It is sometimes said that a Volkswagen Golf is the car for everyone. But who is everyone? There's now an electric Golf and a hybrid Golf in among the regular diesel and petrol Golfs, plus a powerful diesel one and a powerful petrol one.
But which powerful petrol Golf? The answer to that question used to be easy - it was called a Golf GTi, and in the latest seventh generation hatchback bodyshell it's a very fine drive indeed. But in a world of hot hatches that sport as much power as a two-generation-old Ferrari, VW needed something more than a GTi. Step forward the Golf R.
We've driven the hatchback Golf R briefly, and liked it a lot. But what if your spatial needs extend a bit beyond a regular 5-door family hatch? Then a Golf estate could be the perfect answer. Thing was, up until recently, if you wanted a Golf estate with much engine power you were rather stuck. But now Volkswagen has put a rocket under the estate version of the car for everyone, by creating the Golf R Estate.
Never mind a car for everyone, the Golf R Estate has the makings of all the car you will ever need.
Volkswagen Golf R Estate review: Body shaping mix
The R Estate's mixture is simple enough. Take one regular 5-door Golf - with all that's great about that. Extend the roofline and the rear overhang until you've created a massive boot with a 605-litre volume, seats up. Drop the 296bhp, 2.0 TSI engine from the Golf R hatch under the bonnet, and channel power to the road through a 4motion, four-wheel drive system. Mediate the power through a standard 6-speed DSG automatic gearbox. The result? A very quick way to make your labrador vomit all over the inside of the rear screen.
It's just a pity that the elegantly evolved, sharp-looking Golf hatch doesn't quite translate into estate car format. It lacks the sleekness of the sports wagons from the class above - the Audi A4 Avant, BMW 3-Series Touring and Mercedes C-Class, which start at a similar price. But here's the rub: the Golf has more boot space than any of them, and while you might look at the badge, price and scoff “more than £30K for a Golf!?”, to spec a version of the aforementioned cars with an engine that would remotely keep up with a Golf R, you're looking at spending another £10K on top - possibly more. That's key to this car's appeal.
Volkswagen Golf R Estate review: Kitted out
The power and powertrain specs are just one part of the picture. Whereas once Volkswagen wanted to take money off you for just about every option, if someone handed you a Golf R with no options, you'd likely not be too upset.
It's easier to talk about what's missing - heated seats, leather, a panoramic roof - than what's standard. Because the list is long, including sat nav, flash LED lights, big wheels, a 6.5-inch touch screen, DAB radio and more.
And, of course, that DSG auto box. This is a potentially contentious point, because the auto gearbox is the only one available with this car. Whereas in the hatch you can have a 6-speed manual.
We've been on record before as saying we think this 6-speed DSG is less impressive than the 7-speed used elsewhere in VW's range. It seems to struggle more at slow speeds, such as when manoeuvring and coming up to roundabouts in slow-moving traffic. It occasionally makes you look like you've lost the ability to drive, by throwing in a downshift and causing a massive head-jerk, or occasionally having a slight delay in delivering the power when you're needing some quickly to get out into a gap.
There are some good parts to the transmission though. Firstly, you get small paddle shifters as standard behind the wheel. Flick the gear lever across and you've complete control. Secondly, in the sportier driving modes, it shifts up very quickly indeed and upshifts are accompanied by a noticeable and amusing “parp” from the quad exhausts.
The R Estate is a formidable thing. Its combination of 300 horsepower and four-wheel drive mean you're not coping with wheelspin or torque steer and it's a great all-weather drive. We think the DSG box takes a little bit of the tactile playfulness away, compared with the hatch, but can see why VW opted for the auto option.
Volkswagen Golf R Estate review: Playing fast and loose
In other ways, however, the Golf R R Estate retains the engaging qualities of the hatch and then some.
Core to this quality is the mode selector with its Comfort/Normal/Race/Individual settings which configure the gearbox, ride, engine and exhaust sound. We drove most of the time in individual (ride in comfort setting, engine in sport, exhaust normal), but in Race mode, the R is a bit of an animal.
