The Golf with a little bit added

Volkswagen was late producing a midi-MPV, and was made to pay dearly as many rivals plundered a market clearly hooked on new found levels of versatility. Now, realising that its traditional models may no longer cut it with many of today’s car buyers, VW has set about fighting back.

Not content with the Golf and Touran, it has just added a further model to its ranks: the Golf Plus, which it boldly describes as a ‘reinvention of the traditional hatchback’.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before. Cars like the Peugeot 307 SW, which expands the functionality of the 307 hatchback without growing too much in size or price, have paved the way. VW’s version is a multifaceted five-seater that succeeds in extending traditional hatchback boundaries.

With its one-and-a-half box silhouette, the Golf Plus manages to avoid the boxy look of many midi-MPV rivals. Among the new details are trapezoidal-shaped headlights, a small quarter window ahead of the front doors, a more defined V-form in the lower edge of the rear windscreen and stylish tail lamps using LED technology taken from the upmarket Phaeton saloon. Strangely, however, VW has decided not to endow its latest model with its new corporate grille, as seen on the Golf GTi.

Underneath, the Plus shares its underpinnings with the new Golf. The two are the same width (1759mm), and the Plus is just 2mm longer (4206mm). The big difference is in height, which increases by 95mm to 1580mm.

In the cabin

The increased height has allowed VW’s engineers to incorporate appreciably larger door apertures than on the Golf, easing entry. The doors open wide and you virtually step up into the interior. With the front seats 75mm higher than those in the Golf, there’s no awkward folding of body parts: you simply slide onto the seat and swing your legs into the generously sized footwells. The driver is presented with a commanding view of the road.

The high-mounted dashboard uses the same agreeable (if somewhat dark) soft-touch plastics as the Golf, but has been thoroughly redesigned. The fascia is dominated by a large central pod a hand’s width away from the steering wheel that houses secondary controls.

It’s obvious that VW has worked hard at getting the cabin right. There’s a feeling of spaciousness you just don’t get in the Golf and everywhere you turn there is somewhere to put things. Volkswagen claims 34 cubby holes in all, including a large glovebox, a front centre armrest box, bins on each door, drawers under the front seats, a large area beneath the boot floor and four optional compartments mounted in the roof lining. The problem will be finding what you’ve stashed away.

Like the 307 SW, the Golf Plus makes no concession to seating seven with a cramped third row of seats mounted in the boot (the Touran fulfils that role). Instead, it retains a traditional five-seat layout while providing loads of luggage space.Not so traditional are the sliding 60/40 split/fold rear seats. Like those up front, they’re mounted on runners which give 160mm of adjustment fore and aft, allowing you to maximise either rear seat space or luggage space.

With the seats in their rearmost position, there’s 395 litres of luggage space beneath the parcel shelf. Flick a latch, slide the seats forward, and you get another 155 litres, taking boot space up to 505 litres (155 litres more than in the Golf). A pull mechanism folds the seats away to provide a flat and deep load bay. In this configuration there’s 1450 litres of space (a Ford Focus estate offers just 75 litres more).

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Under the bonnet

Volkswagen is bullish about the Golf Plus’s chances and says it expects up to 150,000 sales worldwide in the first full year of production, 18,000 of them in the UK. It will be launched here in June, with up to five different four-cylinder engines. On the petrol side there’s a standard 74bhp 1.4-litre and advanced 110bhp 1.6-litre FSI direct-injection unit, with a 138bhp 2.0-litre to follow. As with the Golf, however, it’s the turbodiesel engines that are expected to capture most sales in the UK. These engines include a 1.9-litre with 103bhp and a 2.0-litre with 138bhp.

Pick of the bunch is the 2.0-litre TDi. Mated to a standard six-speed manual ’box, the four-valves-per-cylinder unit delivers solid shove and propels the Golf Plus with a decent turn of speed. With 236lb ft of torque between 1750 and 2500rpm it is quite flexible, requiring fewer gearchanges than any of the petrol units, and ensures you’re less likely to struggle when the car is fully loaded.VW puts the 0-62mph sprint at 9.7sec, and the top speed at 125mph. For those seeking added sportiness, there is the option of a DSG dual-clutch gearbox on TDI models. Petrol engines are available with an optional six-speed auto.

On the road

Unsurprisingly, the Plus is remarkably similar to the Golf to drive. The rack and pinion steering, using the same electrically assisted system and ratio, is weighty enough to be reassuring on twisty roads, but feedback is weak.

The raised seating position makes you instantly more aware of lean during cornering, but while body control isn’t quite a match for its smaller sibling’s, its actions are nevertheless nicely controlled. To counter the effects of the car’s taller stature, Volkswagen has reworked the Golf’s MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, giving it additional wheel travel, while firming up the springs and dampers and adding larger anti-roll bars.

When pushing hard the standard 205/55 R16 tyres hang on well, but eventually give way to mild understeer, though, the level of breakaway is quite high and coming off the throttle tightens the line. The ride is excellent, remaining nicely composed over sharp undulations and coping with broken bitumen remarkably well. Stability on the motorway is also good and, with suitably long gearing, mechanical refinement is quite impressive for this class. The increased frontal area over the Golf does generate a little extra wind noise, but never to excessive levels. The Plus does, however, seem a little more sensitive to side winds than the Golf.

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The Golf Plus is perfect for families that require more space than the average hatchback offers, and with solid performance, good handling and a smooth ride, it could tempt those who place an emphasis on driving dynamics. Roomy, versatile and stylish, it is not just another box.

Greg Kable

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