Despite drivers’ abandoning station wagons en masse, preferring the taller-riding crossover designs rampant in the industry, there remains a niche market for five-door wagons.

We take a look at two compact models this week.

The Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen now comes with two engines. A 1.4-liter, 147-HP turbo-four is standard, with a 1.8-liter, 170 HP turbo-four optional for the AllTrack AWD model.

Transmissions range from an excellent six-speed manual, (29/37 mpg) to a six-speed Tip-Tronic automatic and a new eight-speed automatic.

Essential to the Golf’s ethos is outstanding driving dynamics. At 180 inches long, on a 104-inch wheelbase, the Golf Sportwagen remains as nimble, responsive, supple, and fun to drive as the shorter Golf hatchback. It carves up any corners, while producing one of the more premium driving experiences of any small car available, regardless of price.

Forward collision braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross-traffic alerts and Apple/Android connectivity are standard on base S-models ($21,895); while the higher ground clearance of the AllTrack trim ($24,395) will help push through spring snowstorms that derailed two days of our Golf’s visit to rural Maine.

Interior controls are simple, efficient designs that work intuitively. The heated cloth seats are excellent. The touchscreen employs a proximity sensor that senses your finger’s arrival and enhances icons for touching.

A spilt-folding rear seat creates 66 cubic feet of max cargo space – more than the Mitsu below. Every driver will appreciate the always clear view provided by the rear camera under the liftback’s VW badge.

Moving up to SE trim ($29,995) gets buyers adaptive cruise, lane-keeping assist, auto high-beams, push-button ignition, and many other features. VW has increased the Golf’s powertrain warranty coverage to six years and 72,000 miles.

The Sportwagen fills the void left by Volvo, Subaru, and other automakers at the entry level point in the market. With turbocharged-engines that over-deliver when summoned, combined with an adroit chassis, the VW Golf is the absolute value leader in a small, but important, class.

And with certain VW dealers in Maine now selling hundreds of recently re-certified TDI versions of VW wagons, Golfs, Passats and Jettas, there is ample reason to visit these dealers for excellent automotive values.

This latest Mitsubishi, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL, lands in the lineup between the two existing Outlander models. At 173 inches long on a 105-inch wheelbase, the taller-riding Eclipse Cross is seven inches shorter than our sampled VW, a difference that was apparent in the cargo hold. The sloping angle of the hatch also steals valuable space necessary for larger packages.

The Eclipse Cross’s hatchback-like styling creates visual excitement often absent in this small crossover segment, a theme that carries over inside, where a comprehensive design features complementing surfaces and materials. While the VW looks conventional – some might say staid – the Mitsu stretches some boundaries as it strives to look ultra-modern.

Seen here in top SEL trim ($23,595 for base FWD, $32,735 as shown) the Eclipse Cross features a 7.0-touchscreen controlled only by steering wheel buttons or a mouse pad on the console. My dad used to say, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Enough said here.

Under the hood, Mitsubishi also uses turbocharging to increase power and fuel efficiency. Equipped with a 1.5-liter 152-hp turbo-four, the heavier Eclipse Cross achieves 26/29 mpg on the EPA mileage cycle while employing a CVT automatic transmission.

Not as responsive or quick as the lighter Golf Wagon, or as smooth on the road, the Eclipse Cross was also prone to pronounced powertrain proclamations when the engine room was summonsed for extra duty. Climbing long grades and maintaining a highway pace proved to be similarly noisy.

Backed by a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the Eclipse Cross receives a host of features as you climb the trim levels. Base ES models come with front drive only; all other models (LE, SE, SEL) feature Mitsubishi’s All Wheel Control AWD system. Safety features like auto-emergency braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise and blind-spot detection are available.

Top SEL trim with the Touring package (as shown) brings an impressive array of components, from heated rear leather seating, heated steering wheel, 710-Watt Rockford Fosgate audio, dual sunroofs, Apple/Android/Sirius compatibility and Pearl White Paint. The Eclipse Cross stands out visually from its rivals.

From this seat, the VW Golf Sportwagen is attractive to five-door buyers who are still excited to drive and want a machine that embraces that attitude. The Mitsubishi will appeal to drivers enamored with technology and form over function.


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