VW Golf 7 Wagon road test: Rekindle love for the load-lugger
YOU have a family, you lead an active lifestyle requiring cargo area and you're in Australia. Therefore you buy a small SUV.
That's the rule, or so it seems, such is our nation's near-obsessive love affair with the SUV.
Yet buyers who blinker themselves from wagons - for so long the staple of Australian family transport - are missing out on some big-bummed gems, with the new Volkswagen Golf 7 Wagon chief among them.
The hatchback version of the Golf 7 has helped VW's trophy cabinet overflow with global Car of the Year awards since its 2013 launch, meaning this wagon variant is blessed with winning DNA.
It is built on the VW's shared MQB platform, giving it the same underside as the Golf hatch, Skoda Octavia and Audi A3. Impressive company to say the least, but the wagon presents a compelling case against each of these and a glut of compact SUV alternatives.
The German-built Golf Mk7 Wagon costs $1550 more than the equivalent hatch, but you get dramatically increased luggage space, combined with the same superb driving dynamics that belies a lengthier rear.
For those of us old enough to remember the Mk1 Golf, it's hard to believe the seventh Golf in the bloodline can feel so large inside.
The Golf 7 Wagon is near medium-sized in terms of cabin roominess, with four large adults easily catered for or a family of five swallowed in a way to rival all small SUVs. Leg, knee and head room are excellent for all but the truly lofty.
The dashboard is a combination of slight blandness tempered with an efficient and premium-looking layout, all neatly wrapped in an abundance of soft-touch plastics.
A wide centre console with infotainment touch-screen fits in to the reassuringly familiar Golf style dash, while storage compartments are generous thanks to a space-saving electronic parking brake button.
On the road
If you've forgotten why low-slung cars are better to drive than top-heavy SUVs, pilot the Golf 7 Wagon.
Featuring all-independent suspension, its road-holding and balance are quite superb - certainly a match for its hatchback equivalent - and more fun to drive than a family wagon has a right to be. Crucially, the extra weight and 31cm length sticking out the back make no discernable difference to its on-road manners.
We tested all of the wagon's three engines choices at its South Australian launch: two four-cylinder turbo petrols with 90kW or 103kW; plus a 110kW 2.0-litre turbo diesel.
The entry-level 90TSI has enough shove to question the need for the slightly punchier 103TSI, but both are brilliant powerplants.
The diesel's low-range torque is a boon, but the petrol engines are frugal enough to present a strong case for sticking with one of them. Plus, so enjoyable is the Golf 7 Wagon to steer, playing in the high rev range is almost inevitable, and up here petrols are king.
Sadly there's no manual option to aid play time, but the dual-clutch autos (seven-speed for the petrols and six-speed for the diesel) go about their jobs seamlessly in just about every scenario.
Ride quality through town and on highways is once more hard to fault - more than a match for medium-sized cars and above - with only the 17-inch wheels offered on Highline models adding a tad more noise and bump through the cabin.
What do you get?
The entry-level 90TSI, starting at $25,540, comes with cruise control, leather steering wheel, Bluetooth, air-con with rear vents, electronic park brake and touch-screen infotainment.
Move up to the 90TSI Comfortline - costing $29,290 - and you'll also find a reversing camera and parking sensors front and rear, dual-zone climate control, 16-inch wheels, fancier seats, chrome roof rails, rear central arm rest and a load-through hatch.
The flagships are the Highline models - the 103TSI petrol costing $33,840 and the 110TDI diesel $36,340. Expect 17-inch wheels, alcantara trim, sat nav, ambient lighting and fog lights, amongst others at this premium end.
As standard across the range are a host of safety features, including seven airbags, smart front diff-lock that was once only the reserve of the hot Golf GTi, a fatigue detection system and a multi-collision braking system to avoid secondary collisions.
For those with more to spend, a driver assistance package ($1300) is on offer to Comfortline and Highline buyers, while Highliners can also choose a panoramic electric glass sunroof ($1850), Vienna leather upholstery ($2950) and Bi-Xenon headlights ($2150).
Here's where the wagon really struts its stuff. With 605-litres of cargo space it dwarfs the Golf 7 hatch's 380-litres, and with seats folded - easily done thanks to a clever release handle in the boot - it boasts 1620-litres against the hatch's 1270-litres.
That's more - incredibly - than its larger Skoda Octavia wagon rival, and a match for most small SUVs.
Resale values of Golfs are rock solid, and the seventh-gen wagon will prove no different.
Whatever engine you choose, the return is 5.3-litres/100km or under, and VW's recently-introduced capped price servicing keeps it on par with most rivals.
VW would be mad to play anything other than safe when it comes to the Golf family, so understandably its exterior and cabin styles aren't design museum stuff.
The wagon features clean lines and is attractive however, and owners will doubtless not care if it doesn't turn heads - they'll be too busy enjoying the brilliant drive.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
What we liked: Assured handling that matches the Golf hatchback's superb abilities, quality interior, release handles in the boot to lower rear seats, large load space, capped price servicing.
What we'd like to see: A manual gearbox option, braver exterior and cabin design.
Warranty and servicing: Volkswagen offers a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty with three years roadside assist and a six year/90,000km fixed price servicing plan. Servicing intervals are every year or 15,000km, average price is $469 for petrol engines and $476 for the diesel.
Model: Volkswagen Golf 7 Wagon.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive wagon.
Engines: 1.4-litre inline four-cylinder turbo petrol (90TSI) generating maximum power of 90kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm @ 1400rpm; 1.4-litre inline four-cylinder turbo petrol (103TSI) 103kW @ 4500rpm and 250Nm @ 1500rpm; 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder turbo diesel (110TDI), 110kW @ 3500rpm, 320Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG automatic (petrol models), six-speed DSG auto (diesel model).
Consumption: 5.3 litres/100km (90TSI); 5.2 litres/100km (103TSI); 4.7 litres/100km (110TDI).
Bottom line (plus on-roads): 90TSI $25,540, 90TSI Comfortline $29,290, 103TSI Highline $33,840, 110TDI $36,340 (all prices before on-roads).