16 February 1996

GOLF IMPROVES ITS

PRACTICALITY, BUT LOSES GOLFNESS

In this months Country Car Andrew Faulkner drives a Volkswagen Golf estate while David Cousins tests Nissans replacement for its much maligned Sunny, the Almera. Andrew Pearce gives tips on on what to look for when buying a used Land Rover Defender and the correct way to fit 4×4 towbars

THE VW badge says many things: Venerated Beetle, about-town Polo, family favourite Passat – even bee-bop Sharan?

But to most, VW says Golf. Over the past two decades such has been the success of this mid-range hatch that it, and more particularly the swift-of-foot GTI, has rapidly been propelled to cult car status.

So when the firm decided to extend the Golfs body, and hopefully its appeal too, it was big news. Unfortunately for many devotees the plan didnt quite work; what the car gained in inches it lost in character – in essence, it lost its "Golfness".

That is not to say this mid-sized estate is without merit. It inherits much from its smaller sibling and, after all, the definition of a good car is about far more than whether it stimulates a motoring glow. To many it is about value for money, practicality, economy, and judged on these parameters alone the workman-like estate scores well.

Top of our test cars (the CL TDi) plus list has to be its 90hp turbo-diesel engine. This direct injection unit propels the car from 0-62mph in just over 13 secs and tops out at almost 110mph. Not bad for a 1.2t car which regularly returns more than 45mpg.

Now to the direct injection downside: engine noise. While the car is reasonably reticent at cruising speed, push it too hard and a combination of engine and wind noise starts to intrude.

Engine clatter when idling is also louder than most. Heres the proof: Left car ticking over outside the house, and asked two-year-old son what was making the noise? "Tactor" came the reply from a very young farmer who, despite his age, should still know better. Case proven?

Other than engine noise, it is difficult to fault the TDI estate – it does most things efficiently and with little fuss. The flat-entry load area is easy to stack into and non-intrusive wheelarches make the most of the space available. Interior fabrics are close-woven and hardwearing, and rear legroom is among the best in the class. Handling and ride are firm, too, without being uncomfortably so.

The verdict: A car that carries five and plenty of luggage, packs a punchy yet frugal motor, is built well and should depreciate slowly. All sensible stuff, but is it enough? For many, a car needs that little extra something to make it special, to make it loved. The chic Golf hatch definitely has it. The estate? Im not convinced.


GOLF DATA


&#8226 Model: VW Golf CL TDi estate

&#8226 Price: £13,514

&#8226 Engine: 1.9-litre turbo-diesel

&#8226 Top speed: 109mph

&#8226 0-62mph: 13.4secs

&#8226 Test fuel consumption: 45.6mpg

&#8226 Insurance group: 8

Mid-size workhorse…The VW Golf estate is motoring at its most practical. Roomy load area, 45mpg+ economy and hard-wearing interior combine in a utilitarian but capable package.