Nearly 45 years on, the benefits of marrying power and better handling to the practicality and inexpensiveness of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s timeless folded-paper design seem as obvious as combining deep-fried chips with battered fish. Yet Volkswagen took some convincing. What eventually turned the car from cottage industry to industry changer was not just its snowballing popularity, but also the fact that the value-added desirability, spun into the car’s structure like thread in the tartan upholstery, could be used to liberally fatten the family hatchback’s slim profit margin. Cracking that formula was the GTI’s lasting lesson – one that the market has applied ruthlessly and rigorously everywhere ever since.
Which lands us somewhat messily at the idea of the modern fast wagon, the illegitimate offspring of the hot hatch, the super-saloon and the humble estate car – and, in many ways, the logical end point of Löwenberg’s pragmatic thought process. The two-box estate car in its cooking format ought to be about as compelling as a van with windows, but apply a svelte, swooping rear three-quarter and sprinkle the same half-century-old pixie dust on the chassis and engine bay, and it becomes something else entirely.
Alas, there is no Golf GTI wagon to fill the thematic gap. It doesn’t exist because (a) VW is precious about where it puts arguably its most famous nameplate and (b) there are a number of similar products available elsewhere in the VW Group. Possibly the most similar (or at least the car that shares the same engine as the base Golf GTI), is the new Skoda Octavia vRS. Its defining characteristics? A just-updated 227bhp, a wheelbase longer than a Brexit negotiator’s to-do list and a £26,385 starting price – £1500 cheaper than VW will sell you a three-door GTI.
Of course, with a bigger budget, you could have a Golf R Estate for £35,300 – the 306bhp all-wheeldrive range-topper that needs no further introduction. But for around £1k cheaper and only 10bhp less, Seat will now do you the Golf R’s drivetrain in a Leon Cupra ST. The kicker here is that the Spanish tourer is sleeker than its sibling and comes equipped as standard with the 19in wheels and Dynamic Chassis Control you’d end up paying almost £2k more for in the Golf R.
Rounding out the four-pot variety box is the black sheep of the flock: the latest Volvo V60 Polestar. Again, the car requires an additional leap in budget: £45k would have been about right for our sliding scale and the model’s premium-end market position but sadly someone at Volvo has taken leave of their senses and slapped a £49,665 price tag on the 362bhp Polestar, so even with a turbocharger, a supercharger and trick chassis strapped on, it has it all to do in this company.