| Week at the Wheel | VW Golf Estate |
Inside & Out:
The Golf Estate gets five stars because, apart from being slightly anodyne, it's difficult to find anything wrong with it. The cargo space is generous, well shaped and intelligently approached, with a false floor that makes the loading bay flat and can be lifted for a bit of extra storage. The rear bench splits 60:40, there's a big gap in the middle for loading hat stands, and there's a surprising amount of legroom and headroom in the back for full-grown ladies and gentleman.
Up front it's just another Golf, which is to say it's put together with dictatorial solidity and laid out in such an intuitive manner it's almost boring. Hatchback cabins don't really get any better than the Golf's, unless it's a Scirocco's
. Our only minor issue is with the position of the steering wheel, which has plenty of adjustment both ways but strangely felt either too high or too low. It's not a problem we noticed in the GTI version
Engine & Transmission:
The 103bhp four-cylinder 1.6-litre common rail diesel engine is laudable for the smoothness of its power delivery, as are the Golf's chassis engineers for the way they've quelled the chatter that's inevitable with compression ignition combustion. The entire drivetrain has a mechanical solidity and assured refinement that, combined with the Golf's quality, gives the car a real feel-good vibe. The five-speed gearbox is tight through the gate, and because its ratios are tall it's pulling just over 2,000rpm in top at 70mph, so it doesn't feel like it's missing a sixth.
Unfortunately, the car does feel underpowered. Perhaps that's to be expected when the engine's only pushing out 103bhp at 4,400rpm, but the real issue is with its torque. On paper, all 185lb.ft is available from just 1,500rpm, but the reality is that anywhere below 2,000rpm the car is in sludge mode. The lack of real low-end grunt leaves you in eager anticipation of a surge of power above around 2,500rpm, but unfortunately it just doesn't seem to come. That's probably because it's so linear in the delivery of its power, but we still miss that chunky boost of torque even the lower-powered old VW diesels had.
That said, it's more than adequate for the business of carrying things, never feeling strained even when the car's full. Its biggest enticement, though, is that it's capable of 62.8mpg combined and pushes out 119g/km of CO2
, which makes it VED exempt from March 2010.
Ride & Handling:
What do you expect? If you're buying a medium family estate with a 1.6 TDI badge, you're kidding yourself if you expect a back road tool of any sort. What the Golf does do, though, is match the promise of its interior by being the model of calm at all times. The steering is well judged rather than exciting, which is to say it turns in with a good bit of weight and enough response to feel sharp without being twitchy on the motorway. The ride is the same, in that it cushions occupants like an old sofa, but at the same time is decent at going around corners quickly because it doesn't roll about. Essentially the ride/handling balance of the Golf is much like the rest of the car: so crushingly composed and grown up that it's a little boring. Character is not something you'll find a lot of in the Golf, unless your idea of fun is arranging your t-shirts into colour order. I do that.
Equipment, Economy & Value for Money:
The list price of the SE car we've got on test here is £18,590. Our car also had £1,755 worth of paint, parking sensors, two-zone climate, iPod interface and leather steering wheel, bringing it past the £20k mark. On the one hand that's a lot of cash for a mid-sized, mid-level estate of underwhelming power. However, that old adage about Volkswagens being more expensive than the 'working class' efforts from Ford and Vauxhall is simply no longer true, whereas the old adage that the German trounces them for quality and ambience is. Ford is the new Volkswagen when it comes to pricing, with a 1.6-litre diesel Focus Estate in Zetec trim coming in at a whopping £20,695 without even touching the options list. In that company, Volkswagen is the new Skoda.
With a bit more power and charisma this is a five-star car, no doubt. If those two qualities don't bother you too much, and you want a car whose practicality, build quality, interior ambience and tactility are second to none in the class, this is your mid-size estate; it's almost impossible to criticise, and it even looks decent value these days.