These limitations meant the only way was up, hence the tall, awkward silhouette that was one reason why the Plus sold just 42,248 units during eight years on sale in the UK.
Taking advantage of the Mk7 Golf’s flexible MQB architecture, the Golf SV (known as ‘Sportsvan’ on the continent) offers ‘proper’ MPV proportions. Size-wise, it’s similar to Ford’s fun-to-drive yet practical C-Max.
The SV’s 2685mm wheelbase is around 50mm longer than that of the £1245-cheaper Golf hatchback and £550-cheaper estate, but at a handy 4338mm in overall length, it’s closer to the 4255mm-long hatch than the 4562mm-long load-lugger.
The result is a shape that majors on cabin space, yet at 500-590 litres (depending on the position of the rear bench), the SV’s boot isn’t significantly smaller than the estate’s 605-litre cavity. Drop the rear seatbacks and the MPV holds a respectable 1520 litres versus the estate’s 1620.
Crucially, despite these dimensional mutations, VW has largely managed to retain the hatchback’s considered aesthetic using tricks such as a glasshouse-extending fifth side window and bonnet-lengthening creases. Glimpse the SV on the road and you could mistake it for a normal five-door Golf – not an error you’d have made with the Plus.
There’s familiarity in the specially designed cabin, too. Neat switchgear, high-quality finishes and sound ergonomics reprise the standard Golf, but the controls are more democratically positioned, being less angled towards the hot seat. The driver’s hip-point is at least 59mm higher than in the hatchback, too, giving the driver a good view through the glass expanses while avoiding the feeling of being perched too high.
Door bins are generous front and rear, but cunning storage solutions are few. Mid-range trim brings drawers under the front seats but they’re small and awkward to access. Likewise, the rear seating lacks an innovative edge. The bench slides 180mm fore and aft and folds and reclines, all of which can be done as a whole or with a 60/40 split.
A top-spec C-Max’s rear seats additionally tumble forward or can be removed altogether, and its central seat can stow away to free up more room for the remaining tenants. The SV’s middle pew is both skinny and inhibited by the MQB’s fixed transmission tunnel.
All that said, head and leg room is excellent front and back, even with the rear bench in its mid-way setting. The boot has a flexible floor that can be set to various heights (including flush to the boot lip) and has flaps that smooth over the not-quite-flat floor when the seats are folded forward. The front passenger seat can optionally be foldable, too, creating a 2484mm-long space.
The driving experience is classic Mk7 Golf fare: untaxing, comfortable and largely refined, with a decent helping of agility. Push on over snaking roads and the balance of body control and ride quality is well struck, while the latest-generation XDS electronic differential lock quietly trims your line using the brakes on both axles. Sharp ridges are more heard than felt at low speed, and a host of available safety kit, such as city brake assist and self-parking, simplify urban sorties. Motorway progress is rock-solid.
The 148bhp 2.0 TDI engine delivers plenty of pep via the positively weighted six-speed manual gearbox despite a 120kg weight penalty over the hatchback that adds just 0.6sec to the 9.2sec 0-62mph stat. Negatives are the lack of shove over 4000rpm and an almost continuous drone from the engine bay.
The equally powerful version of the 1.4 TSI engine also suffers a wearing engine note, but pulls well from 2000rpm all the way to 6000rpm. The 123bhp version of the same engine is sweeter – almost tuneful, in fact – and still manages to reach 62mph in a decent 9.9sec, but the manual gearbox in both 1.4s is lighter and less satisfying than in the diesel.
We’re yet to drive the 1.6-litre TDI (available with 89bhp or 108bhp) and the 1.2 TSI (in entry-level, £18,875 84bhp guise or with 108bhp), but their performance in the hatchback would imply their lower-powered versions might struggle with the SV’s added weight.
Still, these budget-friendly Golf SV models emit no more than 117g/km of CO2 – the 108bhp diesel BlueMotion variant managing an estimated 95g/km – and return impressive low-70s economy for the diesel and mid-50s for the petrol. Both use a rear torsion beam rather than the multi-link setup of other SVs, saving a few more precious quid.
Trim levels mostly mirror those of the hatch and estate. Steel-wheeled, entry-level S spec includes roof rails, a 5.8in colour touchscreen, Bluetooth, DAB radio, air-con, seven airbags and XDS electronic differential.
SE additions include colour-coded door mirrors and handles, 16in alloys, adaptive cruise control, city brake assist, pre-crash seatbelt tensioning, front seat drawers and seatback picnic tables, while range-topping GT models also get 15mm-lowered sports suspension, 17in alloys, sat-nav, part Alcantara upholstery and front and rear parking sensors.
VW’s super-slick DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox can be had on all but the 84bhp 1.2 TSI for a premium of £1415; it offers six speeds when paired with the 2.0 TDI but seven speeds in all other guises, and slightly improves economy in the petrols but stifles it in the oil-burners.
A Ford C-Max 2.0 TDCi Titanium X costs £275 more than the Golf SV 2.0 TDI SE, but is quicker, more involving, more flexible of accommodation and brings extra luxuries.
However, the VW's superior economy, host of modern safety tech and faithfulness to the hyper-polished and desirable Mk7 Golf template will likely sway the less dynamically focused buyers.