What Car? says...
If you've found this Volkswagen Golf Estate review while looking for info about Gleneagles, we're sorry – this is a different 'golf estate'.
We might still be able to help you out, though, because this Golf Estate has a 611-litre boot, so it will manage your clubs easily enough. It’s an estate car based on the VW Golf – a car with a classless image loved by all corners of society, from peasant to posh.
Estates have been somewhat overshadowed by family SUVs in recent years of course, but there are still plenty of rival models you might be thinking of buying. If you want an electric car there's the MG5. You could also go for the Ford Focus Estate, the Seat Leon Estate, the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer or the Skoda Octavia Estate.
Over the next few pages of this review, we'll tell you what the VW Golf Estate is like to drive, how practical it is (beyond swallowing golf clubs) and how much it will cost you to run. We’ll also tell you what we think is the best engine and trim combination.
We’re concentrating on the main Golf Estate here, but there’s also an SUV-like spin-off with a raised ride height and chunkier bumpers called the Golf Alltrack, plus an estate version of the Golf R hot hatch. We cover those variants in separate reviews.
And remember, once you've decided which model is best for you, we can help you get it for the lowest price if you search our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. They have plenty of the best new new estate car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We think the 1.5 TSI 150 petrol engine is the sensible choice for most Volkswagen Golf Estate buyers. It has 148bhp for 0-62mph in a sprightly 8.7sec and enough mid-range get-up-and-go to pull the car with a full boot. You might need to drop a gear to overtake a tractor – if that sounds like a chore, the eTSI 150 mild-hybrid version comes with a responsive seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
The 128bhp 1.5 TSI 130 petrol is not a bad alternative, but slows the 0-62mph time to 9.4sec and is not much cheaper than the TSI 150. Even the entry-level 109bhp 1.0 TSI 110 isn’t vastly cheaper. The 110 is surprisingly flexible and does 0-62mph in 10.5sec, although it does struggle a bit with a full car.
As for diesels, there are two. The 2.0 TDI 115 makes for relaxed progress but is no quicker than the 1.0 TSI 110. The more powerful 2.0 TDI 150 feels genuinely punchy regardless of where you are in the rev range. You simply have to flex your right foot for it to surge forwards with real authority, and it's the pick of the range if you'll be towing or covering big miles with people and luggage on board.
Suspension and ride comfort
On 17in wheels and the standard suspension, the Golf Estate rides potholes and ridges around town more adeptly than the Ford Focus Estate. It’s comfortable at higher speeds, making motorway jaunts a real treat. The Skoda Octavia Estate is slightly softer overall (if you really enjoy wafting gently) but the Golf is better tied down and less like being on a trampoline over big crests and dips.
The optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which is adaptive suspension, swings the 'comfometer' needle round to ‘proper cushy'. If you leave it in the softest mode, you've got one of the supplest estate cars in this price range. As well as the three default states of tune, there are numerous subtler settings, so you can be sure of a set-up that'll suit you. The downside is that DCC is quite pricey, so we wouldn't say it's a necessity. The R-Line trim comes with lowered sports suspension that’s noticeably firmer but still acceptable.
Whichever trim you pick, stick with the regular 16in alloy wheels. The optional 18in wheels cause the Golf’s suspension to ping and thwack over expansion joints and large surface abrasions.
The car's light steering is great for town driving but some might prefer a bit more heft and directness for faster, twistier roads. The optional Driver Profile Selection button (standard on R-Line trim or available as part of the Dynamic Chassis Control package) has a weightier Sport mode, which helps to an extent, but the Golf's steering still isn't as sweetly calibrated as the Ford Focus's or as alert and responsive as in the Seat Leon Estate.
Both those rival cars are more agile and fun. with less body lean in bends. There are ways you can liven up the handling and make it keener to change direction, though. R-Line trim’s stiffer sports suspension is one way, bringing a little more agility to the table. It helps make the most of the well-balanced chassis, but it still won’t make enthusiasts smile like the Focus will.
Alternatively, you can opt for adaptive DCC suspension on any trim and gain the ability to stiffen things up on demand.
