For most people, four-wheel drive equates to one of two things: off-roading or high performance. Volkswagen, though, is not most people.
With this new Golf 4Motion, the emphasis is on safety: its permanent four-wheel-drive system brings extra traction, primarily for greater security in tricky conditions, but also for towing.
At its heart is a revised version of the previous 4Motion’s Haldex transmission. This automatically splits the power between the front and rear axles, with 90 per cent going to the front in normal driving. When conditions change, the system directs power to the wheels with most grip and, in extreme circumstances, 100 per cent can go to the rear.
It’s very effective, as we found on some damp roads snaking their way up the mountains in Austria. Exiting tight hairpins there was no scrabbling for grip and, on a snow-covered demonstration area, the system combined extremely well with the Golf’s traction and stability systems to keep the car safely under control.
Day-to-day, however, there’s little to tell the 4Motion apart from the front-wheel-drive models – it’s safe and very secure. But keen drivers will feel short-changed. There’s no great agility through bends and little feel through the steering. Tight, twisting roads make it feel stodgy and nose-heavy, although things are better on faster, sweeping roads where its slower reactions are less of a problem.
Compared with the standard car, the 4Motion suffers no great loss of refinement or performance – just an extra few tenths on the 0-60mph time. And, while the compliant suspension allows some roll, body control is generally good.
The FSi reaches the UK next May, but it’s worth waiting a little longer for the 2.0 TDi diesel. This has considerable advantages in mid-range torque and driveability, not to mention fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
Both come only in GT trim and, initially at least, with five doors. With VW’s anticipated premium of £1000–£1400 over the two-wheel-drive car, its starting price will be well over £19,000. Given the relatively minor gains for everyday driving, that looks a heavy price to pay.