Volkswagen's seventh-generation Golf Estate is a very complete compact load-lugger. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Compact estate cars never put much of a dent in the public consciousness and as neatly finished as this seventh-generation Golf Estate is, one suspects it's always going to remain a minority interest item. Still, it's good value in mid-range 'Match Edition' guise and, as you'd expect from Volkswagen, it's very well designed. No hurriedly cobbled together conversion, this estate is properly practical with up to 1,620-litres of load space available.
Given that estates are designed to haul a hefty amount of gear around, the concept of a compact estate at first seems one destined to crash and burn. And so it has proved. No matter which hugely successful product line you choose - Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra or Renault Megane - its estate variant has added but a nominal amount to the overall sales figures. Accept that this is the way it is - and is destined to stay - and it's easier to get to grips with this latest Golf Estate. Sold alongside the Golf three and five door hatches, the Golf Estate offers another alternative for those not quite prepared to step up to a Touran mini-MPV. And the car itself? Well, after six model generations, 38 years and 29 million cars, it would perhaps be a little surprising if Volkswagen didn't have the hang of building Golfs by now.
Get under the skin of this Volkswagen Golf Estate and you'll find a chassis that's a lot stiffer and is almost infinitely customisable, being based on the modular MQB chassis that underpins everything from the Skoda Octavia to the Audi A3. All but the entry level versions get variable drive settings (Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual) and this results in a car that can entertain or cosset as required. There's also the option of Dynamic Chassis Control to consider. This features adaptive damping and a Sport setting to really give the car's ride a dual personality. Six petrol engines are available: a 1.2-litre TSI 85PS unit with a five-speed manual gearbox, plus a 1.2-litre TSI 105PS engine and a 1.0 TSI 115PS unit for BlueMotion buyers. Further up the range, there's a 1.4-litre TSI 125PS option, the clever 1.4-litre TSI ACT 150PS powerplant with cylinder deactivation and the range-topping 300PS 2.0-litre turbo Golf R unit. All variants comes with either six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG gearboxes. The diesel range is built around 90 and 110PS versions of the familiar 1.6-litre TDI unit, the latter powerplant also used for the fully-fledged, eco-friendly BlueMotion model. If you need a little more grunt, there's also a 2.0 TDI variant on offer with either 150 or 184PS. A 7-speed DSG auto 'box is available to 110PS 1.6-litre TDI buyers, with a 7-speed DSG variant available to 2.0 TDI customers. There's also an Alltrack variant with 4MOTION 4WD, this model offered with the 110PS 1.6-litre TDI unt, plus 150 and 184PS versions of the 2.0-litre TDI powerplant.
Design and Build
It's not too difficult to see the benefits of that smart MQB modular chassis. It not only offers Volkswagen the scope to run different models spun off it down the same production line, it also pares weight right back, such that this Golf Mk 7 estate weighs around 105kg less than its immediate predecessor. That's despite offering more loading space, improved safety features and more interior equipment. It's miles bigger inside too. The driving position is almost unfeasibly adjustable and unlike many family hatches, you can get properly hunkered down in the car if required. The sheer amount of steering wheel rake and reach means that both shorter and taller drivers will have little difficulty achieving a perfect seating position. The cabin's a little wider than before which helps with elbow room and there's also a bit more rear leg room which is a welcome touch. Volkswagen has also increased load space which is up from the 505-litres of the Mk 6 to 605-litres when loaded up to the parcel shelf. Flip the rear seats down and you get a full 1,620-litres, which is a big improvement on the 1,495-litres you got previously. What's a little dumbfounding is the fact that the Golf Estate looks far sleeker than before, the additional glasswork being neatly integrated into the trademark Golf shape. At 4,562mm, the Golf Estate is 307mm longer than the hatchback, so do bear this in mind if you're already tight for parking space with a hatchback model.
Market and Model
Prices range in the £19,000 to £35,000 bracket and represent a £765 premium over the Golf hatchback. There are 'S', 'Match Edition' and GT trim levels, plus the Golf R performance model and the 4MOTION Alltrack models for those needing extra winter traction. All Golf Estate models come with seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS with ESP, the XDS electronic differential lock and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats. The entry-level Composition Media system includes a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, a DAB digital radio, a CD player, the MDI interface (for connecting iPod or MP3 player), Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming and eight speakers. Also standard is semi-automatic air conditioning, among a host of other fitments. Moving up from 'S' to 'Match Edition' trim brings a wider range of features, including 16-inch 'Dover' alloy wheels, front foglights, heated front seats, headlamp washers and the 'Discover' navigation system. Safety kit includes the ADC Automatic Distance Control with Front Assist and City Emergency Braking, which can even bring the vehicle to a complete halt if necessary. Then there's a Driver Alert System, PreCrash preventative occupant protection, Driver Profile Selection (with four modes and five on DSG-equipped cars), rain-sensitive wipers, an automatically dimming rear-view mirror and a dusk sensor.
Cost of Ownership
One of Volkswagen's key priorities with this seventh-generation load-lugging Golf was to reclaim its position as one of the most efficient compact family estates. So how has it gone about achieving these efficiency gains? The big one is a weight loss plan. Then there are aerodynamic advantages, lower internal friction in the engines, and optimised gearing on not only the five and six speed manuals but also the six and seven speed DSG twin clutch units. All new Golf models - both diesel and petrol - come with a Stop/Start system as standard, along with battery regeneration. The petrol engine options are pretty familiar - 85 and 105PS 1.2-litre TSI units that return 57.6mpg on the combined cycle and around 113g/km of CO2, plus a 115PS 1.0 TSI three cylinder engine that gets full 'BlueMotion' badging and can return 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2. Next up is a 122PS 1.4 TSI petrol variant that manages 53.3mpg and 123g/km of CO2. But things step up with the 110PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel. It returns a combined cycle reading of 74.3mpg and emits just 99g/km in the process, so if you're collecting petrol station loyalty points, that toaster you're saving up for won't be yours until somewhere in the region of 2019. And you'll do even better if you specify this 1.6-litre TDI engine in full 'BlueMotion' form, in which guise this car is capable of returning 88.3mpg on the combined cycle and hybrid-like CO2 emissions of 85g/km. If you'd like a bit more poke from your diesel, then the 150PS 2.0 TDI manages a very acceptable 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 106g/km of CO2 but before automatically signing on the dotted line for one of these - as many business buyers will - we'd point out that there is a petrol alternative that's nearly as good and runs on cheaper green pump fuel - the 150PS 1.4 TSI ACT variant. 'ACT' stands for 'Active Cylinder Technology' which essentially means that this car will run on only two of its four cylinders under light throttle loads. As a result, it can return 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and 112g/km of CO2.
The Golf Estate has never been one of the brighter stars in the Volkswagen firmament. It was always too small, too overshadowed by the hatch or too dowdy to really appeal. While this Mk 7 version isn't about to outshine the hatchback version, it at least addresses these other two issues reasonably well. It's usefully spacious and the styling is agreeably sleek. The rest of the news is good too. Less weight and more space is always a good combination and a number of efficiency measures mean that estate buyers who would have automatically looked to diesel engines should also now consider powerplants like the ingenious 1.4 TSI with Active Cylinder Technology. Small estates will never be big sellers but, as Volkswagen has demonstrated, if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well.