Though station wagons are rapidly being replaced by crossovers and SUVs, there’s still one compact wagon on the market that offers almost as much passenger and cargo room as a compact SUV, above-average ride and handling and a very affordable price starting under $23,000: the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon.

Redesigned last year, the Golf Sportwagon is built on the same global MQB platform as the Golf hatchback, the upcoming VW Tiguan, and the Audi A3. All Sportwagons are powered by VW’s torquey 170 hp, 1.8L, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and offer a fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and standard 16-, 17- and 18-inch all-season tires mounted on alloy wheels, depending on the trim level.

Front-wheel drive is standard for 2016 but the soon-to-arrive 2017 Golf Sportwagon will offer 4Motion all-wheel drive as a stand-alone option on all trim levels while the new Golf Sportwagon Alltrack will have standard all-wheel drive, a higher ground clearance and an off-road mode with hill-descent control. The latter will most likely be priced at the top of the Golf Sportwagon price ladder.

Unfortunately for diesel lovers, the diesel-powered Golf Sportwagon TDI has been suspended from the Volkswagen lineup until the EPA emissions investigation is settled.

Flexible cargo area

With more cargo space than a Golf hatchback, the Golf Sportwagon is a better fit for active families with more gear to haul. Compared to the hatchback, the Golf Sportwagon is 38 mm taller and 295 mm longer with most of that behind the rear wheels. While the Golf hatchback has 490 L of cargo space behind the rear seats, the Golf Sportwagon has 860 L and a total of 1,880 L with both rear seatbacks folded down. The trunk floor measures 102 cm from the liftgate to the rear seatbacks and 183 cm to the front seatbacks when the rear seatbacks are folded down. I was able to fit two folding bikes in the cargo area behind the rear seats with the liftgate closed; with the back seats folded down, two full-size bikes could fit inside easily. Levers on the trunk sides make it easy to fold the seats down from the rear.

The split rear seatbacks also have a separate centre pass-through for skis, poles and other long items and a ski bag is available as a VW accessory. To keep the trunk’s contents out of sight, a sliding privacy cover extends from the rear seats to the rear window, and has two positions. The privacy cover can be removed entirely to increase vertical cargo space for larger items like furniture and recreational equipment – the only problem is: where do you put it while it’s not in use? It seemed too wide to fit under the cargo floor, but a query to VW Canada confirmed that it can be stored under the rear cargo floor by removing the two vertical panels near the liftgate and laying the privacy cover down into the slots on either side.

Accessing the cargo area is easy: the big VW badge on the liftgate serves as a handle which opens to reveal a large opening with a low lift-over height for easy loading. One suggestion: I would recommend buying the optional bumper protector to protect the paint surface from scuffs and damage.

The Sportwagon’s cargo area and rear seatbacks are fully lined and there are two open storage bins behind the rear wheelwells for loose items like bottles and jugs that you don’t want rolling around the trunk. The cargo area also includes a 115-volt outlet and a 12-volt outlet, two flip-out grocery bag hooks, and four tie-down hooks on the floor.

Off-Road Warrior? 2016 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack First Drive

The Sportwagon’s clever, removable cargo floor folds in the middle allowing it to be used as a divider between the front and rear. It can also be removed entirely, revealing a temporary spare tire and a shallow body-width storage area just behind the rear seats.

The Golf Sportwagon also includes standard roof rails that can support bike carriers and ski racks, and roof storage units (also available as VW accessories).

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