David Motton

See other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
   
THERE'S NOT A lot wrong with the Volkswagen Golf hatchbackas far as small tow cars go. But load up for a fortnight away and the boot willsoon be full – step forward, the new Golf Estate.

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Instead of the hatchback's 380-litre capacity, the Estate has 605 litres. It's a huge improvement, and means the VW is just five litres shy of the class-leading Skoda Octavia Estate.

There are plenty of clever touches to help make the most of the space. There's hidden storage under the boot floor, and the floor itself can be repositioned to form a divider half way between the tailgate and the back seats. There's a slot to secure the luggage cover under the floor if you need to use every inch of available space, and levers either side of the boot fold the rear seats down. That leaves a echoing 1620 litres of luggage room.

If we're nitpicking, when the seat backs are folded there is a slight slope to the floor, but otherwise the Golf's load carrying abilities stand comparison with cars from the class above. In fact, the Golf's big brother – the Passat Estate – has two litres less luggage space with the rear seats upright.

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In the cabin

As you'd expect, the inside of the Golf Estate will be familiar to anyone who has travelled in the hatch. The cabin is finished to a high standard, and the major controls are all easy to use. Design-wise, the interior is as conservative as a grey suit, albeit a well tailored one.

Those in the front have plenty of space, although the optional panoramic sunroof (£910) does steal some headroom. Even very tall drivers should find enough travel on the front seat, and the sound driving position is comfortable for long days behind the wheel.

Rear-seat passengers don't have quite so much room to stretch out. This is one area in which the Golf still lags behind the Octavia Estate, which has an extra 5cm or so between the wheels giving more generous legroom for those in the back. The Octavia is unusually big, though, and compared with a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra the Golf is roomy enough. It's good to see air vents between the front seats to keep those in the back cool on warm days.

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On the road

The regular Golf drives as well as any small hatch, and it would be a surprise if Volkswagen had spoiled that while grafting on a bit of extra luggage space. Having tried both a 2.0-litre diesel and a 1.4 petrol, we're happy that the load-carrier reaches the same high standards of handling, performance and refinement.

On paper, the 2.0-litre diesel looks like the pick for towing duties. With a kerbweight of 1436kg (1454kg for the DSG automatic), the car has an 85% match figure of 1221kg. It should easily pull tourers of this weight, thanks to the effortless strength of the 150PS (148bhp) engine. The diesel gets on with the job from low revs, and really rolls up its sleeves from around 1700rpm.

Your ears are in no doubt that it's oil, not petrol, that's combusting under the bonnet, but VW has done such an effective job of sound deadening that any clatter or grumble sounds distant. Combine that with very little wind and road noise and you have a car well suited to long journeys, with or without a caravan in tow.

The 122PS 1.4 TSI isn't such an obvious candidate for caravanners, but don't ignore it. There may be only 148lb ft of torque compared with the 2.0-litre diesel's 236lb ft, but the turbocharged petrol engine feels much stronger than the spec sheet suggests. What's more, it's even quieter than the diesel and costs £2370 less.

The real surprise is fuel economy. Driving the same test route in similar conditions, the 2.0-litre diesel's trip computer showed 50.6mpg. The petrol returned 52.4mpg. One comparison relying on the trip computer rather than a brim-to-brim fill can hardly be considered conclusive, but it's certainly an eye-opener.

However, the 1.4 TSI has a much lower kerbweight (1329kg for the manual) and a more modest legal towing limit (1400kg rather than 1600kg), so it's best suited to very light tourers and trailer tents.

Prices for the Golf Estate start from £17,915, although the 2.0 TDI will set you back at least £22,990.

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Green and mean

The Estate isn't the only new model VW has been showing off. There's also the Golf Bluemotion and the high-performance GTD and GTI.

We took a drive in the 1.6 TDI Bluemotion three-door. Official figures suggest 88.3mpg is achievable on the combined cycle. Unsurprisingly we didn't match that on our test drive, but the trip did show 70.1mpg at the end of the route.

You might think such an economical car would struggle to keep up with its own shadow, but the Bluemotion engine is actually more powerful than the standard 1.6 TDI, and is impressively flexible. For caravanners, though, it's a real shame the Bluemotion is saddled with an inadequate 1000kg towing limit.

At the other extreme of the Golf range sit two hot hatches, the diesel GTD and the petrol GTI. The GTD is the sensible choice. Even when fitted with the DSG automatic gearbox, this 184PS car has an official combined economy figure of 62.8mpg. That exactly matches the economy of the first generation Golf Bluemotion from 2007, and shows how far fuel-efficiency has improved in a few short years.

It's fast, agile, well equipped – everything a hot-hatch buyer could want. Just don't take a test drive in the GTI if you know you really need the diesel. The petrol car sounds better, goes harder, and brakes more strongly. It's the real thing.

You won't see many – perhaps any – towing caravans, but anyone who does put a towball on one will certainly enjoy themselves.

 

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