When you take it by the scruff of the neck it moves around in a very engaging way - the extra weight over the rear and added length of the estate meaning the rear end of the car is happier to move around. And not in a way where it feels like it's going to spit you off the road, but in a manner which if you're into driving quickly will have you laughing out loud.
For such a spacious car, you would expect this Golf to feel like an unwieldy bus, but it feels almost Mini-like in its size, alertness and adjustability. Who said the Germans don't know how to have fun? Just a pity that the dynamic chassis control (DCC) is an £830 option.
And it bears repeating that with 300 horsepower and four-wheel drive, you need some serious firepower to keep up with a Golf R Estate, which smashes through the 60mph benchmark in a smidge over five seconds. In the wet and grim conditions that we seem to experience even in summer months in the UK this factor is magnified such that as an all-weather, any road car the Golf R Estate has few peers. Think of it not so much as a very expensive Golf but more as a cut-price Audi S4 Avant.
You're wrong if you think nobody is going to notice you in this car. Our car's Lapis Blue paint (£630), 19-inch Pretoria alloys (£990) and the double day time running light LED graphic (standard) certainly drew attention. Sometimes the wrong kind of attention. If you want to do the discrete Golf R thing, stick with the standard 18-inch alloys and an exterior colour like black. For our money, those four exhaust pipes (the hatch has two) are overkill, too.
Volkswagen Golf R Estate review: Architecturally speaking
Part of the appeal of any Golf is its normal, blend-in quality - and this is true of the inside too. It's tasteful, largely black/grey and not going to challenge anyone in design terms. But if you're looking for a massive change in quality of trimmings on an R compared to regular Golf, prepare to be disappointed.
Changes are limited to the deco finishes: a carbon-fibre pattern effect (repeated in the seat bolster pattern on our car's optional leather trim), and some blue details on the dials and switch gears (it's the R sub-brand's signature colour). Note our test car came with the £2,615 carbon/nappa leather upholstery, including heating of the front seats. The chairs on their own are good, so we would advise if you can live without leather then do - spend a couple of hundred quid on heated seats separately if you feel the need.
Elsewhere the Estate is the standard Golf. Which means very high levels of perceived quality, clear dials, nice ergonomics, and nothing to wrong-foot the newcomer besides the electronic handbrake. The wheel is chunky-rimmed, deep dished, small and lovely to hold too.
Tech-wise the standard 6.5-inch touchscreen with proximity sensor works well. Volkswagen has just upgraded the standard spec (along with the basic price) to mean this comes as standard with sat nav - which given nav is standard on this car's cheaper Skoda and Seat cousins, it needs to be. Note: our pictures show the larger, 8-inch touchscreen - which is a significant £1,325 price jump. For that you get better screen resolution, a 64GB SSD hard drive and connected services. But we wouldn't bother.
If there's criticism it's that, now four years old, architecturally speaking, the Golf interior is starting to feel old. It's quite blocky, with a very high centre console that's going out of fashion - the lower set design of its cheaper Skoda cousin gives an airier feeling inside - and more cars are going towards floating or flip-out infotainment screens, minimised switchgear and more premium detailing. It's in these areas where you'll most see and feel the difference between this Golf and the mechanically identical Audi S3 (but note that you cannot have the S3 in an estate car bodyshell).
Picking fault with cars such as the Golf R Estate feels like an exercise in nit-picking. It is, in many regards, the perfect package. It'll do most things most families will need (even being economical - 40mpg on a run is easy to achieve), while entertaining the enthusiastic driver when required.
If you're after a high-performance, all-weather estate car and can't run to the cost of Audi's S and RS Avants, this Golf really is one of your best (and only) choices.
Quibbles are limited, but there are a few: that standard fit auto gearbox, which takes out some of the involvement of the hatch and occasionally has dim moments; the cost (people still seem to have issues with the idea of an expensive Golf); and the car's relative merits compared to various not-precisely-comparable cousins offered by Seat, Skoda and Audi
Nonetheless the Golf R Estate remains a devastatingly fast and appealing class act. And with the £200-a-month personal lease deals we've recently seen this car advertised at, it is perhaps the performance estate car bargain of the moment.