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We've driven the Golf R Estate abroad and thought it was top drawer, but we need a UK drive to be sure.
2 October 2015

What is it?

There’s a good chance Jeremy Corbyn would drive this Golf R Estate, and not because this one happens to be scarlet red. No, it would be for what it represents. As we know, Volkswagen translates as ‘people’s car’, and the original Beetle brought freedom to the masses. 

As the Golf is the Beetle’s spiritual successor, surely it stands to reason that one equipped with a gargantuan 296bhp and a useful 605-litre boot must be the ultimate expression of ‘power to the people’. At £33,585 it’s relatively affordable, too, meaning all that power really is in the hands of the proletariat.

However, you could argue that the sharp-looking R-design bumpers, side skirts and quad tailpipes are more reminiscent of shiny-suited New Labour than Mr Corbyn’s traditional blue-collar brand. Anyway, enough of the spurious blend of cars and politics, let’s talk nuts and bolts.

 

What's it like?

Other than the extra length over the Golf R hatch – which allows the estate version to swallow loads of 1.8m in length with the back seats down - and a slightly stiffer rear end, the spec sheet is largely unchanged.

The estate uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine as the hatch, complete with dual-injection (both direct and indirect) plus variable valve timing and lift to help deliver that mighty power along with oodles of torque – all 280lb ft of it, from 1800 to 5500rpm. For a car that does 0-62mph in 5.1sec, the emissions and fuel consumption are relatively decent, too.

Bar a momentary wait for the turbo to energise, it feels brutally quick and sounds terrific. And, according to Volkswagen, this is not petrolhead-muzak piped into the cabin via the stereo; no folks, this is all real.

Select Race mode on the Driver Profile Select button and it opens up butterfly valves to bring the two outer exhausts into play. On top of this, a flap in the bulkhead opens to allow induction roar into the cabin.

This all results in a symphony that has echoes of a Subaru WRX, punctuated by some characterful angry barks of automotive flatulence between gears. If you get everything really hot there’s even a few crackles on the overrun.

Unlike the R hatch, there’s no manual option, and the standard six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox has its foibles. Imagine you’re stopped at a red light, next to some chap in a spruced-up Focus who’s clearly eager to see what you’ve got.

Unfortunately, by the time the engine stop-start system has woken up and fired the motor, and the gearbox has finished organising first and engaged a clutch, matey in the Ford will be long gone when the light has gone green.

The gearbox also has a habit of chasing high gears to have the fewest revs possible when you’re pottering along - no doubt to help those emissions. That’s fine, but the minute you want a little splurge of acceleration, it rushes back down the box in a panic and sends the revs stratospheric.

There is a fix, though: stick it in manual and use the paddles. Then it’s excellent, with crisp, millisecond-quick changes. I do wish it stopped changing up for you as you approach the red line though - for me, manual should mean manual.

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The four-wheel drive system uses a hydraulically operated Haldex 5 centre differential, which most of the time sends all the torque to the front wheels. Importantly though, it can send nearly all of it to the back wheels, and in doing so makes this R Estate as playful and entertaining as the hatch version on the limit. And it’s a high limit too, with tonnes of grip helped by the XDS+ system, which brakes the inside wheels in a corner to tame the four-wheel-drive bogeyman of understeer.

You also get an adaptive steering rack with the R. Often these can defile a helm, but with the Golf R it works pretty well. There’s a welcome urgency as you turn in but without any nervousness around the straight-ahead. And if you select Individual mode, you can tune the weighting to suit your preferences.

If you opt for the (£830) adaptive dampers that our car had, you can calibrate the ride to your liking, too. Even in Comfort it can still thud over sharp ruts and you get a little float off crests, but never to the extent that would jar in everyday use.

Switch to Race mode and the body control is much tighter and the car follows the road with a steely focus, but still with enough compliance to avoid a slipped disc.

Inside you get all the usual Golf functionality, so it simply works as a car should. That said, VW have jazzed it up a bit, with a gloss-black fascia, swanky dials with blue needles and neon blue lighting on the doors and the sill treadplates. The part-Alcantara R sports seats are spectacularly comfortable, too.

Should I buy one?

The Golf R Estate, like the hatchback version, isn’t a track-day purist’s delight in the same vein as a Renault Mégane 275 Trophy, but it’s an awesomely quick everyday weapon of a wagon.

For the money, there simply isn’t a quicker, more comfortable way of getting your flat-pack Nordli wardrobe back from Ikea. And being a Golf, whether you’re on the Corbyn left or the Cameron right it doesn’t matter, because it’s both classy, and classless.

Volkswagen Golf R Estate

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Price £33,585; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 296bhp at 5500-6200rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1800-5500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1574kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 5.1sec; Economy 40.4mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 162g/km, 27% 

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Comments
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rmcondo 12 October 2015

I'm inclined to think that

I'm inclined to think that the Beetle is the Beetle's spiritual successor, not that cars have spirits. One of the problems of sloppy and cliched journalism.
John Howell 28 October 2015

Do remind me, which car is

Do remind me, which car is the current Beetle based on?

Will86 4 October 2015

@Adrian987

I've driven the BMW 8 speed auto a fair bit and there is one particular corner a couple of miles from home that always catches it out. Quite a tight left turn and slightly up hill, it enters in 3rd then as you get back on the throttle it immediately and quite abruptly shifts to 2nd. But that is the only example I can give you of it doing something unexpected. The rest of the time it is wonderfully smooth when driving normally yet provides rapid and seamless shifts when you put your foot down. It's so good, I can't see how a DSG could be any better. Plus, so far, there are no reliability horror stories.
Adrian987 5 October 2015

Thanks for feedback, @Will86

That's interesting, and kind of mirrors my only grumble. The DSG I had in my previous car (near 70,000 miles, all trouble free, incidentally) was a 7-speed (but no paddles), but I actually prefer the 6 in my current one, the paddles are great, very much encouraging changing gears just for the sake of it on a quick country jaunt. With regard to the DSG reliability, is there an ongoing issue, I thought it applied to older models/hot climates? Sometimes I am not sure whether there is really a lot of trouble, or is it just bad stories get repeated more readily and get "press".
winniethewoo 2 October 2015

Yeah the DSG can be really

Yeah the DSG can be really annoying. Once, before I got used to it, I tried to drive it like a torque converter auto and got "stuck" at a junction exposed to on coming traffic as the car took an age to change down two gears and I found myself without drive. It definitely needs to be learned. I found the manual work well as does sport mode with stop / start / build to reasonable pace traffic. Sport stops it changing up to a high gear. High gear to low gear changes sometimes take 2 seconds. Doesn't sound long but its enough the get an ear full of horn from the car behind, or get stuck in the middle of a junction without drive as the lights change against you.
Adrian987 2 October 2015

DSG stuff

Yeah, @winniethewoo, DSG is not perfect. It rewards the alert driver, and punishes the indecisive. Which possibly flies in the face of what an "automatic" should achieve, maybe. My only real grumble is its change down regime when negotiating a tight bend/junction, so it will be in 3rd say as I commence, then change down to 2nd part way through, a kind of "clutch-drag" change too. But knowing this, if I am really that concerned, I can paddle down in anticipation anyway. Keeps the mind active! Which is what people like about manuals isn't it? I've heard good things about the BMW 8-speeder, does that do better, I wonder? Oh one other thing, DSG is brilliant with adaptive cruise control.