A wagon version of a Golf R hatch sounds like something VW might create as a one-off expression. Actually, it’s here in production form.
For: Serious shove, stupendous soundtrack, enhanced practicality
Against: Spec lapses versus the hatch, loses some visual oomph.
SPORTS utilities are all the rage – but, for some performance fans, the concept of an outrageously sporty utility-minded vehicle is also intriguing.
Is the idea of combining performance and utility a compromise; is it possible to have a car that delivers ballistic speed, insane handling, comfortable seating for five or more, and plenty of cargo room?
It’s a question most car brands simply cannot be bothered answering. Fortunately, a couple – Subaru most obviously among the Japanese marques, and the VW Group within Europe’s – have determined to address, with a succession of impressive blitzen wagons. Including one out of Fuji that was called just that.
Top of the league has been Germany’s people’s brand though, in the main, it has left the task of making loutish load-alls to its four rings circus, Audi. Having found great success with an initial toe-in-the-water, the now exceedingly collectible (Porsche-engined) RS2, Audi has gone on to punch out a succession of RS4 and RS6 cars, which though also presented in sedan format were always best regarded in the hauler form.
Anyway, now VW has determined to stand front and centre with a wee wild thing of its own.
The Golf R Wolfsburg wagon is just as the label suggests; a more dog and caro-friendly version of what is currently the German maker's fastest model.
You get all the Golf R good bits – that high-performance 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, hunkered stance, stiffened suspension and four-wheel-drive – implanted into a car VW originally conceived for travelling salesmen. Cool or what?
Adding the name of VW’s home town (don’t mention the war) is an extra twist. Most markets take the Golf R in two formats; in those places the Wolfsburg is an added-feature special edition. That status probably slips by here as we see just this format, though the sight of the city’s crest on the bootlid did at least provoke an excited thumbs up from a visiting young German national.
ALL the special performance add-ons cannot disguise that the Golf wagon was shaped foremost for swallowing stuff; back in Europe, the majority of these cars become fleet hacks and are often seen nipping about loaded to the headlining with cartons and the like, so VW designs according to that requirement.
The end result isn’t patent ugliness, but the elongated and oversized wagon body means it lacks the same visual wallop as the sister hatch; in fact, whereas the Golf R hatch lends the air of something purpose-made for the job, the wagon almost appears as something that was created by an after-market specialist. That’s not to say it is confused, but in terms of presenting a strong and somewhat sinister kerbside story, it just doesn’t quite do the job. VW might like to next time take some advice from Audi, whose own crazy carriers tend to appear more like natural born killers.
The story that the Wolfsburg wagon tells becomes clearer once you consider the details. The performance enhancements are comprehensive - the Wolfsburg specification adds the DCC chassis with mode selection – but, as a premium model, it adds in stuff you would not find in the company carpark-aimed editions: Adaptive cruise control, Carbon Nappa leather upholstery (the carbon's fake, the Nappa's real), black 19-inch wheels, black mirror cappings and roof rails, adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, city emergency braking, and that ‘wolf and castle’ crest badge on the tailgate. That's on top of gear like App Connect, a touch screen interface that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink to unlock the functionality of your smartphone.
Speaking of the ‘f’ word: To promote the family lifestyle side of things, Volkswagen will of course also attempt to sell you the benefits of the wagon's luggage space - 605 litres with the seats in place and 1620 with them folded against 343/1233 for the hatch is good, but we still think boot space is far less of selling feature here than the boofhead drivetrain.
From the driving seat, you’re still addressing a familiar Golf environment. Looking forward, there’s a relatively simple dashboard that, while perhaps a bit dull-looking these days, still wins big ticks for being highly logical. High-quality, soft-touch materials are everywhere you look. The race-style seats don’t quite have the comfort of the chairs that Mr Rep will settle into for the Berlin to Munich run, but it has excellent ergonomics and a very good driving position.