Noise and vibration
The entry-level 1.0 TSI 110 is pretty refined for a three-cylinder engine, producing a muted soundtrack and little in the way of vibrations. The 1.5 TSI 150 (and eTSI) petrol engine is the smoothest of the lot but still makes itself heard when you rev it past 2500rpm. It’s the 1.5 TSI 130 that’s noticeably coarse at peak revs and you can feel it buzzing the gear lever and pedals. That’s also true of the diesel engines, but those are still smoother than a lot of the diesel competition.
At speed, you'll notice some wind and, more acutely, road noise. Of its nearest price rivals, the Focus Estate is the quietest cruiser.
The manual gearbox’s gear lever is good enough for finding a route to all six gears easily and the clutch biting point is distinct. The Golf also has a smoother auto gearbox than the Focus, and most versions have progressive brakes that allow you to stop with grace. The eTSI 150's brakes aren't quite as good, with a bit of interference from the regenerative braking system that charges the mild-hybrid system's batter. You can still slow down smoothly, though.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
No matter what size or shape you are, the Volkswagen Golf Estate is built with driver comfort in mind. There's seat-height adjustment, lots of steering wheel rake-and-reach adjustment, and the moveable front centre armrest gives you something cushioning to lean on. Adjustable lumbar support is standard on all trims, but even so, the lower-back support provided by the seats fitted to entry-level Life trim didn't suit all our testers. The sports seats, fitted from Style trim and up, are much better and offer excellent side support through corners.
If you look at the dashboard closely, you’ll see that all the buttons are touch-sensitive or have been loaded on to the infotainment touchscreen. The only physical buttons are on the steering wheel, but even those are replaced with touch-sensitive buttons on the R-Line trim.
So what’s the problem with that? Well, touch-sensitive buttons are needlessly fiddly to use while driving compared with proper buttons and knobs, which you’ll find in the Ford Focus Estate and the Kia Ceed Sportswagon. In the Golf Estate, you’re taking your eyes off the road momentarily just to make simple changes, (to the interior temperature, for instance). At night, the temperature controls don’t even light up, which leaves you stabbing in the dark.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
With a big windscreen and large side windows, looking forwards or left and right at junctions is easy. The position and rake of the windscreen pillars can cause you to crane your neck for a clear view at roundabouts, though. Being an estate it has a lot more glass at the back than there is in the VW Golf hatchback and it’s fairly easy to reverse as a result. Front and rear parking sensors are standard on all trims and a rear-view camera is optional.
Powerful LED headlights are also standard. Mid-level Style trim adds LED 'Plus' headlights, which can direct their light around corners. IQ matrix LED headlights are optional and the bee's knees – you can leave them on main beam without blinding other road users.
Sat nav and infotainment
The Golf Estate comes with a 10.0in touchscreen infotainment system. It's mounted high up so you don’t have to look too far from the road to use it, the screen is sharp and there are lots of helpful standard features, including wireless phone-charging, built-in sat-nav, Bluetooth and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
Unfortunately, the menus are confusingly arranged and there are no physical shortcut buttons to take you quickly from one feature to the next. Every version we've tried so far has been littered with software bugs. You can add VW’s natural speech voice control system – it can translate “my hands are cold”, for example, as a request to switch on the heated steering wheel (where fitted) – but it doesn't always work, especially if there are screaming kids in the car. It’s also ridiculously expensive for something that’s standard in most rivals.
The best infotainment in the class is the iDrive system you get with a BMW 3 Series Touring or BMW 5 Series Touring. You don’t need to spend that much to improve on the Golf’s system, though. The Focus and Ceed SW have pretty good infotainment set-ups. The Golf's standard six-speaker stereo sounds fine, with a nine-speaker Harman Kardon system optional on every trim.
Golfs (hatches and estates) are historically a paragon of build quality but that's less true of the current model. At first glance, everything looks smart – there's a clean and modern design with some soft-touch surfaces on the upper parts of the dashboard and front doors. There are other nice elements, too, such as the metal dashboard trims and carpeted door bins, which help prevent loose items from rattling around.
Sadly, when it comes to feeling like a cut above, the Golf is only marginally better than the Seat Leon Estate inside and not quite as plush as the latest Skoda Octavia Estate. It is better than the Focus, though.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Volkswagen Golf Estate has plenty of head room to suit even the exceedingly tall, and its front seats go back far enough to accommodate anyone with long legs. It's wide in the front, too, so you won’t be clashing elbows with your passenger.
