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Icon buyer: new VW Golf GTD Estate or used BMW 330d Touring?

Published: 13 January 2017

► New VW Golf Estate vs used BMW 330d Touring
► FWD and four cylinders vs RWD and six cylinders
 Which of these estates is worth your money? Find out

It’s a cast-iron answer to that ‘one-car-to-do-it-all’ pub question: Golf GTD. Hot-hatch handling without a harsh ride, oodles of torque without the tax bill, and bombproof residuals when the time comes to sell. And it’s now available as an estate. Job done.

But… for the same £28k GTD wagon starting price – or a fair bit less, in fact – there’s another ‘only car you’d ever need’. BMW’s F31 3-series Touring is as good to drive as it looks, and in 330d guise packs a lusty six-cylinder 3.0 diesel, juggling a sub-6sec 0-62 time with real-life 40mpg fuel economy. Not for nothing has CAR previously described the 330d Touring as the best car in the real world. Question is, which one’s worth spending real money on?

The Golf GTD gets many of the best bits of the GTI – lowered yet supple suspension, quick-racked steering and ‘XDS+’ brake electronics to maximise traction and tighten the car’s line – but looks rather more subtle, swapping shouty red pinstriping for chrome. Twin tailpipes, big bumpers and 18in wheels are the only outward clues it’s something a little bit more potent than a TDI. Next to the still-handsome 3-series (a mid-life update in 2015 barely touched the styling), the Golf looks a little anonymous, especially in Fridge White.

Unlike the BMW, however, it could probably swallow a fridge with space to spare. The 3-series might be longer than the Golf, but the VW’s actually the more practical estate car with noticeably more room, seats up or down. The BMW’s rear suspension makes its boot a smaller, less convenient shape, and the Golf’s has a lower lip – handy for loading heavy stuff, or arthritic dogs. Up front, there are door bins big enough to lose a small child in and fantastically comfortable sports seats – in tartan, natch.

Swap into the BMW and you drop into a driving position that instantly feels more special, with a huge range of adjustment from sports-car low to supermini upright. The iDrive swivel-dial-controlled media system looks less modern than the Golf’s plus-size touchscreen but works just as well, and is arguably less of a distraction on the move (though the Golf’s is one of the better systems out there).

Both cars drive beautifully, in different ways. The 330d’s 3.0-litre engine is an event in itself, capable of an absurd turn of pace. The horizon’s yours at a brush of the throttle. An eight-speed auto is the only gearbox available, and does its job beautifully. As does the chassis. The 330d tested here is unusual in that it’s an M Sport model that was ordered with the regular 3-series softer suspension in place of the firmer sports setup, so there’s a little more looseness to the body’s movements. On its optional adaptive dampers the VW changes direction better and in many ways actually feels more agile. But the BMW is nicer – it has that typically lovely 3-series balance.

The Golf is mighty impressive, though, with grip to throw away in all weathers. The estate’s wheelbase is the same as the hatch, and to its credit it’s easy to forget you’re carrying that extra bodywork. Surprisingly, the Golf’s also more refined than the 3-series. Far more road roar and engine noise makes its way into the BMW’s cabin – the Golf, presumably packed with sound deadening, is quieter at a cruise.

Servicing and running costs

You’ve two options when it comes to servicing the Golf. If you’re planning to pile on in excess of 15,000 miles a year, then you’ll want the flexible servicing plan. This entails a yearly oil change (typically £159) and a major service (£329) every other year. If your annual mileage is lower, however, go for the fixed service plan. This necessitates an oil change at one year/10,000 miles (again, around £159), and an inspection at two years/20k miles (£209). After that, it’s a basic service every year or 20k miles.

The BMW operates on a variable service schedule, but as a rule it will need fresh oil every two years or 18,000 miles, possibly sooner if it’s been used hard – the dashboard display will flag up a warning if so. BMW Sycamore Peterborough quotes £350 for a first major service. Every second service (at roughly four-year intervals) involves additional inspections and replacement consumables – budget around £500-£600.

The Golf sits in insurance group 26, the 330d in group 38. Currently you’d need to budget £130 a year in road tax for the BMW, £30 for the VW.

