Too long in the tooth to be surprised any more, Iain Robertson believes that an inevitable estate car version of the phenomenal Golf R is potentially the perfect family car for the real enthusiast… albeit with a soupcon of caution

AIMED AT the serious driver, not because of need but, rather, desire, the Golf R hatchback is the car that made my heart beat faster a couple of years ago, and which provided me with the maximum test driving joy late last summer. The estate car variant, if I really wanted to be cynical, is an expectation of a mainstream brand that seeks every available opportunity to niche-fill. Yet, without trying, I perceive the latest iteration as the ultimate high-performance estate car on sale today.

VW Golf R Estate 9However, let’s face it, it is the little things that cause certain makes and models of motorcar to be such compelling propositions. A Golf R estate is never going to possess mass market appeal. Mrs Molehusband, of Acacia Gardens, will stick with her 1.2-litre version of Europe’s most popular hatchback that will never be driven faster than 42mph (absolutely everywhere!), while Mr Bernadelli, who owns the race-car preparation business, will always opt for the 2.0-litre GTD model, as much for its autostrada frugality as its mid-range grunt and on-the-road stance.

The R is the preserve of the smart individual. This is the car in which he footles to work, leaving home early and seeking alternative routes every day, but which carries enough gravitas in his firm’s car park stakes to salve his reputation as both ‘go-getter’ and the ‘go-to’ person. Besides, he probably owns and drives a supercar at weekends, on high days and holidays.

VW Golf R EstateYet, what about those ‘little things’? Well, I can tell you what appeals to me, starting with the automatic parking brake. Not normally a fan of such devices, as I prefer a conventional lever between the front seats, I can understand the space-saving benefits and relevance of a switch. Yet, the switch in the Golf R has an automatic over-ride function, which works so effortlessly with the engine’s ’stop-start’ facility that you wonder why VW is one of the few brands that can get it right (because BMW has not, neither has Merc, and you might as well forget Ford). It engages and disengages super-smoothly, without illuminating the night sky behind the car.

Allow me to explain: with 99 per cent of other carmakers, the ‘stop-start’ facility only operates when the brake pedal is depressed, which means that both taillights and high-level brake light, which are usually a mass of super-bright LEDs these days, flood the rear of the car in a blindingly red aura, which is especially distracting in adverse weather conditions. As we reside in the UK, we get a lot of adverse weather conditions. Not to present this searing array is a positive safety bonus that only those poor unfortunates encountering it in the first place will ever comprehend.

VW Golf R Estate 7Another ‘little thing’ is that same ‘stop-start’ system which, we are informed, reduces exhaust pollution, an aspect about which VW Group is highly sensitive, and enhances fuel economy. Normally, I find that these systems are little less than thoroughly annoying. That of the Golf R lasts longer (it does not restart the engine while sitting at traffic lights for longer than eleven seconds). That of the Golf R works ingeniously with the DSG automated-manual transmission (in that the driver does not have to select ‘Neutral’ or apply the parking-brake… see previous comments). Instead, it stops and restarts the engine so imperceptibly that you marvel at its efficacy.

VW Golf R Estate 2Talking of DSG, the six-speed, twin-clutch transmission, complete with up and down paddles behind the steering-wheel spokes, is another of those ‘little things’ that engages with both the indolent and enthusiast within me. It can be as lazily enjoyable as it is on-the-button urgent. Gearshifts are unerringly fast, regardless of your driving mood and, dependent on which of the five driving modes (Comfort, Normal, Sport, Individual and Race) is selected via the centre console mounted switch, every up-shift can either emit a boy-racer ‘blart’, or a down-shifting ‘waffle’, to provide a frisson of excitement to the drive, but only ever on demand. It is all part of the Golf R experience.

VW Golf R Estate 8Another practical ‘little thing’ is the either rubber, or felt-lined door pockets, glove box, sunglasses holder, cup holder, or storage trays that fill almost every available space within the cabin. Deposit the house keys and mobile phone in any of them and there are zero annoying rattles and items do not slide around. Beneath both front seats are useful sealed cubbies for a first-aid kit, the continental spare bulb kit, or the obligatory yellow safety vests. There is even oodles of space for valuables around the get-you-home spare wheel/tyre in the boot (605-litres rear seats erected; 1,620-litres seats folded), accessed via a solid, but folding floor section.