The front door pockets are each big enough for a 500ml bottle of water and there are two cupholders in the centre console. In front of the gear selector, there’s a handy tray for your phone, which includes wireless charging. You’ll also find a storage bin under the front centre armrest and a decent-sized air-conditioned glovebox.
The Golf Estate’s interior dimensions allow a pair of six-footers to sit relatively comfortably in the back. Head room is generous and there’s loads of space for feet under the front seats. Leg room isn't outstanding, though, and if the front-seat occupants slide their seats fully back, taller folks sitting in the rear won't have any space in front of their knees.
Shoulder room becomes tight when a third rear passenger is introduced, and the raised section of floor that runs down the centre of the car robs the middle passenger of foot space.
The Ford Focus Estate, the Skoda Octavia Estate and the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports offer a little more rear passenger space, but if you want something truly massive for this kind of cash, buy the Skoda Superb Estate.
Seat folding and flexibility
The Golf Estate's rear seats don't do anything clever such as slide or recline, as they can in family SUVs of a similar size. You can fold them down in a 60/40 split by pulling handy levers in the boot, though.
Pricier cars in the class, such as the BMW 3 Series Touring, offer a more flexible 40/20/40 split, but the Golf comes with a ski hatch that does a similar job if you need to accommodate passengers and longer items.
The front passenger seat is height adjustable and comes with adjustable lumbar support as standard.
The biggest difference between the Golf hatchback and the estate version is, as you'd expect, the boot. Whereas the former is acceptable, the latter is big. Not quite as big as the Octavia Estate’s boot, and nothing like as voluminous as the frankly obscenely large luggage space in the Superb Estate, but more than roomy enough. There's room for a fold-up baby buggy, a week’s shopping or two sets of golf clubs.
All versions come with a height-adjustable boot floor. It lets you create two separate compartments and, when raised, irons out the step that's otherwise created when the rear seats are folded down. With the floor in its highest setting, there’s barely any lip to negotiate if you’re lifting heavy items in and out.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Golf Estate is clearly not the priciest car in a class that includes the Mercedes E-Class Estate. For cash buyers, it’s also a lot cheaper than the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports and slots in at roughly the same money as the Ford Focus Estate and Seat Leon Estate. The Skoda Octavia Estate is a fair chunk cheaper, but the Golf is expected to hold on to a bigger percentage of its list price than the Octavia because of its much slower depreciation.
All the engines offer competitive official CO2 emissions and are RDE2 compliant, and real-world fuel economy should be good. In our tests of the hatchback, the mild hybrid 1.5 eTSI 150 averaged more than 42mpg on a mix of roads, and the estate should be similar. We’d stick with a manual gearbox because the eTSI versions are so much more expensive but no quicker and no more efficient – the only tangible benefit is the automatic gearbox.
If you want low company car tax, the Golf is fine but the Skoda Octavia, with an equivalent petrol or diesel engine, has a lower P11D value. The Octavia iV plug-in hybrid will slice your tax bill massively with the tax incentives it qualifies for.
Equipment, options and extras
We'd stick with entry-level Life trim. It comes with all you really need, including single-zone climate control, 16in alloy wheels, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, automatic lights and wipers and adaptive cruise control.
Style and R-Line trims add in a few more toys and sharper looks, but aren't really worth their price hikes. If you want more toys for your money, have a look at rivals like the Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia. The Corolla is also very well equipped but more expensive.
The Golf hatch performed poorly in our latest reliability survey, finishing 11th out of 13 family cars. Volkswagen as a brand performed a little better, finishing 22nd out of 32 contenders. That put it above Alfa Romeo, Ford and Mercedes, but below brands like BMW, Mazda, Seat, Skoda and Toyota.
Like most Volkswagens, the Golf Estate comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and one year’s roadside assistance. That's not exceptional these days, falling short of the five-year warranty that Hyundai and Toyota offer, let alone the seven years of cover provided by Kia.
Safety and security
Every Golf Estate comes with automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance, a driver fatigue monitor, traffic sign recognition and something called Car2X. Car2X allows all cars fitted with it to share information on the traffic conditions and any hazards within a radius of 800m, and will send you an early warning of any dangers that lie ahead.