What is it?
The Volkswagen Golf 4Motion – a four-wheel drive version of Europe's perennial best seller boasting some interesting technical advances over its predecessor, including a newly developed, electronically controlled multi-plate Haldex-style clutch.
Never a big seller in the UK, the Golf 4Motion now comes in left-hand drive form only and with the choice of just two four-cylinder common-rail diesel engines.
Included is an entry-level 1.6 TDI producing 104bhp and 184lb ft of torque, and a range-topping 2.0 TDI offering 148bhp and 236lb ft.
Both engines come mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, though the 1.6 can be ordered with an optional seven-speed dual-clutch 'box, and the 2.0 with an optional six-speed dual-clutch unit.
New to the Golf 4Motion is what Volkswagen describes as 'Haldex 5' – a system that is set to appear on a whole range of upcoming models, including the new Golf R, which is planned to make its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show in September, as well as the secret new Golf Alltrack, a high-riding variant of the upcoming Golf Estate due to go on sale in the UK in 2014.
The heavily upgraded four-wheel drive system does away with a pressure accumulator in a move that reduces its weight, albeit only by 1.4kg. The hydraulically operated pump is replaced by an electrically operated device that is claimed to provide a faster transfer of drive between the front and rear axles for added traction and more entertaining handling traits.
Further traction-enhancing features include electronic differential locks both front and rear.
What is it like?
It might appear straight laced, but the Golf 4Motion is surprisingly entertaining to drive – not least of all in challenging wintry conditions like those we encountered at the new car's launch in Kitzbühel, Austria this week.
Everything we've said about the new seventh-generation Golf applies to this latest version of Wolfsburg's stalwart hatchback – there's well weighted and direct steering, superb body control, tremendous ride refinement by class standards, generous interior space and a level of quality that challenges much more expensive offerings.
To this the Golf 4Motion brings a good deal more mid-corner grip than its front-wheel drive sibling, along with an added dimension in traction and the feeling of more useable performance, particularly in lower gears – all of which elevates the popular hatchback’s dynamic ability.
In gentle part-load running, the Haldex 5 system is set up to predominantly drive the front wheels. But when pushed hard it is capable of sending up to 100 per cent of the engine's power to the rear wheels. The new set-up, with its electronically controlled pump in place of the hydraulically operated arrangement, is noticeably more responsive than the old system, providing great purchase in corners and an ability to lay the latest version of Volkswagen's 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI's prodigious low-end torque to the road without fuss.
When the high level of traction is breeched, a standard electronic stability program takes over; if a wheel starts to spin the drive is directed to the wheel on the opposite side.
On damp, icy and snow-strewn roads like those experienced recently in the UK, the addition of four-wheel drive also brings additional peace of mind. Indeed, in testing, snowy conditions, the Golf 4Motion offers considerable advantages in overall traction. All of which makes the decision not to offer the car here all the more perplexing.
The added traction has also allowed Volkswagen to raise the towing capacity to 1900kg – up from the standard front-wheel drive Golf’s 1500kg.
The Golf 4Motion 2.0 TDI weighs 80kg more than its equivalent front-wheel drive sibling. But in everyday running it's hardly noticeable. Volkswagen claims a 0-62mph time of 8.6sec – the same time quoted for the front-wheel drive Golf 2.0 TDI – while combined-cycle fuel economy is said to have been reduced by 15 per cent over the model to 60.1mpg.
Should I buy one?
The Golf 4Motion makes perfect sense, particularly at this time of year. Its combination of punchy diesel performance and four-wheel drive makes for fun yet dependable driving traits in all road and weather conditions. But with a premium of 1800 euros over standard front-wheel drive model, its appeal is likely to remain limited to those residing in snow-bound European countries such as Switzerland, Austria and parts of Germany. Sadly, Volkswagen does not see sufficient demand in the UK to engineer the new car for right-hand drive.
Volkswagen Golf 4Motion 2.0 TDI
Price NA 0-62mph 8.6sec Top speed 131mph Economy 60.1mpg CO2 122g/km Kerb weight 1449kg Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, turbodiesel Power 148bhp at 3500-4000rpm Torque 236lb ft at 1750-3000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual