It’s not very often that Volkswagen gets things wrong.
For years it has been building a reputation as a car company that makes desirable and affordable products across many model ranges.
But this air of Germanic efficiency has taken something of a blow recently.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of the firm’s Phaeton luxury saloons on the road, it has arrived very late to the lively small SUV party with the Tiguan and it managed to misjudge a very important sector of the market. Completely.
Back in 2005 it launched the Golf Plus – essentially a Golf with a taller roofline and a more versatile interior.
The plan was that this car would take the place of the old Golf estate.
Except it didn’t, as buyers weren’t convinced by this halfway house model and consequently they didn’t rush out of showrooms.
Which is why now, after a gap of four years, we have a Mark V Golf estate.
And it’s certainly a good looking car, blending the front three-quarters of a regular Golf hatchback with a much larger load area.
It retains that chunky style that Volkswagen is known for, while being a much more capable load lugger than the hatch.
The lower-medium estate market in the UK is seen primarily as the “workhorse” sector – vehicles used by travelling salesmen and loaded up with samples.
Which is why the Golf estate comes with a choice of either 1.6 FSI petrol or the two ubiquitous TDI diesels to ensure competitive running costs for fleet managers.
The boot space is also impressive, with plenty of room for samples and the associated essentials which make up a travelling salesman’s lot.
It offers 505 litres of space with the rear seats in place – more than the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra estates, and 1,495 with the seats folded down – this time less than its two key rivals.
However, for outright load-lugging the Renault Megane Sport Tourer trumps them all with 780/1,600 litres.
But it seems Volkswagen isn’t going for outright boot space, and it is aiming to position the Golf estate as a user-chooser car for those drivers who want a Golf but need a little more room in the back.
To do this it is offering a top-spec Sport Wagon version, as well as options such as the DSG clutchless manual gearbox.
However, the 2.0 TDI SE is likely to attract the most attention from fleets, blending a decent level of standard equipment, including cruise control and Climatic climate control, along with 16-inch alloy wheels and electric windows all round.
Under the bonnet is the proven 2.0-litre TDI diesel.
This engine appears in a vast array of Volkswagen Group models, offering 140bhp, 50.4mpg claimed fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 148g/km.
It’s still clattery on start-up, but once on the move things settle down well and the driving experience is as you’d get on a regular Golf – solid, safe, comfortable but devoid of thrills.
Which also describes the ride and handling – the Golf is a solid all-rounder, and the estate is just the same, except with more room in the back.
Building on the Golf’s recipe for success, the estate can’t fail.
P11D value: £17,697
CO2 emissions (g/km): 148
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 19%
Graduated VED rate: £115
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 50.4
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £6,750/38%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £356
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Astra is the cheapest, but also has the least powerful diesel engine with 120bhp. The Renault offers 130bhp and has the largest load area, while the Mondeo has 136bhp but is significantly more expensive than the Astra. The Golf’s TDI unit delivers 140bhp.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
The Golf and Focus fall into the same BIK band, but the Volks-wagen’s lower front-end price means it is cheaper in tax terms, costing a 22% taxpayer £61 a month, compared to £62 for the Focus. The Megane will cost £63 a month and the Astra £65.
The difference here comes down to servicing, with the Golf’s variable service intervals securing it the victory. The Astra needs attention every 30,000 miles, while the Focus needs to visit the garage at 12,500-mile intervals and the Megane every 9,000 miles. All run on 16-inch alloy wheels so tyre costs will be similar.
Golf: 3.14 (pence per mile) /£1,884 (60,000 miles total)
The Volkswagen and Renault lead the way, with claimed average fuel economy of 50.4mpg for the Golf and Megane respectively, which equates to a diesel spend of £5,250 over 60,000 miles.
The Focus will average 49.6mpg and the Astra 47.9mpg.
Golf: 8.75 (pence per mile / £5,250 (60,000 miles total)
The Volkswagen streaks ahead, with CAP estimating it will retain 38% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, losing £10,944 in the process. The Focus and Astra will retain 29% and the Megane just 26%, although the Focus loses most cash due to its front-end price.
Golf: 18.24 (pence per mile) / £10,944 (60,000 miles total)
The Golf cleans up. With such a large advantage in depreciation terms, it will cost 2.5 pence per mile less to run than the Astra in second. The Megane scores well in fuel while the Focus finishes fourth thanks to having the highest front-end price and a low RV forecast.
Golf: 30.13 (pence per mile) / £18,078 (60,000 miles total)
Lower-medium estate models are generally seen as workhorses, lugging products and staff up and down the country.
While the Golf estate doesn’t have quite the load space of the Renault Megane, it excels in so many other areas, most notably with its looks and low running costs. The Astra is a worthy second choice and is much cheaper to run than its Focus nemesis.