Thursday, September 14, 2017


This is no fairy tale, but I’ll say it anyway.

Once upon a time, before crossovers, SUVs, and minivans began taking over as the favored providers of family transportation, there were perfectly capable vehicles for the task.

They were called station wagons.

They could handle a family of up to seven or eight members in relative comfort (depending on the age and size of the kids) and also offered plenty of room for weekly grocery runs and other routine errands, plus luggage space for the family vacation. There was even room for sheets of plywood in the back, something that those in the Southeast and Texas might appreciate during this hurricane season.

Many of them featured distinctive styling tweaks, like the fins of the 1950s, and many earlier models featured passenger compartments with real wood frames and sides. Later, station wagon designers mimicked the real-grain wood appearance but with the body finish done in steel or metal. My grandfather had a Jeep wagon like that.

Station wagons also served as a measure of what stage of life you were in. I remember once when about six of us from high school got together with our families for a small reunion probably15 years or so out of high school. Every one of us showed up in a station wagon. No more V8 coupes with dual exhausts and glass-pack mufflers for us!

But the oil crisis of the 1970s and evolving of the aforementioned SUVs and minivans, and later crossovers, eventually killed off — or nearly so — the station wagon in the U.S market. Clark Griswold’s Wagon Green Family Truckster from the movie National Lampoon's Vacation may have dealt the final blow. You think minivans don’t get respect today? Think about the Truckster.

Today, with Dodge having ceased production of the Magnum wagon nearly a decade ago, no domestic manufacturer even offers one in its portfolio. I would argue that Ford’s Flex with its boxy profile is more station wagon than it is crossover, but such is the scorn associated with those two words Ford marketers prefer to use the term “utility vehicle” in promotional material.

Ah, me. Where did we go wrong?

Fortunately -- at least in my view -- a handful of European manufacturers still offer a modern take on the classic station wagon in the U.S., including a couple from Volkswagen.

VW, which ceased production of its Passat Wagon a few years back, introduced the Golf Alltrack last year as a 2017 model after switching the SportWagen to the Golf fold from the Jetta family a couple of years earlier.

In essence, the Alltrack is a bit more sophisticated version of the SportWagen (and a few thousand dollars more expensive) and more adaptable to off-road treks with its slightly higher ground clearance. Not that you are going to take it out on the Rubicon Trail or anything, but you can venture off on more rugged dirt roads than you are the SportWagen.

I was able to spend a week recently in the 2017 Golf SportWagen TSI S w/4Motion wagon before the visit from Hurricane Irma kind of threw life off kilter. I liked it.

Apparently others do as well because U.S. News & World Report has it tied for No. 1 with the Volvo V90 in the wagon segment in its analysis of auto reviews. That’s remarkable in itself because with an MSRP starting in the low $20,000 range, the SportWagen is less than half the price of the luxury V90.

One issue I had going into the week was whether the SportWagen would offer enough room to really be a serviceable station wagon since it does carry the Golf nameplate. Though slightly smaller than the older Passat station wagon my wife drives, it does.

It seats five passengers and offers just over 30 cubic feet of storage space behind the second row. The older Passat has 35.6 cubic feet of space behind the second row. Fold those seats and the Golf’s capacity more than doubles to 66.5 cubic feet.

The Golf SportWagen comes in three trim levels — S, SE, and SEL — all with a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. With 170 horsepower at 4500 rpm and a 199 pound-feet of torque kicking in at 1600, the SportWagen doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of “sporty” performance, but it’s no slug. Far from it, in fact. I didn’t bemoan any lack of hp.

For 2017, the S is available with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system (not so the SE or SEL) with either the five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters and a sport mode). The SE and SEL get only the automatic.

The combination of the 4Motion system and automatic transmission delivers excellent fuel ratings of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined for the S using regular fuel — unlike the premium recommended for my wife’s Passat and its 2.0 turbo.

Front-wheel-drive models are even better at 25/35/28 with the manual, 25/34/29 with the automatic.

The automatic and 4Motion system does add a bit to the MSRP. The S starts at $22,400 (including destination and delivery) with the manual tranny, the S 4Motion with the automatic $25,750.

Standard equipment for the S includes the Intelligent Crash Response system, 16-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, halogen headlights, black roof rails, manual climate control (which suits me just fine) heated front seats with power recline, cloth seating surfaces, a rearview camera, 8-speaker sound system, Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and VW Car-Net App-Connect system.

SE and SEL trims offer such standard features as leatherette seating surfaces and a Fender premium sound system, and the SEL gets navigation as standard as well. Some other option packages not available on the S are offered on the SE and SEL.

The most significant of those are an SE Driver Assistance Package that includes blind-spot monitor and adds $595 to the MSRP of $27,850 and an SEL Driver Assistance Package that includes Park Assist, Lane Assist, and HID headlamps and tacks on $1,995 to the $30,790 MSRP.

If you can live without those features, you will find the SportWagen S w/4Motion to our liking.

What I liked about the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen S w/4Motion: It’s a lot easier to handle in an urban setting than many SUVs and even crossovers. The cloth seats may be even better than the leatherette, and I liked the manual controls the A/C and the two knobs to adjust the radio.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen S w/4Motion: Not a big deal, but I’m thinking that in addition to power reclining for the front seats, it might be nice to have them move forward and back via power rather than using the manual lever under the front of the two seats.

