We’re revisiting the driver’s seat of a VW Golf Estate armed with two queries to answer. First off, it’s a chance to drive the 2.0 TDI version mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Until now we’ve only had chance to sample it with the whipcrack-fast but pricey dual-clutch DSG paddleshifter.
Then there’s the question of comfort. We last drove the car at its international launch venue in Amsterdam, Holland. The Dutch aren’t just blessed with pretty tulip fields and entertaining coffee shops: their roads are silky-smooth too, so it’s time to see if a Golf Estate GT, complete with snazzy 17in alloys, can handle the hostile terrain of British roads.
So, is the Golf Estate best had as a 2.0 TDI with a stick-shift?
That’s a tough ask we’ll save for later, but the good news is the manual shift is a real peach, lessening the temptation to blow £1415 on the slick DSG gearbox. Given the manual is also greener to the tune of 4.5mpg and 11g/km, and has a beautifully damped, mechanical shift that allows no powertrain vibration to rattle through the quality-trimmed lever (take note, BMW), it’s really no hardship to have that extra pedal in the footwell.
Though the 1.6 TDI will be the UK’s best-seller thanks to its fleet-friendly 102g/km and £21k entry-price, it’s the 2.0 diesel that we’d save up for. It’s a free-revving, cultured engine, which actually sounds more appealing than the wickedly clever (and pricey) 1.4 TSI with cylinder deactivation. As impressive as that bipolar motor is, its thrashy tone at extended revs loses it key points against the derv.
Though glancing at the 2.0 TDI’s spec sheet reveals a wafer-thin 500rpm maximum brake-horsepower band (148bhp is on hand only from 3500-4000rpm), it’s the torque that shifts loads in the Golf Estate’s 1620L boot – and there’s plenty of it. 236lb ft from 1750rpm right through to 3000rpm is almost knocking on the door of the Golf GTI’s torque output – enough to make the Golf Estate an effortlessly keen accelerator.
Six-gear overtakes at motorway speeds are a little tardy (why not drop to fifth, the gearbox is a joy), but autobahn-biased ratios aren’t enough to put us off this particular drivetrain. If it were this reviewer’s money on the line, the 2.0 TDI manual would get the nod.
And what’s the ride like in the UK?
It’s alright – body control is well-checked and minor road imperfections are barely registered by the car – thanks in part to the Estate’s statelier wheelbase. That said, we’d still prefer a smaller wheel option on the GT models, to get closer to the exemplary ride we know the Golf can offer on less embarrassingly pockmarked roads. It’s no surprise, in that case, that the cheaper SE model, with 16-inchers and juicier tyre sidewalls as standard, will be most popular in the UK.
We liked the Golf Estate a great deal when we first tried it out in summer 2013, and that appeal hasn’t diminished now it’s on British shores. The crisp, welcoming cabin is a bigger achievement for VW now than the Phaeton’s was back in 2002, and the choice of engines is enough to make rival manufacturers weep.
It’ll be interesting to find out if the Seat Leon ST, which shares the Golf’s modular chassis and engines (but not its £24k price) is the pick of the small wagon bunch, but if you can afford the Volkswagen, it’s fair to say whatever the spec, you simply can’t go wrong.
(Test car was a GT model, inferior SE model pictured for illustrative purposes)