First drive: VW Golf estate

Volkswagen has been attaching estate boots to its omnipresent Golf since 1993. The latest version gets a thorough redesign to bring it firmly into the MkVI family, but has to make do with the same chassis as its predecessor. Small estates fill a particularly slim niche in the UK market, but VW insist the new Golf Estate delivers the comfort and increased practicality prospective owners are looking for.

Size is obviously key to that equation. Predictably, the estate is significantly longer and wider than the standard Golf, which means its boot swells in size from 350- to 505-litres. Lower the rear seats and the space expands to almost 1500 litres. Inevitably, this extra capacity comes at a price - the estate weighs well over 130kg more than the equivalent hatchback.
Attaching a bigger boot to the Golf's stocky body has proved problematic for VW's designers in the past, but the new car has largely benefitted from the MkVI nip/tuck. Aside from the ugly rear light clusters which give the car a slightly ungainly Americanised tail, the hatchback platform has been neatly reconciled with a sleek estate profile.

Otherwise, the basic range remains as before, with S, SE and Sportline trim levels available. The usual selection of petrol and diesel engines (including Bluemotion spec) are on offer with the entry-level 1.2 TSI S priced at £17,200.

Our test car was the 1.4 TSI version which, along with the 122bhp petrol engine, gets a six-speed manual, alloy wheels, air-con and an alarm as standard for £18,980. Liberal ticking of the option boxes means sat-nav and leather seats were added for £1445 and £2000 respectively.

Aside from these expensive additions, the SE's interior feels reassuringly familiar. The estate gets the MkVI dash, which looks as attractive and well-crafted as ever. Only the cheap climate control dials mar the enhanced quality, but like the rest of the range, the Golf Estate is a comfortable place to conduct a daily commute from.

That theme continues out on the road. Much has been made of the latest Golf's levels of refinement and even though the estate doesn't quite live up to the standards set by the hatchback, it's still hard to fault.

The bigger car does feel slightly less supple over uneven urban roads, but overall the Golf's ride quality remains admirable. Exceptional rigidity means the estate enjoys the same hewn-from-granite solidity that made the hatchback a resounding success. Wind noise still makes its way into the cabin though, as does the gruff voice of the 1.4-litre engine.

Work the big Golf hard and it will hit 60mph in just under 10secs, but there's little enjoyment to be had from doing so because much like the hatchback, the estate's handling is tuned for safety and comfort rather than rewarding its driver. The steering is pleasantly weighted and reasonably direct, but there's a distinct lack of feedback if you begin to ask too much of the front tyres. Enthusiastically pitching the car around bends is also a good way of revealing the car's surplus weight.

That is not to say the Golf Estate handles badly. Far from it. The car's neutral set-up inspires plenty of confidence, and the slick manual gearbox and feel-some brakes are a joy to use, but it never includes the driver in anything that could be termed fun.

It is this nagging detachment that separates the car from its main rival – the Ford Focus Estate. While the Golf is best appreciated by sitting back to marvel at its engineering excellence, the Focus's dynamic edge is a timely reminder that there is more to cars than endless refinement of the packaging.

But the real thorn in the load-lugger's side is provided by its VW Group stablemate, the Skoda Octavia. Built on the same platform, the Octavia offers much the same performance and driving experience for significantly less money. It also adds another 100 litres to the Golf's boot capacity.

Like we said, size is key.
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