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2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen front threee quarter in motion 14

The Volkswagen SportWagen managed to carve out some time in its schedule (of daily driving me to work) for a visit to our test track in Fontana, California. The red five-door used its five-speed manual to accelerate to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, putting it on par with the likes of the Lexus LX570 and Acura’s TLX sedan. Recorded time through our figure-eight test was 27.3 seconds with an average of 0.63 g. This puts it right at about the same handling capabilities as a Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0t and a Land Rover Discovery Sport. Official curb weight on this VW is 3,040 pounds, which is right on top of a Honda HR-V and a Porsche Cayman GT4.

A big upside of rubber floormats is being able to hose them off for cleaning.

 2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen S TSI 18T surfboard

Out of curiosity, I asked our test team what the last five-speed manual they’d accelerated at the test track was. They paused to give it some thought. “A Subaru Crosstrek and a Fiat 500. … Beyond that, none that we can recall in recent memory.” Indeed, the five-speed manual is one of this car’s unique (cost-cutting) features, albeit one that’s hard to imagine VW will continue to offer for much longer. The gearbox, cloth seats, manually adjusting seat bottoms, and traditional turn-key ignition (non-push-button start) are constant reminders that, as equipped, this TSI isn’t laden with VW’s newest tech; the price one pays for an affordable MSRP.

Less then stellar test numbers aside, the SportWagen provides a measurable dose of seat-of-the-pants fun, and the second and third gear ratios deliver the needed juice to dart and dash through the lanes of city traffic.

2016 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen wheels

The wagon has now arrived at base camp, and my year-long evaluation of the German-designed wagon formerly known as a Jetta has begun. Yes, beginning with MY 2015, Volkswagen moved its wagon to the Golf platform and grouped the vehicle with the same Golf family that includes two- and four-door hatchbacks and a variety of engines. Yet the SportWagen is decidedly different from the other Golfs in that it can carry a bunch more stuff and thus is an honest alternative to crossovers such as the CR-V or RAV4.

Hard to ignore that the manual has only five speeds, and yet the ratios are all a good match for the 1.8T’s powerband.

This base model is known as a 1.8T S and comes equipped with the cloth seats; the front ones are heated and power-adjusted on the incline, but they’re manually adjusted fore and aft on the seat bottom. Also standard is a touchscreen infotainment system that features Bluetooth and USB-in. Shifting the car into reverse activates a rear camera that is hidden behind VW’s shiny badge on the rear hatch. Equipping the car with a manual transmission cuts $1,100 off the MSRP.