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 improved 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. This latest version offers a smarter look, an all-new 1.5-litre TSI engine option, more sophisticated media connectivity and a range of important detail changes.
Get under the skin of this Volkswagen Golf Estate and you'll find a platform that's very stiff 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. Most of the engineware in this Golf is carried over from before, but there is an all-new petrol powerplant - Volkswagen is calling it the '1.5 TSI Evo', a four cylinder petrol turbo that uses 'Active Cylinder Management' to cut off two cylinders under light to medium throttle loads. This engine develops 150PS in its standard form, but there is also a 'BlueMotion' version developing 130PS. The other mechanical change made to the line-up is the replacement of the old 6-speed DSG auto gearbox with a more efficient 7-speed unit. Otherwise, things are much as before. At the foot of the range, there's the well-regarded 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit, a three cylinder powerplant developing 110PS. Most Golf Estate buyers though, tend to want a diesel - possibly the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel, but more probably the 2.0-litre TDI, available with either 150 or 184PS. As before, only variants developing more than 120PS get multi-link rear suspension: below that level, your Golf will come with a less sophisticated torsion bean set-up. As before, there's a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4WD Golf R super estate model at the top of the range. And a 4WD Alltrack variant too.
Design and Build
The first thing you'll notice about this revised Golf Estate is probably its slightly sleeker front end. Many variants now get full-LED headlamps and the air intakes at either corner of the front bumper have been restyled too. Jewel-like LED tail lamps are now standard across the range and on top versions, there are smart animated flowing indicators too. Otherwise, things are much as before - which means that there's more space inside than you might expect. There's 605-litres of cargo space if you load up to the parcel shelf. Flip the rear seats down and you get a full 1,620-litres. 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. And behind the thin leather-stitched multi-function steering wheel? Well, as ever, nobody does it better than this. It isn't that it feels especially plush, though the quality of materials used is excellent - and far better, incidentally, in this Wolfsburg-constructed Golf than Volkswagen's similarly priced but Mexican-built compact Jetta model. It's just that everything is of exactly the right quality and feels absolutely fit for purpose. In this revised model, the cabin has been given a lift by the addition of smarter decorative trim panels on the doors, the dash panel and the centre console, as well as classier seat covers.
Market and Model
The UK line-up retains a familiar feel, beginning in the hatchback range with S and rising through SE, SE Nav, GT, Alltrack, GTD and GTD BlueLine to, ultimately, the high performance R model. Prices range in the £20,500 to £35,000 bracket and represent a premium of around £1,000 over the Golf hatchback. 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. A key change with this revised model lies with media connectivity. Previously, Golf customers had the choice of 5, 6.5 or 8-inch screens, depending on the trim level and options chosen. Now, these have been replaced by more sophisticated 6.5, 8 and 9.2-inch screens. As you'd expect, the biggest 'Discover Pro' monitor is the more sophisticated of the bunch, this being the first Volkswagen infotainment system to offer both touch and voice-command operation, with gesture control in addition to proximity sensors. Your dealer will also want to tell you about the clever 'Media Control' app that can be used if your Golf's infotainment set-up incorporates a wi-fi hotspot. Passengers simply connect in their 'phones or tablets via the app, then the entertainment system can be operated from anywhere in the car. As you'd expect, there's full 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' compatibility so you can link in your smartphone and use your favourite apps in-car. And we like the new 'Security & Service' package that can automatically alert the emergency services in the event of a breakdown or an accident, book servicing and even advise you if the car is driven beyond a certain area, should you lend it out.
Cost of Ownership
When this seventh generation Golf Estate was originally launched, its efficiency figures took a big step forward, thanks to the lighter MQB chassis. Those returns still look pretty good today: the 1.6-litre TDI engine is capable of returning 106g/km and around 70mpg on the combined cycle. Go for the 2.0 TDI 150PS variant and the figures are 65.7mpg and 111g/km. What about petrol power? Well the big news here is the replacement of a sophisticated '1.5 TSI Evo' powerplant using Volkswagen's frugal Cylinder-on-Demand technology. In its standard 150PS form, Volkswagen reckons that this unit will return close to 50mpg on the combined cycle and around 110g/km of CO2. In its 'BlueMotion' 130PS guise, this engine can manage 51.1mpg and 104g/km, figures not too far off what you'd get from some diesels.
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 improved 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. The improvements in equipment and media connectivity are welcome 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 1.5 TSI Evo unit 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.