I drive: the self-locking mechanism. If you are considering purchasing this vehicle, have VW disable this stupid feature before you take it off the lot. You'll be glad you did. Secondly, because of its design, driver headroom is at a bit of a premium. Getting into the car involves scrunching down nice and low and then kind of easing your backside in. Taller drivers may find it really cramped, although you can adjust (at the expense of rear passenger legroom) the front seats back to compensate.
Nonetheless, the Golf wagon has a lot going for it. It has a higher upscale ambience than anything else in this price range and punches above its weight when it comes to driveability and handling.
AT A GLANCE
Type: Compact station wagon
Base Price: $27,015; as tested: $32,895
Engine: 2.0 litre four cylinder turbo-diesel
Horsepower: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 ft. lb @ 1750 – 2500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 7.0 city/4.9 highway
Alternatives: Chev Orlando, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Mazda5, Mini Cooper Countryman, Kia Rondo, Hyundai Elantra Touring.