VW Golf R Estate 4While there seems to have been a rash of steering wheel developments in recent years, which clusters groups of minor controls confusingly within a thumbs reach of the driver, very little logic seems to exist in their operation, that is unless you are a 12-year-old computer buff. Yet, it is just a ‘little thing’, but VW’s installation allows properly linear, left-hand adjustment of the stereo volume, changing stations, or CD/iPod tracks, while accessing the on-board computer, and all of the other touch-screen controls are operable with the right hand and there is no possibility of accidental button pushing. They can also be engaged without having to peer perilously at them, by removing your gaze from the road ahead. VW can teach any number of other car makers a few tricks here.

The touch-screen in the centre console stack is another of those ‘little things’ that serves to satisfy the vehicle operator with its logical and colourfully interesting displays and options. It is everything that you would need in a car, from operating information, to stereo programme selections and, naturally, sat-nav. Incidentally, it includes three years’ worth of mapping upgrades, which means that your chosen route should be free of glitches, and those ‘lost’ details that usually confuse and baffle. It is considerate and typical of VW’s attention to detail.

VW Golf R Estate 5However, the best aspect of the entire Golf R Estate lies in its range of expressive potency. It is hard to believe that a mere 2.0-litre, turbocharged, petrol engine provides the 296bhp verve, while returning an average fuel return between 35 and 40mpg (the Official Combined figure is stated as 40.4mpg, which perpetuates VW’s reputation as one of a very few car manufacturers whose fuel figures actually make some economic sense). It emits around 162g/km of CO2, which equates to an annual VED of £175, again, hardly a king’s ransom, as well as a middling Group 34E insurance rating.

As with the hatchback model, its top speed is an electronically pegged 155mph, but it can blitz from 0-60mph in a mere 4.8 seconds in a completely fuss-free and effortless manner, all by a simple depression of the accelerator pedal. It is as sweet to punt around town comfortably as it to relax on a main road, or to worry the hedge-life on a cross-country handling drive of zesty intent. This phenomenal blending of potentially vicious, supercar performance, in a package with which you would entrust your maiden aunt on her weekly traipse to the corner shop, is a stand-out turn.

VW Golf R Estate 6However, not all elements of the Golf R Estate are as eminently satisfying, as its list price, which VW states is a mere £695 premium over the 5-door hatchback version and appears to be excellent value for money, bumps the list price to a whopping £33,585. It has been not quite two years since I first drove a Golf R and, in a moderately stable market, where inflation has been at a very low level, I consider that its price tag is now venturing into the realms of unaffordability. The beauty of the R was that it was priced from below £30k, yet it has been hiked ever upwards, which plays against its intended market and makes it appear as though VW is being no less than avaricious.

VW Golf R Estate 3The test car, which includes the upgraded sat-nav at £765, the android phone connectivity (which should be standard by now) at £100, the Dynamic Chassis Control at £830, the Lane Assist and Dynamic Light Assist at £955, the one-inch larger diameter alloys (up from 18 to 19 inches) and tyres priced at £895, the Winter Pack (heated seats and washer jets, headlamp washers and low washer fluid warning, some of which items should be standard) costs £400, the advanced tracking device at £536 and, finally, the Lapiz Blue paint job at £610, adds up to a severely restrictive £39,676 on the road. Yikes! It is just too much, as it ought to be price tagged at around £33,000, including all that gear, for what remains a Golf, with heaps of parts bin additives. In my view, VW is wrecking a potential gold seam.

VW Golf R Estate 1Make no bones, I love the Golf R. It is the myriad ‘little things’ that combine to make it such a compelling purchase proposition… until you spot the invoice bottom line. Okay, so the vast majority of Golf R buyers will hop on to the PCP bandwagon and pay the price for their choice later. The remaining aspirants will be either company car users or a monied few who can afford to fritter away almost £40,000 on an eminently practical and lovable compact estate car that is still a Golf. I, for one, would not like to suffer the inevitable £20,000-plus depreciation on a two- to three-year-old example, regardless of its overall desirability, which makes me feel very sad indeed.

Our man behind the wheel…

Iain RobertsonIain P W Robertson has been a fixture of the British and international motoring scene for more than forty years. He is also an exponent of the travel scene and understands driving holidays only too well. Always opinionated but frequently balanced in his views, he is open to receiving enquiries from readers and he will respond. Iain is over 50, likes dogs and drives a Skoda, out of choice.