NOWADAYS, golf estates are much more than somewhere to go and whack a ball around a park in an attempt to knock it down a number of holes while avoiding sand, water, trees and similar hazards along the way. People also go there to eat, relax, confer, take a short holiday – even live permanently.

The connotation is of a high-profile, healthy way of living. Similarly, station wagons used to be vehicles with a basic aim in life but, in recent times, have evolved into something more versatile and upmarket. It all boils down to maximising assets, and the latest generation of wagons are no longer utilitarian: they are stylish, practical, well-equipped and even carry a bit of snob value, avoiding the “bus” jibes levelled at taller MPVs. Volkswagen has just struck a fine tee shot with the introduction of the Golf Estate (possibly more aptly called Variant in its homeland), bringing some premium quality to the affordable end of the market segment.

VWs and wagons are nothing new, of course. Many South Africans will recall the Type 3 and 411/412 Variants of the ‘60s and ‘70s that were the dominant derivatives in their respective model line-ups. There were wagon versions of the early Passats, too. But probably because, fundamentally, Golf is a hatchback, an estate model was only introduced with Mk 3, and has continued with Mk 4. Now is the first time that South Africa has had the model on offer, and it comes in 1,6-litre Trendline guise.

From the B-pillar back, the Estate is all new. The tops of the rear doors have been squared off, and the saloon’s floorpan extended by 248 mm to accommodate the wagon portion. Integral longitudinal roof rails (there are no transverse bars) increase the height measurement by 41 mm, but all other dimensions are as for Golf 4. The increased rear overhang does not look excessive, and VW has opted for a proper square outline rather than a rounded and/or sloping stylised shape. It certainly looks the part: functional and smart.

Using our ISO-standard blocks for measuring load volume, we were able to pack a massive 448 dm3 under the retractable and removable cargo cover, and 1 296 dm3 into the utility space afforded by folding down the rear seat. By comparison, a Golf five-door holds 304 and 1 088 dm3, respectively. Goods have to be raised 620 mm to clear the protected top of the rear bumper. The tailgate (with high-mount brake light) has an electric latch, rises to 1 900 mm, and has two pull-down handles. The glass has a heating element, and a wiper with a fixed intermittent action, plus wash. Tail-light units are contained in the fenders.

A big squarish aperture aids the loading of bulky objects into the Golf Estate’s “hole”, and the well-upholstered cargo area includes useful rubbing strips in the carpet. Four tie-down hooks are provided for securing loads. Under the metal floor is the full-size spare wheel, ahead of a shaped tray for keeping items completely out of sight, and compartments for housing emergency and first aid kits are in the sidewalls. A 12-volt power socket is also provided, with a courtesy light located above the tailgate. To compensate for loads, there is a facia-mounted headlight beam height adjuster.

The rear seat backrest is split and can be folded down once the cushions have been tipped forward. Attached to the wider section of the backrest is a cumbersome-to-remove cross beam housing a net that can be hooked into the ceiling with the seats either up or down. When laid down, the beam serves as a lip to help prevent goods sliding forward into the front area.

A foldaway centre armrest with a lidded shallow tray is contained in the front of the backrest’s wide section. The outer seatbelts have adjustable upper mounting points, but the centre belt is a lap-only type. Head restraints are not supplied. Coat hooks are incorporated in the damped grab handles above each rear door, with map pockets fitted behind the front seats, and a dual drink holder pops out of the back of the floor console.

Other nick-nack locations include a lockable cubby (with two indents to hold drinks inside the lid), bins in the front doors, trays in the floor and hangdown consoles, and another pop-out dual drink holder in the facia console. A trio of courtesy lights with a delayed-off action help find items in the dark, and there are a pair of map lights. Plenty to look after people, pets and packages in the back, then, so what about those in front?

Trendline trim level offers a satisfactory amount of comfort and convenience items. Included in the spec are remote central locking, dual front airbags, height adjustable front seatbelt upper mountings, height and tilt adjustable front head restraints, smart cloth upholstery, air-conditioning, power operated exterior mirrors (a faulty switch worked both at the same time on the test car!), electric window operation (one-touch up and down for both fronts), radio/cassette player, and cushion height adjustment on both front seats.

The driver benefits from a rake- and reach-adjustable four-spoke steering wheel, a left-foot rest, a trip computer, outside temperature display, and VW’s excellent night-time “acid rock” instrument lighting. Golf’s build quality is a given, and the Estate goes about its tasks with a premium, refined manner. It does not go about them quickly, though, because progress with the 1,6-litre eight-valve motor is fairly lethargic. The car feels sluggish, borne out by the test-strip figures of 0-100 km/h in 13,5 seconds, a standing kilometre time of 34,43 seconds, and a top peed of 184 km/h. Not surprisingly, in-gear acceleration is hardly in the sprinter class, either, and we reckon travelling at altitude fully laden might necessitate a revival of “I Spy” games to help pass the time...

In truth, cruising in the Golf wagon is a relaxing occupation, but we feel the car needs a brawnier engine to provide some zip. On the brighter side, fuel economy is good, with around 580 km possible on a tankful of unleaded.

A cautionary note regarding the gearshift. Movement across the gate is echanically notchy but precise, and there is a bullet-proof feel to the internals. But there is a risk that for anyone heavy of hand, locating reverse instead of first when moving the lever to the left is a possibility.

The push-downdetent is soft, so care should be taken to avoid engaging rearward, rather than forward, motion. Flash 15x6J spoked alloys shod with 195/65 rubberware offer benign handling via the power-assisted steering – there is not enough power to push any limits – and the ride is comfortable, although there does not appear to be a lot of suspension movement to accommodate heavy loads. Brakes are superb. Admittedly with ABS and EBD as standard, the all-disc set-up nevertheless hauled the 1 263 kg Estate to standstill with impressive bite and consistency.

Original article from Car