Would I buy the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen S w/4Motion? Definitely. The S is one of the best bargains around.

Friday, September 1, 2017



The Equinox served as Chevrolet’s first venture into the crossover market when it was introduced over a decade ago, and after years of producing truck-based SUVs, it looks like Chevy made a wise decision.

The Equinox is now the company's best-seller behind only the Silverado pickup with nearly 2 million sold since its introduction as a 2005 model. With the improvements made for 2018, it figures to maintain that pace.

First though, I want to mention this. One of the more surprising things about the Equinox to me was that it is classified as a compact crossover.

Certainly the dimensions -- an overall length of 183.1 inches, width of 72.6 and height of 65.4 compared to 204.3/78.6/67.3 for Chevy’s Traverse -- would seem to validate that classification. It is about 400 pounds lighter and just under five inches shorter than its predecessor.

Just looking at it sitting in my driveway, however, I got the impression it was simply bigger than that. (Maybe the dress made it look fatter! Rim shot!)

It also looked nice sitting there.

Chevy says that designers borrowed some styling cues from the Volt, Malibu, and Cruze for the 2018 Equinox and included new touches for the interior that included denim-style fabric for the seats that not only looks good but has increased durability. Among new safety features offered are the Safety Alert Seat system that alerts a driver to the possibility of an impending crash, low-speed forward automatic braking, and surround vision.

A major change is under the hood.

The base engine for the 2018 Equinox is a 1.5-liter turbo-4, and a 2.0-liter serves as an option. A 1.6-liter turbo diesel also is offered. Those engines replace the 2.4L inline-4 and the 3.6L V6 offered on 2017 models.

The 1.5L and the diesel come with a six-speed automatic transmission, the 2.0L with a new nine-speed that makes for a smooth operation. All-wheel drive also is available 

The new powertrain offers fuel efficiency of 26 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway with the 1.5L FWD and 22/29 with the 2.0L, also with FWD. AWD alters the figures slightly, and the diesel gets up to a GM-estimated 40 mpg.

Those figures are somewhat of an improvement over the numbers for the 2017 model that came with either a 2.4L inline-4 or a 3.6L V6.

The biggest difference with the turbo 4s comes in the power put out by the 2.0L. It is rated at 252 horsepower, an increase of 70 hp over the 2017's 2.4 in-line-4. With 203 pound-feet of torque, the 2018 2.0L turbo-4 rates the same towing capacity of 3,500 pounds as the 2017's V6. That'll tow your boat!

Chevy offers the Equinox in L (though you'll likely have to order it), LS, and LT (1LT/1.5L, 2LT/2.0L) trims as well as Premier editions (1LZ/1.5, 2LZ/2.0L0,) and diesel versions designated 3LT/diesel and Premier 3LZ/diesel).

I don't know about you but I find all the trim levels and various models Chevy puts out sometimes hard to keep track of, but that's a subject for another day.

I drove the LT 2.0T with FWD for the week and found it really satisfies a lot of what you would be shopping for in the compact crossover market. The cloth seats were comfortable and looked to be pretty durable, though it's hard to really test them in just seven days.

I didn't do any towing, but I found the power to be very adequate for daily driving, and the fuel mileage is pretty good for its class, especially with the 1.5L engine. That said, I would sacrifice the couple of extra miles the 1.5L gets for the power boost from the 2.0L. Horsepower and torque for the smaller engine are only 170 hp and 203 lb.-ft. or 82 and 57, respectively, less than the 2.0L.

The list of standard features included in the $29,145 MSRP of the LT 2.0L included keyless entry and start, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lights, trailering equipment, 18-inch aluminum wheels, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with 2-way lumbar support, and connectivity features that included Chevy MyLink with a 7-inch screen, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Options that included dual-zone A/C over the standard single zone, power liftgate, remote start, heated front seats, blind spot and rear cross traffic alert, rear park assist and a pearl white tricoat paint job, plus the $895 destination and delivery charge, ran the final MSRP of my test vehicle to $32,980.

What I liked about the 2018 Chevy Equinox LT 2.0T: I liked the way it drove on the highway. It accelerated with no grunting and was quiet overall. And I really liked the big storage area in the center console. Crossovers and SUVs are about carrying stuff as well as getting you there, and storage, even in the console, is no place to skimp.

What I didn't like about the 2018 Chevy Equinox LT 2.0T: A stop-start system that shuts off the engine when you are idling at an intersection is standard, and you can't turn it off. At least I couldn't find a button to disengage it, and the owner's manual offered no clue. What you can do to disengage is take a slight bit of pressure off the brake and the engine fires back up.

Would I buy the 2018 Chevy Equinox LT 2.0T? Frankly, I went into the week thinking I probably would not, but yes, I would give it consideration now. I would like to see Chevy continue making upgrades to the interior, which it has gone over the last decade or so. Some more soft-touch materials would be nice like across the dash panel. A bit more cargo space than the 29.9 cubic feet offered behind the second row could make the deal.