It's a case of third time lucky for the Volkswagen Golf wagon in New Zealand. That's how many models we've had in the past decade. More to the point, the first two were not quite there in terms of design and engineering.
In the early 2000s we had the Golf IV wagon (or Variant as it was called back then). That was a high-quality and highly functional little machine, but the styling looked dowdy compared with the groundbreaking Golf IV hatchback: more set-square than trend-setter.
Since 2010 we've had the Golf VI wagon and that's a pretty capable and spacious machine as well, but there has always been a problem: it's not really a generation-VI model at all but rather a Golf V with a clever re-skin and some updated interior architecture - still with plenty from the original model though.
So once again, compared with its hatchback sibling it comes up a little short. With the just-launched Golf VII wagon, all the pieces of the puzzle have come together.
This is indeed a genuine version-VII, riding on VW's new MQB platform and sharing all the hatchback's high style, high-tech engineering and equipment - and its highly aggressive pricing. The Golf wagon opens at $36,990 for the 90kW TSI Comfortline, a $2100 premium over the equivalent hatch. The TDI turbo-diesel in the same specification is $37,690. Really, that could be that.
With the previous Golf VI (ish) wagon, New Zealand importer European Motor Distributors was targeting fleet buyers. The same is surely true of the two Comfortline models.
However, European Motor Distributors obviously feels there's enough panache in the Golf VII wagon to appeal to higher-level private buyers because there's also a flagship Highline version, in 103kW petrol form. So the powertrains are identical to the hatchback, although the car itself is 307mm longer - all of it in the rear overhang. More metal means more weight, so while the new Golf wagon is 100kg lighter than the model it replaces, it's still 180kg heavier than the equivalent Golf VII hatchback.
Whether this has a detrimental effect on the performance and handling of the car is open to debate. Logic says it must, because a heavier car carrying extra bulk behind the rear axle can't be as fast and nimble as one without it. In practice you really can't pick it. The Golf VII has been highly acclaimed for its driving characteristics, but it's still a mainstream machine rather than a specialist sports car. A few extra kilos are neither here nor there.
The 2-litre turbo-petrol engine fitted to the Highline is a sparkling performer and the wagon's claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 8.9 seconds is a mere 0.5sec behind the hatchback. In extremis you will certainly feel the extra weight of the wagon hanging out the back; but if you are in extremis on purpose in a small station wagon, you might want to think again about your purchase. Or driving style.
Broadly speaking, the Golf wagon has the same highly entertaining character as the hatchback.
The twin-clutch, direct shift gearbox falters occasionally during low-speed manoeuvres or on hills, but an auto-hold function for the electronic parking brake does help with the roll-back issue.
At speed, the DSG is a revelation. It's smooth in normal mode but clicks from cog-to-cog in sport and will even effect double-declutching downchanges. As with the Golf hatchback, the wagon has a great blend of responsive handling and supple ride - even on the larger 17-inch wheels of our Highline test car.
All models have the XDS electronic differential - borrowed from the Golf VI GTI - which prevents excessive wheelspin under power in corners. The Highline is astonishingly well-specified for a $40k car.
In addition to the equipment of the entry-level Comfortline models, you get dual-zone control for the air-conditioning, Alcantara seat trim, darker interior trim inserts and a trick reversing camera that pops out from underneath the VW badge on the tailgate when required.
The full gamut of Golf VII options is also available, including sports suspension ($750) or the bells-and-whistles adaptive chassis control system ($2500).
Our car was fitted with satellite navigation ($2750), which comes packaged with a premium audio system and larger eight-inch colour touch screen.
It's pretty swish stuff and yet even with a few option boxes ticked, the price of this car still looks attractive given its quality and abilities.
So you lose almost nothing with the Golf wagon compared with the hatchback.
What do you gain?
Even with the rear seats raised, the wagon boasts 605 litres of load space, a huge increase over the 380 litres in the hatchback - and in addition there's that usefully long cargo floor.
You can flip those 60/40-split rear chairs forwards using a boot-mounted lever to increase total cargo capacity to 1620 litres.
As with the hatch, the luggage cover can be detached and stowed under the floor rather than having to be left at home.
The luggage area is beautifully lined and the seat- folding operation could not be easier, but the wagon is not quite the perfect load-lugger.
The rear-seat squabs are fixed, so they do not kneel or fold away when lowering the seat-backs. This means you don't quite get a flat load floor, which is not a deal-breaker but could be an annoyance when sliding in large items.
The Bottom Line
New Golf wagon is no less brilliant than the hatchback - and a lot more useful.