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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Refined and efficient engines, cargo area space and features, value
Room for improvement
DSG transmissions are not completely resolved

Volkswagen logo12 Feb 2010

By PHILIP LORD

THE Volkswagen Golf Wagon is not the sort of vehicle that you would buy if you were the outdoors sporty type kicking off the work shoes on a Friday and heading off for a spot of forest adventure on the weekend.

This kind of scenario has been played out in SUV advertising for years, but plenty of buyers have eventually realised that they are locked into an urban environment and the closest they will get to heading bush is to pull off the freeway into a rest area to relieve the pangs of nature.

Even though they might like the high SUV seating position and ease of entry and egress, they soon add up the fuel and maintenance bills and see that height comes at a cost. So do vehicle dynamics not everyone wants to drive fast but even the slowest driver can appreciate quick steering and strong tyre grip, where the SUVs are typically at a disadvantage compared with passenger wagons.

Tariff reduction of passenger cars to five per cent this year levels out the playing field somewhat, reducing the zero-tariff advantage that SUVs have enjoyed for years. SUVs are not the incredibly good value they appeared to be a few years ago.

All this is good news for Volkswagen with its new Golf Wagon the latest addition to the Golf range adds a dash of practicality that families need but cannot find in a Golf hatch, and might not want to find in a compact SUV.

The exterior styling is a generally resolved effort, with none of the added on at the last minute feel some wagon variants can have. With everything else in proportion, it is only the supersized tail lights that look as if they don’t quite suit the car.

The cabin is the same as the now-familiar Golf VI up front everything is easy to find, the cabin is easy to see out of. Although the upper-spec models feel well-equipped if not sumptuous, the entry-level models do seem like they’re missing something (the steering wheel has plastic blanks where controls are fitted to upper spec models).

The main area of interest in this new model is of course what’s up the back. The rear seat folds in a 60-40 split, and the seat base folds forward to allow the seatback to fold flat. It is not the most compact of designs, but worked well enough in increase cargo volume.

The rear seat itself is a reasonable comfortable place for two adults but three across would be a pinch. Especially as the centre tunnel is so large, impeding foot room.

At least the rear seat occupants get a pair of cupholders that fold out of the rear of the centre console (making the centre occupant, if there is one, the drinks waiter by necessity) and two adjustable air vents also in the centre console.

Three childseat tether points are fitted to the cargo floor immediately behind the back seat, which is an acceptable but not ideal location, especially if the cargo area is loaded and you want to add or take out a childseat. You may get three narrow childseats across the rear seat (are they are any narrow ones sold anymore?) but for just about any contemporary childseat or booster seat you will be limited to two.

The cargo area is well served by a roll-out cargo net, which can be either attached to the ceiling in its fixed position immediately behind the rear seat or relocated to the front of the folded rear seat to allow front occupants protection from cargo moving forward.

Four useful tie-down points are on the squared-off cargo floor and a shallow storage tray sits under the floor, along with a full-size spare wheel.

The lift-up tailgate opens to a generous space for this size of car, and provides an easy, low loading lip.

We sampled the range of engines available in Golf wagon, that is the 77TDI and 103TDI turbo-diesels and the 90TSI and 118TSI petrol engines.

The least remarkable engine is the entry-level 90kW petrol. While smooth enough, it lacks the punch of the more torquey models further up the range, yet is tractable and responsive, with no vices.

The 77TDI we drove with the DSG automated manual transmission is a surprise package. It performed well, with little turbo lag, and while it is no fireball on the open road, it offers unexpected responsiveness.

The 103TDI engine is accomplished although not the smoothest turbo-diesel. Yet if it’s a performance diesel you’re after, this engine furnishes plenty of mid-range torque for quick overtaking and hill-hauling capability.

The 118TSI is the gun engine of the range, with superb response at low revs and a willingness to extend to the redline with a sweet smoothness.

The DSG transmissions (a seven-speed is offered for all but the 103TDI, which has the six-speed unit) are generally decisive shifters that are every it as good as a conventional auto in most instances but there are occasions where they are left wanting. While selecting ‘Sport’ mode irons out much of the lack of enthusiasm for downshifts the DSG exhibits, it is in stop-start traffic – particularly when climbing an incline – that the DSG is not especially smooth in relaying engine power.

The ride quality on optional 18-inch wheels is not exactly superb, and neither is the amount of extra road noise generated by them. Yet grip levels and turn in are very good with this set-up.

Most will be inclined to stick with the more resolved 16-inch wheel package, which gives a more supple ride and handling is not greatly compromised. Even though the steering is a little too light and does not offer the feel it could, there is nothing wrong with the dynamics of this latest Golf.

Volkswagen is optimistic about its new small wagon, and given the lack of competition in the segment and the sharp pricing of this Golf variant (it’s only $2k more expensive that the hatch models) it stand a good chance of doing well.

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