UK CAR Road Test Volkswagen Golf GL Turbo Di Estate
The Volkswagen Golf is regarded by many to be the pinnacle of hatchback design. Trouble is a lot of this reverence comes from nostalgic reminiscence of the sharp suited mark one GTI. Its been a long time since the Golf was introduced and rescued a struggling VW, in that period VW has become a mighty conglomerate, the makers of the "beetle" the peoples car has clothed the Golf mechanics in a variety of guises, swallowed a range of European sub marques like Seat and Skoda and rather strangely institutions such as Rolls Royce, and legends like Bugatti.
Like VW itself the Golf has grown ever larger, that original pin sharp three door eventually spawning derivatives like this rather innocuous looking 5 door estate.
Now we all know that when you buy a Golf , you get a basic car , well engineered and built, but a bit lacking in the little extra comforts. Strange then that the inventory for this car seems so well stacked. Roof bars and decent quality Rear Load cover make the most of estate practicality. But this one also has front and rear Electric windows , electric mirrors, Electric Sunroof and a flashy face off radio. Maybe VW are going soft in their old age because this doesn't sound at all basic.
Luckily for all those of you who revel in VW's tightfistedness and claim that their cars are so superior, the lack of extras is irrelevant in the long term, Volkswagen has done an excellent job of disguising the extras. Inside The Golf manages to look the usual industrial starkness, giving a first impression that the car is very basic , only when you look around do you spot the extras , non of which are advertised with a loud look at me prominence. Most of the interior is doom and gloom black. highlighted only by the colour fleck design pattern of the Seats.
The seats don't look the most enticing and on first acquaintance feel very firm on das behind. They are though very comfortable and are appreciated more so on longer journeys. They are also multi adjustable so getting comfortable isn't a problem. The plastics are to a very high standard with excellent fit finish and design, the whole dash seems to be made of one large plastic extrusion which give a nice feeling of simple quality that just can't be matched by those who build complex structures out of multiple pieces.
The standard German stalk and light controls are basically the same layout as in a Vauxhall, but the execution is very different, the odd spoon shaped Stalks are placed right under the finger tips and work with a solid mechanical precision that others would do well to copy. On the whole all the minor controls are logical and well placed, but I could have a minor gripe about the rear electric window switches , which are small fiddly and too far away. The Radio is in a good sensible easy to reach position but again the controls are very small awkward to use.
The whole interior reeks of Practicality, its literally stuffed with pockets and trays , and they are a decent useable size too. I did find though that the strange small cup size ones on the seats did tend to catch water if you don't get in quickly enough when it rains.
So its practical, hardwearing , reliable what more could you want of an estate. Well you may actually want to drive it. It starts up very quickly, every time, even on cold damp mornings, the heater plug light extinguishing itself virtually instantaneously and the engine settles into the usual Diesel Taxi Death Rattle.
Performance is a bit of a mixed bag. It never quite feels as slow as its figures suggest, but sprinting through the gears is not its forte. Low speed torque isn't massive either, what it does have though is an excellent top gear pull between 60 and 80mph making excellent for stress free motorway work. Once moving and in top gear it actually seems to get quieter until well over the speed limit, and at 70 it just ambles along with just over 2500rpm showing and just a hint of wind noise. It may be a turbo , but its a turbo so sanitised you almost don't notice it, there's no real boost point just a gently increasing urge somewhere beyond 2000-2500 rpm. The gear box does help hide any lack of performance , its excellent slick change, encourages you to change down and extract some go rather than just grinding along in Top. That plus the fact that most of my miles are in medium to heavy traffic situations, with only a little Motorway work , probably explains why the fuel consumption never even got within shouting distance of the quoted figures. Then again 40mpg+ for general trolling around in traffic really cant be sniffed at, and I'm sure it would do much much more in favourable conditions. Its easy to see why the government takes such a dim view of diesels, when you look at the figures a Golf can achieve. If we all bought one Fuel Tax income would half overnight. One thing to watch for though is a fuel gauge in which there is no warning light, and empty means just that. Particularly as a gallon covers the red parts of the gauge but the first half gallon seems to last 35miles and the last half gallon 5miles.
Handling and ride wise its really not too bad (for an Estate). It rides particularly well in all situations, its perhaps a tad to soft for my tastes but you wont have many complaints.
Handling depends on what you expect, the softish suspension, can get a bit lurchy is you treat it like a Hot Hatch and jiggles and floats over rough roads when your foots hard down in the intermediate gears, but other than a propensity to a fair degree of initial roll if you hike the wheel sharply, it handles quite sweetly when steered smoothly. The plastic steering wheel is a little on the hard and shiny side, but is heavily indented on the back to give ample grip for you to make use of the slightly weighty steering. The steering has a direct positive feel , building to rock solid stability as speeds increase. Road grip aided by 195 tyres is solid and assured and well beyond the output of the engine
When you buy a Golf you pay for a certain amount of engineering quality, getting a puncture, showed be the difference between simple quality and dressed up tat. In most cars I've owned the spare wheel is covered by a piece of hardboard and the tools generally stashed in a packet in the wheel. In the Golf a steel sheet, located by a pair of locking pins covers the spare wheel well and inside, a bracket and clip locates the tools. Its not much its not flash , and most people will never see it but it shows that Volkswagens put as much thought under the carpet as many do above it.
Its really quite hard to find things wrong with the Golf, its does everything with such typical German efficiency its almost boring, no rephrase that , It is boring. The one final touch VW could have added is to paint them all brown as the Red paint that this one wears is much too exciting.
If your after a dependable hardworking car you really cant go wrong with the Golf, and if you want / need a working Estate then this should be towards the top of your shopping list (if you can afford the entry price).
if you want something flashier or with a bit more dynamism then you probably don't want an Estate at all, but if you insist you could do worse than look at the Golf's, Audi A4 cousin, which is of course exactly what VAG would like you to do.
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