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2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon R and GTD First Impression

Wörthersee, Austria -- This warning goes out to the skinny ones; big butts are back! I myself have never shied away from big boots; in fact, they’ve always been my favourites. And I really don’t discriminate when it comes to size, capacities, age or experience; they truly are all worthy of love. 

I’m talking about station wagons, obviously. 

Even if bigger is typically better in this scenario, I must say that small, compact and tight really do it for me as well. I do own one at the moment (don’t tell him, but I think my bugeye WRX wagon’s days are numbered…). By the end of 2016, I’m probably going to replace him with a Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon Alltrack. You all might be thinking that I’m confused, that I mean to say Sportwagon R but no, I’m not. There are a few reasons for this, and they include the fact that the Alltrack will be better on fuel and that we may not in fact get the wagon R (not to be confused with the Suzuki) on our shores. 

Be all that as it may, both the Sportwagon R and GTD put all pre-conceived notions about station wagons where they belong: in the loo. These two long-roofs define performance and handling in similar yet different ways. The GTD is essentially a Sportwagon GTI with a 2.0L TDI engine while the R is the supreme Autobahn cruiser and alpine pass champion with just short of 900 litres of cargo space. 

The R, por favor
As you’ve surely figured out, the Sportwagon R features all the same go-fast bits as the regular Golf R does with but a few minor changes. 

This means that it features the same 292-horsepower turbocharged 2.0L TSI 4-cylinder engine that also produces 280 lb-ft of torque. This power is sent to VW’s 4MOTION AWD system that includes XDS+ that operates like limited-slip differentials for both front and rear ends. Transmission choices reside between a 6-speed manual and the stupendous DSG of equal gears. 

The main change is that the wagon is 307mm longer than the 5-door and that it weighs roughly 80 kilos more. Despite these “extras,” the wagon R feels no different on the road. The 0-100km/hr time rises to 5.1 seconds from 5 flat for the 5-door. This tells you that the supplemental girth barely burdens the car’s power. It does nothing to its chassis either. 

Taking off from a dead stop is instantaneous. The 4MOTION’s Haldex centre differential literally wastes no time in providing power to whatever end can use it. The wagon is promptly off as well given that turbo-lag is a thing of the past, while torque leads the way as of 1,800 rpm. By the time it runs out of breath, max power trumps in at 5,400 rpm; the R never skips a beat.  It pulls hard and strong in such an efficient and rewarding manner that I wonder how it can ever get better than it is. 


However brilliant the 2.0 TFSI may be, it’s the DSG ‘box that continues to blow my mind. It seamlessly pounds its way from one gear to another without ever second-guessing its job or the driver’s desires. In manual mode, playing with the paddles is fun but it’s so damn smart it’s often best to keep your fingers on the steering wheel and allow the programming to shine. 

The Sportwagon R is as solidly anchored to the road as the hatchback and suffers no body roll or pitch and dive under hard braking or acceleration. The electric power steering is true and provides some of the best driver feedback of any EPAS system currently available. The oversized brakes are powerful and came in handy as we wrapped our way around tight bends, rapidly coming up on cars ahead. 

Fast, optimally efficient and so freakin’ sexy, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon R is the coolest of its kind. 

GTD or is that GTI with a TDI?
It is indeed that. Many European (and others around the world) markets are blessed with a diesel powered GTI Golf. It maintains all of the latter’s performance elements such as brakes, 15mm lowered suspension to go along with the larger wheels, specific bumpers, and other aesthetics accents including the to-die-for plaid Interlagos seats. 

The final touch comes from replacing the 2.0 TSI gas engine with VW’s most powerful 2.0L TDI. This diesel produces 181 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. This same mill is found in the Alltrack and will propel the Sportwagon GTD to 100km/hr in just over 7.5 seconds. The number seems high but the seat of your pants will tell you that the car is moving at a far brisker pace. Keep in mind that the GTD is FWD, echoing the GTI’s driveline. 

Compared to the Alltrack, the GTD feels livelier, less burdened by weight (it’s about 100 kilos lighter) and much more in tune with the road. Like the Sportwagon R, the GTD feels no different on the road than a typical GTI. The taut suspension is sufficiently supple to keep fillings in place all the while keeping the car flat through a corner. Steering is quick and responsive with an ideal mix between weight and assistance. The brakes are equally worthy of praise. 

The GTD’s cabin is GTI spec down to the steering wheel and seats. Ergonomics are spot-on (same for the R) and fit and finish set a standard. 

What does the future hold?
It is certain that it holds the Alltrack. Volkswagen announced that it was coming at this year’s NYIAS and few were happier than I. 

Between the R and GTD, the R has a better chance of crossing the Pacific. A 5-door Golf GTD would probably stand a better chance in North America over a diesel GTI station wagon and I predict that neither is coming. 

The R though could come over, and it all depends on us. If the Sportwagon and Alltrack do well (the 5-door R is a winner), then maybe VWoA will flex its muscles and import a few. A compact $40+k compact station wagon is a tough sell here but one thing is certain, all versions of the Sportwagon are worthy of attention. It is in fact the only small station wagon in North America, and if we don’t want to lose it for good we need to buy some! 

Big boots are here to stay!

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