Monday 28 May 2018

Cars... No rose-tinted glasses: Golf estate does its job

But this roomy ride is far from sparkling

A thoroughly good Estate from Volkswagen
A thoroughly good Estate from Volkswagen
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

The cousin bade me wait a few minutes while he plucked some roses for me as I was leaving. He said they'd brighten things up a little. I'm not a flower person but even I had to admit they were lovely. As I carefully placed them on the front passenger seat, he sat on the window sill and we chatted some more in the warm early-July sun.

As with every rose there is a thorn and he, unintentionally, had one to prick my conscience.

It is only natural, as you'd imagine, that we spend part of my visits talking about the car I have on test.

In this case we continued our chat about the Volkswagen Golf estate.

He felt I was being a bit too critical of, and negative about, the car.

What did I expect, he asked, as he settled himself more comfortably on the sill.

An estate is primarily a practical operative, not one of my exotic flights of fancy and I needed to see it in its proper context.

I thought I did and was a bit taken aback because I don't think I am usually that much off the mark. He admitted I am not, usually.

As well as that, I had more than 400km on the clock - derived from a variety of driving conditions - at that stage, so I felt I knew the car fairly well.

But in the interest of fairness I went through the main areas again.

It had a decent cabin. What do you expect? It's a Golf with Volkswagen DNA all over it. And in Highline trim the seats looked well - but I thought they were a bit too soft and unsupportive for me. Others liked them. There was plenty of room in the back. And there was loads of room in the boot - you can fold the rear seats flat from the luggage area with the push of a button to open up tonnes of space. It certainly meets the 'estate' criteria big-time.

The cousin and I were in agreement on one thing though. The engine sounded a bit throaty and gruff and that, I came to realise as I drove the journey back, was one of the main reasons I had been 'negative' in my attitudes earlier.

The 1.6-litre diesel had enough power - through the 5spd manual gearbox - but its efforts, I felt, evoked an old-fashioned sound that didn't endear itself to me when on the move or the cousin when stationary.

And maybe, just maybe, some of my indifference stemmed from the estate's colour - a dull metallic limestone grey. All these factors impinge on the subliminal impressions and judgments you make about a car.

In fairness, I do know Volkswagen are trying to kick-start the estate segment in the face of the compact SUV trend where looks and colour are transforming the landscape.

And I laud them for that because estates can be so versatile and practical. We don't think of them enough.

On my journey back and over another subsequent few, I was glad of the prick of perspective nurtured by the cousin. It encouraged me to drive a good deal more and look again at a car that was highly proficient. But has it enough going for it to be a lifestyle motor as well - because regardless of practicality that is what it probably needs to be as well?

Maybe I've been spoilt with the Golfs I've driven this past while: The R, GTi and a sublime Highline 2-litre version that had me, and better judges of a car than me, in raptures.

The estate is, even in Highline (top) trim, more at the business end of affairs. But even allowing for that, I felt it just lacked a little bit of appeal.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the practical side of me would have argued relentlessly for the estate's resolute hard-headedness and everyday applicability. You need more than that these days, I think. Or do you? Is there a place for a small-family estate?

Maybe, just maybe, there is but not if, like me, you expect too much. Buy it for what it is: a thoroughly good estate. 'Lifestyle' is a rose-tinted bonus.

Facts & figures

Volkswagen Golf, Highline, estate 1.6 TDi (110bhp, 1,598cc, 102g/km, €190 road tax). Spec includes Climatronic air-con (2-zone climate control), driver fatigue alert, start/stop, 16ins alloys, fog lights, multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth, 5.8ins touch-screen, auto headlights, rain sensor, park distance controls, sports seats (alcantara on front centres). Extras: free techno pack (sat nav, light assist, rear view camera), metallic paint.

Entry price €27,085. Extras: €594. Total: €30,429. Price includes delivery/related charges. Range starts: €22,280.

My side of the road

I stopped, looked both ways and was just edging onto the main road when a Porsche went by at speed. It had not been on the horizon five seconds earlier. I am certain of that.

Yet an accident would have been my fault: I was exiting a side road. My initial reaction was relief and gratitude. But it morphed into anger. How dare anyone drive like that on a suburban road.

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