LAUNCH REPORT:

Volkswagen Golf Plus review

by David Finlay (1 June 2005)

Volkswagen Golf Plus.

I must admit that before I drove the Golf Plus - a car which squeezes into the tight gap between the Golf hatchback and the Golf-based Touran MPV - I thought it was a case of niche marketing gone mad. Contradictory messages about how the car is to be presented to the public only add to the confusion.

On the one hand, Volkswagen says that the Plus is a model in its own right, distinct from both the Golf and the Touran. On the other hand, its officially stated marketing position is "a Golf, just a little bit bigger". Well, which is it? A Golf or not a Golf?

Mechanically, a Golf is exactly what it is. The cars are identical up to floorpan level, and above that a lot of components (engines, transmissions, much of the interior) are shared. But the Plus is 95mm taller, or three and three-quarter inches as we used to say when we had an Empire.

In turn, the seats are raised 75mm, and this - along with a very large windscreen - gives the Plus excellent forward visibility of the kind that you couldn't expect from a Golf or any similar hatchback. The steering wheel and pedals are repositioned to suit, and this does take the edge off the Golf's superb seating position, though in its own right the Plus is quite comfortable to drive.

It's even more comfortable for rear-seat passengers. Lack of room in the back was a serious problem in the previous-generation Golf, and it wasn't entirely resolved when the current model came along. It is, however, well and truly sorted in the Plus. With the adjustable seat in its rearmost position, folk in the back have an immense amount of room, and there is no question that the Plus can carry four six-footers with ease.

The rear seat is adjustable to provide extra luggage room. This varies between 395 litres and 505 litres depending on where you put the seat , and if you fold down the seat you increase the space to 1450 litres - significantly more than the Golf in every case. Higher-spec models have a dual-level boot floor.

In its folded position, incidentally, the rear seat provides an almost but not quite level loading area. There is no extra row of seats, Volkswagen's position on this one being that if you want to transport seven people on a Golf platform you should buy a Touran instead.

Given its heritage, you'd expect the Plus to be fine to drive, and up to a point it is. As with other Volkswagens, the major controls are all pleasant to use and nicely weighted. The fabulous multilink rear suspension is also carried over, which should be a good thing.

But something has gone terribly wrong with the front end, which wallows up and down so drunkenly that the dampers seem to have been designed for a different car altogether. Even at 20mph I found myself becoming queasy as along Leicestereshire back roads. Considering what gems the Golf and Touran are, this behaviour is almost unbelievable.

There are four trim levels in the Plus range - S, SE, Sport and GT - and six engines, all of them familiar from the rest of the Volkswagen Group. The 1.4-litre petrol unit is available only in S form, and this is by a long way the cheapest Plus at £12,895. The other engines include the 1.6-litre 113bhp petrol FSI and the 1.9-litre TDI turbodiesel in 89bhp and 104bhp forms. A pair of two-litre units (138bhp TDI and 148bhp FSI) complete the range, though these two are available only in GT trim.

Excepting the 1.4, the Plus range extends from the 1.6 FSI S at £14,785 to the 2.0 GT TDI with six-speed DSG transmission at £19,600. Insurance is between Group 4 to Group 7 in the standard models and jumps to Group 13 for the GTs. Volkswagen does not plan to introduce a GTI version, which is perhaps a pity because it might compete well against hot versions of the Vauxhall Zafira.

The Zafira, being a seven-seater, is not a direct rival in mini-MPV terms. The Plus is aimed instead at the Ford Focus C-MAX, Peugeot 307 SW, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Renault Scenic, leaving the Touran to take care of the Zafira. The company therefore has a challenger in both parts of the fragmenting mini-MPV market, and I can't help wondering if it is trying to spread its potential customer base too thinly over too many models. Unless the Plus steals an awful lot of buyers from its rivals, either it or the Golf are surely going to lose out.

It may not matter in the long run. I wouldn't be surprised if the next-generation Golf is closer in concept to the Plus than to the existing hatchback. And now that I've driven the Plus I can see that customers do have a very fair choice among Golf-based cars. There's a place for them all in the market, which is good for you and me, even if it may prove to be a model range too far for Volkswagen.

445stars

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