Hip to be square is back. Cliff Leppke – CleanMPG – Jan. 6, 2015 2015 VW Golf SportWagen - $21,625 to start while offering a 25/36 mpgUS city/highway rating. For 2015, VW’s stateside SportWagen (Variant overseas) dons the Golf moniker rather than the Jetta’s. The seemingly muddled name game signifies change: VW’s new wagon embraces the seventh-generation Golf’s MQB toolkit. Last year’s Jetta SportWagen, while wearing the sixth-generation Golf’s face, actually rode (nicely I might add) on the fifth-generation’s nearly decade-old underpinnings. Currently, the popular diesel version has been grounded. From top to bottom, VW’s new Squareback is chock full of surprises. It’s nicely finished, easy at the pump, handier to load and even nicer to drive. Under the hood: your pick of two inline four-cylinder, direct-injection, turbocharged engines--either a 150-hp 2.0-liter TDI (diesel) or a 170-hp 1.8-liter TSI (gas). Go TSI and then you can route those ponies through either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Diesel mills attach to either a six-speed manual or a twin-clutch automated manual six-speed gearbox (DSG). VW doesn’t recommend the latter for towing—just so you know. My Tornado Red wagon tester with clutch pedal and a five-speed tranny represents a high-value proposition; it lists for $22,215 (including destination). That’s an attractive price for this thoughtfully trimmed package. You can spend another $10,000 if you want, but the base model offers a lot. First, the cabin is top tier including a chilled glove box, adjustable front center armrest and rear face vents. Second, depending on how you configure the rear floor (more later), you gain at least another four inches of stacking height. The tapered rear limits what you can fit into the 27-inch by 40-inch aperture, but the D pillars also house airbags and then there’s a handy overhead cargo light. Wagon lovers rejoice; it has many cubbies, a front seat bin, an origami cargo floor, nest-below-the-floor retractable stowage cover and a roof rack too. The rear floor rests on a removable plastic frame. You can even pull the below-the-floor spare tire and install a cargo bin there too. The portfolio-like floor folds in three sections from upright producing a grocery holding box to Nebraska flat. All three pieces nest at the bay’s front or you can remove them to fully access the carpeted under-floor space. With the frame in place, that floor is roughly the same height as rear bumper and the lowered split-type seat backs with pass through. Without the frame, you gain about three-to-four inches of vertical space. There are four rear seat release points: one at each seat and another set in the cargo bay. Use the latter and the corresponding seatback flips itself into a supine position—neat. VW claims 30.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat and 66.5 cu ft seats folded. Cargo height varies from 32 inches above the rear axle to about 36 inches aft that with cargo floor lowered. Length from the front seatback is about 64 inches, rear seat back 32. That’s roomy, if you can fit items through the limited-height entrance. Spelunkers: you can fit camera bags, tripods, laptop computers and more under that transformable cargo floor. Since someone stole my two-stage snow blower, I checked whether the SportWagen could ingest another. It’s possible. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t find a suitable snow remover. Therefore, I packed loads of VW wheels and tires and wheels that needed mending. Easy. This VW delivers packages and people. While it pampers the stuff you haul, it also has a willing power train and decent seating. Five passengers might fit (four certainly) because there’s adequate headroom above the rear seat’s firm middle section. Drivers get luxury-grade touch points such as a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel with switchgear, leather shift knob and leather-covered parking brake lever. Instrumentation: analogue style with the speedo and tach separated by an info screen. The canted center stack has vents, climate controls, and the color touch-control infotainment screen. The power-adjust back rake thrones with long bottom cushions are covered in V-Tex, a purposeful vinyl (cloth for 2016). The rear seat is supportively comfortable. This does not impede its utility. Unlike older VW wagons, you do not have to flip up the rear seat bottom cushion or remove the headrests in order to fold the backrests. Even when the front seats are pushed rearward, the rear backrests tuck down easily. It’s simple. For eons, converting a VW wagon to max cargo room was tedious. Wolfsburg fixed that. Wonderful. VW’s new 170-hp TSI engine supplies go power. One sore spot: a safety recall due to camshaft lobe failures. Compared with the outgoing in-line five-cylinder mill, this one has more torque and a wider power band. The big news: efficiency. Whereas the old unit drank fuel like an NFL linebacker gulps Gatorade, the new one sips regular-grade gas. How thrifty? Well, I netted 10 more miles per gallon overall compared with the former five-cylinder engine—39 mpg using the A/C and driving the newer 70 mph midwestern speed limits. My Milwaukee to South Haven Michigan roundtrip netted 46 mpg. These diesel-like figures top the Toyota Prius on the highway. EPA numbers: 25 mpg city; 36 highway; 29 overall. VW improved fuel efficiency by utilizing several tricks. One’s obvious: the engine reaches operating temp fast. VW cast the exhaust manifold into the cylinder heat and reconfigured coolant flow. Internal engine friction is lower and variable valve timing is employed. The mill, which is powerful, is stifled by a long-geared transmission. That takes the sport out but puts economy in. You get a quiet, low-rpm cruiser. VW includes info-screen fuel economy prompts, shifting advice and helps you perform roll-free launches with hill-hold assist. Backup camera and driver assist aids arrive during 2016. Road and wind noise are nearly Bentley-like. Quiet. Some road textures do come through; everything else is subdued. It rides compliantly on 15-inch alloy wheels and tallish sidewall rubber. There’s more body roll than in the standard Golf and I felt some tail wag. Yet, the wagon tracks well, steers precisely and feels agile. VW’s cross-differential feature taps the appropriate brake in order to improve turn-in response. This solidly Teutonic auto neither squeaked nor rattled. But a bug in the infotainment system’s ability to Bluetooth pair my basic ‘smart’ phone proved vexing. One seatback’s fabric was lumpy—a minor flaw. I’ve asked for VW’s comment on the better-than-expected fuel economy and the phone pairing difficulty. The answers were vague. For 2016, VW offers enhanced smart-phone interface capabilities with USB ports for changing portable electrical gadgets. The standard AM/FM/HD/satellite radio also plays CDs. During the early 1970s, you could pick from scads of smallish station wagons. VW’s Type 3 Squareback was a popular choice. I still own one. These days, that breed is nearly extinct due to tallish crossovers. VW, in contrast, proves that it’s still hip to be lowdown square. Its SportWagen delivers driving satisfaction hinting that the diesel version (TDI) with larger wheels and tires and the six-speed manual could be sporting. Meanwhile, the TSI’s combination of upscale interior, tranquility, versatility and fuel economy make it a superb space shuttle. It’s another Golf winner from VW.