Reliability

First released in 2012, the F30/31 BMW 330d is still too young for common issues to emerge. ‘We’ve seen nothing earth-shattering,’ says Mark Charteris at Bedford-based specialist B&MWorx. ‘Some of the footwell modules fail occasionally, but otherwise they’re very reliable. Nothing like the earlier cars…’ BMW engine tuning whizzes DMS Automotive likewise report no issues with either standard or tuned cars. While there are few high-mileage cars around yet, expect typical diesel issues – EGR valves, coked-up engine manifolds etc – to creep in over time. 

The GTD has a three-year/60,000-mile warranty against technical and electrical manufacturing defects. A body protection warranty covers the internal body sections and panels against rust for 12 years, and paintwork for three.

Key options

Ordinarily M Sport models get lower, firmer suspension but it can be substituted for the regular setup as a no-cost option when the car’s ordered new. Few buyers do, although the 330d tested here is just such a car. Optional adaptive dampers help offer the best of both worlds.

All-wheel-drive ‘xDrive’ models are worth around £1000 extra; spend it on a set of winter tyres instead. Many cars are fitted with the Business Media pack, chief benefits of which are Bluetooth and sat-nav; find a car with the ‘Professional’ pack and you’ll get a bigger, prettier, more legible widescreen layout. If you can, find a car with electrically adjustable seats. They’re less of a faff to adjust.

The swift-shifting DSG ’box in the Golf adds around £1400 extra to its already toppy price tag but we’d happily stick with the standard, slick-feeling manual. The largest 8in colour touchscreen nav/multimedia unit is nicer to use than the standard screen but costs a hefty £1325. Adaptive dampers offer spookily brilliant body control for £830, but you can’t have the mechanical limited-slip diff offered as an option in the GTI. Spoilsports.

Verdict

The Golf GTD is an expensive car that doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed. It’s roomier than the BMW, more refined (despite the cylinder shortfall) and wouldn’t have trouble keeping pace with it on a challenging road. It’s perhaps not the most emotional of cars, granted, but it’s a seriously good one.

Ultimately, though, it’s the emotional bits that count; it’s hard to argue against the BMW’s sleeker styling, mega engine, rear-drive dynamics or – as it turns out – superb secondhand value. The GTD is the better all-rounder, but the 330d is still the best car.  

Volkswagen vs BMW: the numbers

VW Golf Estate GTD

Price £28,675
Engine 1968cc 16v turbodiesel 4-cyl, 182bhp @ 3500-4000rpm, 280lb ft @ 2500-5000rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual (DSG auto optional), front-wheel drive
Performance 7.9sec 0-62mph, 143mph, 64.2mpg, 115g/km CO2
Suspension MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Weight/made from 1475kg/steel
Length/width/height 4575/1799/1470mm
On sale Now

BMW 330d Touring 3.0 M Sport

Price £19,000-£34,000
Engine 2993cc 24v turbodiesel 6-cyl, 254bhp @ 4000rpm, 413lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Performance 5.6sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 53.3mpg, 138g/km CO2
Suspension MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Weight/made from 1610kg/steel
Length/width/height 4624/2031/1429mm
On sale 2012-on

Owner reviews

VW Golf GTD: James Samuel

‘I’ve had it since Christmas and racked up 10k miles. It’s my sixth Golf, so I’m a fan. It’s a company car; I wanted something as fast as possible, my wife wanted something as economical as possible, so it ticks every box.

Disappointingly, two bits of trim have fallen off – the front badge, and one of the bumper winglets. The oil light flicked on at 6000 miles, and again since. My 911 Turbo uses less oil. I went for the DSG as it spends its time hacking up the motorway or in the city. You climb out after a 250-mile trip and feel fine.’

BMW 330d Touring M Sport: Rob Aherne

‘I’ve had it for three years. I specced it without M Sport suspension, so it’s in anti-enthusiast spec. But I don’t feel like it’s missing much, the handling still impresses and it’s enjoyable to drive. I’ve had a 318 and an E39 CSL before, and this has some of the same attributes. The driving position is great, you can sit very low and there’s good space for a tall driver, but the engine’s the star.

Despite being a wagon it’s not that great a family car. You can barely get two small kids in, and we rely on an S-Max. I love it, though. It’s a struggle to think what I’ll replace 

Read more CAR used car reviews

By James Taylor

CAR's online editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

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