There are already estate versions of the Polo, Passat and now Golf. VW just doesn't expect to sell enough of them. Total Golf sales in the year 2000 are expected to be about 55,500 and the estate is expected to account for just 9% of those. But throughout the rest of Europe, combined sales of the Golf and Bora estate are forecast to top 150,000, half of them in Germany alone.
The cause of the dichotomy is the way estate cars are perceived. In the UK, they are still seen as load-luggers for work materials, shopping, pets or bulky household goods. Stretching and squaring off your favourite hatchback does not make a desirable car.
However, as Berthold Kruger, head of marketing at Volkswagen, explained at the launch of the two variants, the estate in the rest of Europe has become 'trendy'. He summed up the phenomenon thus: 'What is the typical buyer of estates? The proportion of commercial users of the Golf is only 28%. This is an important customer group, but it proves that this car is bought, above all, because it's the ideal leisure and sports utility vehicle. Estate fans are younger, have higher than average income, have children under 18 in the household and live an active life.'
Does this sound like the average estate car driver in this country? No. And there's the rub. VW insiders have expressed concern about how differently we view this type of car compared to Europe. Until they find a reason and address it, the manufacturer will treat us differently, hence no Bora estate.
The Golf estate will go on sale in the UK in early autumn and be available with seven engine options, from 1.4 75bhp petrol to a 2.3 V5 petrol and two turbo diesels - 90bhp and 110bhp. A TDI 115bhp version, powered by the same engine which can be found in the Passat range, will be available early next year. The production of the Mk III estate finished at the end of last year and so, by the time the new model is launched in the autumn, VW will not have had an estate in this sector. The delay has allowed the Golf hatchback to become established and also not to overload dealers with new product but allow them to become established in selling the Lupo, Beetle and Bora.
The new estate range will mirror that of the hatchback with the exception there will be no GTI versions. There will be four trim levels - E, S, SE and V5 - and the presence of a V5 engine from launch is also expected to make the car more 'aspirational'. The estate will be priced about £750 above the five-door hatchback equivalent. Prices will therefore range from around £13,490 for the 1.4E to £20,475 for the V5 automatic. Equipment levels match that of the hatchback with the addition of a retractable load-bay cover and roof rails on all models.
Volkswagen plans to sell 1,200 of the new estate in 1999 and 5,000 next year, with the S-trim expected to prove the most popular. A spokesman said: 'Its main rivals will be the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus estates but the Golf will win, despite slightly higher costs, because of its leading residual values, low wholelife and servicing costs. The Golf is also superior from a styling point of view and the quality of its interior fittings.'
The new car is also longer by 64mm than its predecessor and 40mm wider. The wheelbase has increased by 40mm to 2,515. A large tailgate affords access to a stowage space of 460-litres which can be extended to 1,470 by folding down the rear seats. The Mark 3 with the seats down had a 1,425-litre boot space. The car's practical nature will lead to its strong standing in fleets - about 40% of hatchbacks go into fleet and the number of estates taking the same route is expected to be slightly higher.
On the Berlin launch, two types of estate were driven - the 2.0-litre 115bhp auto on a 20km circuit of mainly urban roads and the 1.4 75bhp version on a 60km drive on town roads and a short autobahn stretch. In terms of the quality of the fittings, both models were perfect with all the characteristics that have made the Golf such a strong car being retained.
The additional size of the estate does not affect the drive quality. The 2.0-litre automatic was the least remarkable of the two cars driven, perhaps because the 20km route limited its potential. It drove as smoothly as you would expect from an auto, without any particular flair and acceleration through the gears was steady rather than breathtaking.
Far more engaging was the 1.4-litre model. Although slower overall and with a longer 0-60mph time than the 2.0-litre auto, it had a gutsy engine that pulled away on demand without struggling and was much more fun to drive. The gearbox was tight, the steering ultra-responsive and the brakes super sharp.
Volkswagen is encouraging comparisons between the new estate and its Astra and Focus rivals. The Astra 1.4i 16v is slightly more expensive: the Golf 1.4 is £13,490 and the Vauxhall £13,685. The entry-level engine for the Focus estate, the 1.6 Zetec, comes at £13,825. The switched-on fleet manager will also be looking now at C02 emissions. The 1.4 Golf emits 156 g/km, the 1.4I 16v Astra 178 and the Focus 1.6 165. The Golf estate proves similarly 'green' at the higher end of the range. The 1.9TDi 90bhp auto emits 135g/km C02, compared to 185g/km for the Focus 1.8TCi diesel (136) and the Astra 2.0Di 16-valve (185).
Time will tell whether the Golf estate will fulfill the claims made by its maker on wholelife costs and residual values but what these figures show straight away is that a fleet manager investing in the Golf will have a car with second-to-none build quality, practicality and the prestige it comes with, plus the tax savings inherent in the forthcoming company car tax system.