Lift the bonnet and be awed: That 2.0-litre turbo four (the six-speed automated dual clutch gearbox and the 4Motion four-wheel-drive) is plucked directly from the most maniac all-paw hatch VW offers and in identical 221kW and 380Nm tune.
The performance is also pretty hot, but is it quite to the same temp as the donor car? It shouldn’t because of the wagon’s wider waistline. At 1504kg tare, it is 74 kilos heftier than the hatch version, most of it in extra metal, glass and rubber plied over the rear axle.
Factory stats reckon the Wolfsburg wagon and Golf R in direct shift gearbox spec should match in the 0-100kmh sprint, citing 5.1 seconds for each (the manual Golf R is good for 4.9s), but I cannot see it: If anything, the wagon has to be at least a couple of hundredths slower. Likewise, I’d suggest you’d not want to lay a bet on meeting the cited optimum combined economy figure of 7.0 litre per 100km. But, then, the hatch giggles at that one, too.
Being potentially pipped in the traffic light GP by the donor hatch shouldn’t overly bother the Wolfsburg wagoneers, they still get the better of the sister machine for aural excitement; simply slide behind the wheel and action the engine to discover what I mean.
All the great sounds that emit out of the hatch are further amplified in the wagon: It’s not only louder but also has a more distinct basso beat. I can only assume that this is wholly down to the extra space at the back of the car; whatever the cause, you’re just more aware of how this engine and exhaust woofles and booms. It’s loud enough to possibly annoy back seat passengers, who certainly are in the hot zone: Sitting back there you can feel the sound waves rippling up through your diaphragm. It might send Fido barking mad, too. But, from the wheel, the noise is just right for the car’s other characteristics.
The seat of the pants impression is just as good. The Golf in just about any ordinary format is an impressively-sorted car; it steers and handles very nicely and isn’t fazed by corners.
Obviously, the Wolfsburg will feels a fair bit more agile than the standard Golf wagon; what impresses is how close it comes to aping the Golf R hatch. Maybe the steering feel isn’t quite as sharp, but handling-wise the combination of lowered suspension and wider, fatter wheels has the same effect on grip and stability through bends. Being very firm means there’s not always a lot of suppleness - occasionally it will bang and crash quite brutally over rough surfaces – but you learn to admire the car’s tenacity and attacking attitude. It’s seriously weapons grade stuff.
Several aspects enhance the experience. First, there’s the beefy six-speed wet-clutch DSG gearbox, the only transmission option but, then again,. Also the only one you would want. Second, there’s the R-exclusive facility of a ‘race’ mode that sharpens up the transmission software to circuit-ready standing. It’s also the de facto setting for those quiet country roads, though you learn that it’s best to keep your fingers on the gear paddle selectors. That’s because, on occasion, the box has tendency to select a gear too high while braking into corners.
Of course, not every drive you take is going to be a hard-out attack, and that’s where those Eco, Comfort and Normal options offered by the Dynamic Chassis Control calibrations come in. While the first allows the car to lean out, it is hardly in keeping with a performance car – basically, it’s too fussy to bother with unless you’ve got a near-empty tank and are worried about making that next petrol station. Comfort is still a bit firm (as you’d expect given the treatment) and Normal sounds a bit too Clark Kent, though maybe that’s intentional, too.
So it’s a cracker; but is it a keeper?
Sadly, the biggest threat to the Golf R wagon is … erm … the Golf R hatch. Which, though less versatile, nonetheless is an even more rewarding drive. And it’s better value, too: though $5100 cheaper than the Wolfsburg, the hatch as result of a recent refresh, gains an adaptive cruise control absent from the wagon and also has a few more expensive touches, notably an improved touch screen but also push button starting. With the Wolfsburg you need to insert and turn an ignition key; this alone instantly and uncessarily dates it.
All the same, if you’re a fan for performance Vee-Dubs (and who isn’t?) on the lookout for something just that little bit different, then the Wolfsburg has a very palatable status: It’s not here in high count and it’s certainly different to otherwise purely hatch-bound norm.