It baffles me that you don’t see more Golf wagons on the road.
It has the space of an SUV with the handling of a hatchback. The fuel economy of a sedan with the off-road nous of a full size 4WD. Okay, the 4WD ability wasn’t quite there, but I gave it a good crack on a few occasions.
This is a review for a car I no longer own, in that I don’t think you can buy these new anymore, so it may not be a useful review for a new car buyer, but maybe it’ll be good for a used car buyer, or for someone wanting to a have a quick laugh in between procrastinating all the important stuff at work.
I’ll start with the context. I bought this car in April of 2019, replacing a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7. The Jeep was a brilliant car, when it worked, which wasn’t quite as often as I would have liked. This unreliability is what prompted me to move on, and the Golf was up to the job.
Starting at the front, the engine. And the gearbox. And the diff. And the drive wheels. Basically everything is at the front. And it’s all pretty good. The 110 TSI engine is more powerful than 110kW should be, and the 7-Speed DSG is brilliant. You’ll read a lot of comments about the DSG, such as people not liking the way they drive, the way they pull away. If this gets published, those same comments will probably be there if you scroll down. I have no idea which DSGs the authors of these comments were driving, but it wasn’t this one.
The transmission makes it very easy to pull away, it’s very neat off the line, but a little sharp on some changes, giving what some might call a sporty feel. I call it a little sharp on some changes. This gearbox and engine are matched very well, with the seven ratios keeping the economy good on the cruise, and the engine singing when I was running late for work. Downsides of the driveline? The front tyres got a little squealy on acceleration, and as someone coming from a 260kW V8, the power was a little lacking when you got up there in speed and the gearing couldn’t work any more magic.
If we move towards the middle now, the four main seats are all exceptionally comfortable, factoring in the style of vehicle we’re looking at. It’s no Rolls Royce, but it’s definitely at the head of its class. The steering is light and easy, all the controls work well, and the seating position is spot on for the taller gent (6-foot-4 if you’re wondering).
The Apple CarPlay works well, as does the Bluetooth, most of the time. Occasionally when streaming Spotify the Bluetooth would momentarily go silent, before continuing on as if nothing had happened. This never became enough of an issue for me to chase it up with the dealer, so there may be a software update out to fix this, and it never happened when using CarPlay. The stereo was up to scratch beyond that, and to my ears, better in the wagon than the hatch equivalent.
The reversing camera would also, on occasion, simply not work. Going into reverse would just give the visual display from the parking sensors, and no “whuup” from the back of the car (that’s the best I can describe the noise of the little VW logo pivoting up to let the camera peek out from underneath it). Talking of the reversing camera, I have been waved down multiple times in car parks for people to tell me that “your boot thing is open” – this is because of the VW logo making way for the camera. These two small foibles are all that ever really bugged me, but never enough to look into them further.
Looking at the back of the car, the boot is really big. I’m not sure what else to say – it’s a wagon. They have big boots. Even the 30cm shorter Golf hatches also have deceptively large boots, so go figure. It’s a big boot. It fits many things. I tried to measure how many litres it was once, but most of the water drained out and my things got soggy.
Everything I’ve described so far are standard on the car. My version also had the Driver’s Assistance Pack, giving it Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Assistance, and something fancy with the seatbelts that I don’t really understand. These additions really move the car into a higher class, as they massively improve the drive for the morning commute. I found the Lane Keeping Assist significantly better than most of the other brand offerings, as some feel like they’re pinballing between two brick walls at the edges of the lanes. The VW system is much smoother, and seems to aim for the middle of the lane, not just bounce off the edges. Having said this, sometimes it just won’t see the white lines, and won’t activate, which is less good.
The Adaptive Cruise Control is generally good and responsive, keeping a good spacing between cars, and accelerating swiftly on the overtake. It does fall down a bit when being asked to accelerate from a standstill, as it seems hesitant to use more than a quarter throttle, and if you’re in the left lane moving faster than someone in the right lane (often the case in areas with a speed limit of 80km/h or lower), the car will slow down and not pass the other vehicle until you give it the “go on, overtake” signal, being a light tap on the throttle pedal.
On the road, the Golf Wagon handles exceptionally well, as all Volkswagens do, and is very sure-footed in almost all situations. One point where the drive falls down is the factory fitted tyres. They’re probably sufficient for most buyers, but being a fuel-economy focussed tyre, they’re a little lacking in stickiness when pushed. This is an easy fix, but not one I ever followed up. Off the road, it’s more capable than I thought a Golf Wagon would be, and fared better than an old Subaru Liberty that I put through similar paces. It’s not a 4WD though, so don’t go too crazy.
The last part of this review is something that most reviews don’t go into; crash safety. I’m not talking about theoretical safety, talking about ANCAP ratings, side airbags and AEB. I’m talking about a loud bang and a sore thumb.
In a crash, the bonnet does a wonderful job of absorbing the impact, as do the engine mounts, to save the driver’s face from becoming the crumple zone. The airbags are a little louder than one might like, but the driver’s knee airbag does exactly what it’s meant to, and the driver will walk away from a 60km/h collision with little more than a sore thumb (keep them outside the wheel) and a bruised wallet. It’s also worth noting that the AEB didn’t pick up on the impending accident until well after I had put all my weight into the brake pedal in an attempt to avoid crashing. I can’t compare this to other systems, as it’s not a pastime I make a habit of.
All in all, I would recommend the Golf Wagon to someone looking for a spacious car that handles well – in fact I did when a friend recently ran into head gasket issues on his 2008 Subaru Liberty Wagon. I would also recommend it as a car to crash, as I walked away virtually unscathed – but I’m yet to be asked for recommendations on this front.