Volkswagen has had a tough year, and people are still turning in their diesels for a refund this spring. But take a step back, and Germany's largest automaker still has a great deal to offer on vehicles that are very well suited to Portland needs.
Topping the list is the 2017 Golf Sportwagen. In past years, this vehicle was part of the Jetta family, and it hasn't really changed except for the name. You're still getting a vehicle with all the utility of an SUV, but with the fuel economy and handling of a passenger car.
The Sportwagen is powered by VW's long-proven 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline engine. VW has been building this engine for decades, and it's a solid performer with 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That's plenty of power to make the compact Sportwagen delightfully quick, and yet not high enough to make engine longevity an issue.
A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, with a 6-speed Tiptronic automatic as an option. You can get the most basic Sportwagen with front-wheel-drive, but for Portland weather, you'll really want the available 4Motion all-wheel-drive. Like all such systems, the AWD is disconnected until it's needed but available in a fraction of a second when your car encounters deep water, snow, or even just wet leaves.
With the 4Motion AWD system, the Sportwagen is still good for 22 MPG in city driving, and 32 MPG on the highway. That's down 3 MPG from the FWD version, but you'll be glad of the AWD next winter.
On the road, the Sportwagen delivers on its promise. It's quick, easy to steer and park, and generally fun to drive. In our recent heavy rains, the Sportwagen offered sure-footed driving. You can transport four adults in plenty of comfort, or drop the rear seats for a trip to the home supply store.
VW includes all the standard safety gear you expect from a 2017 model year vehicle, including a rear-view backup camera. You also get standard post-collision braking, which activates the brakes to help reduce the chance of secondary collisions. The 2017 VW Golf Sportwagen received a 5-star NHTSA crash rating, and is a top safety pick from IIHS.
Inside, the Sportwagen is functional, but not cheap. If you buy the higher trim levels, you can get a little more luxury, but the real appeal of the Golf Sportwagen is its affordability. The most basic S trim with FWD starts at $22,400, and upgrading to the AWD brings the price to $24,650. It's easy to spend more than that without getting the same features. If you're thinking about an SUV this year, it's worth test-driving the Golf Sportwagen before you make your decision.
2017 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen
Base price: $22,400
Price as tested: $25,750
Type: Compact four-door hatchback
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder (170 hp, 184 lbs-ft)
Transmissions: 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 22/32
Overall length: 179.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,120 pounds
Final assembly: Puebla, Mexico