Variation on a Theme
Text and photos by Oneshift.com team.
The Volkswagen Golf has been on the road for many decades now, and is still the benchmark for the medium hatch class. Despite recent bad press about fuel consumption figures, the Golf continues to seduce buyers with its combination of style, practicality, value and performance. One thing that has always been a Golf trait is its ability to look bigger inside than its compact exterior, but there are occasions when you yearn for just a smidgeon more carry space.
Accordingly, the VW design folks have come up with a roomier Golf: the Variant. With a gargantuan 1,620 litres of cargo space available, it should satisfy even the most ardent flat-pack self-assembly freaks. And at a current list of $137,400 (26 September 2016), it isn't ludicrously priced either.
The Variant looks like a stretched Golf because it is. The length has been extended just over 300mm to put the (the standard Golf is 4.25metres) but the bodywork up to the B-pillars is the same as the standard car. The back end has been stretched backwards and the roofline raised to give a pleasingly coherent look without losing the original chunky Golf stance.
Despite the raised and elongated rear, visibility is good, and the rear looks pretty much like any other Golf. Only the lower sill (630mm) gives the game away that there is a cavernous hole when you lift the rear door.
The front of the car has the usual Golf R-Type semi-spoiler front dam accentuated by twin side intakes. Classic VW. These are complemented by some neat rectangular running lights inside the Golf trapezoidal headlights, balanced by the signature big VW badge that cuts into the main grille and bonnet line. The rear lights match the fronts shapewise and with twin L-shaped LED running lights under the lenses.
Overall style is Teutonic efficient, with clean, effective lines and a marked absence of chrome or fidgety details. In fact there is almost no chrome on the car apart from the badges and a highlight bar on the grille; this all underscores its practical not glitzy role.
The car comes standard with some very nice bi-spoke 18-inch alloys that VW claims help promote a "sporty and impressive look." That's as maybe but they do transmit a lot of road noise on anything but the smoothest surfaces.
The generous glass areas give great all-round visibility, and the snazzy sunroof is great for impressing friends but overall the interior finish is a little plasticky and slightly economy-special in its presentation.
The control interfaces on the Golf are tried and tested; everything falls nicely to hand and apart from a bit of confusion about the rear wiper controls, all is obvious and logical. It is German, after all. But as mentioned, the single dark-tone dash could do with a little colour variation to relieve the plastic slab feel.
The console controls are workmanlike and functional; the new 'Discover Pro' 8-inch screen offers the usual mode, car, entertainment and navigation smarts, but adds new App-Connect connectivity to sync and mirror apps on Android and iOS phones. The navigation system was a real grind to input into though - if you don't know the name of the town your destination street is in, it just refuses to accept the input. Not very helpful.
Seats are great, comfy and although mechanically adjusted they use great multi-action lever instead of finger-cracking buttons. Good design.
But the real gems in the Variant are up the back. The load space is big with the back seats up, but the way the shelf flips back, stows under a flat floor when not needed, and the slick way the seats auto-fold from the back with minimal effort all make the car a delight to use for transporting big loads with minimum effort and inconvenience.
How it drives
The Variant uses a 4cylinder 1.4 litre turbo petrol engine that puts out around 123bhp, with a decent 200Nm of torque to give a 200+kph top speed and some decent acceleration. Spinning the front wheels isn't hard if you are in the mood. Acceleration is brisk once you get past the slight turbo lag - 100km/h comes in 9.5sec, but the main impression is not of power and speed but of smoothness. The 7-speed dual clutch gearbox is almost imperceptible at work.
Handling is where the Golf's heritage also shows through. It is very planted on twisty roads, even with the longer body and wheelbase, yet still darts about like a goldfish on speed if asked. Still a benchmark for its class.
It was pretty good at being economical too - VW claims 5.2l/100km for a mixed urban cycle. The car offers a slightly gimmicky eco-blue meter readout if you can be bothered, and can be switched between eco, sport and normal modes. The main difference between them seemed to be engine noise and the time each gear held on to the revs.
Overall, very easy and predictable to drive, but a bit noisier than it needed to be for the sake of the R badge, maybe.
The Golf Variant offers excellent value for money for such a versatile machine. It is way cooler, better handling and more involving than an MPV, and way more practical than an ordinary hatch. It offers comfort, a bit of go if you want it, and enough practical features to keep the whole family happy. Just a teeny touch of the sparkle-brush on the interior would make it almost perfect.
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