- Published: Monday, 19 May 2014 03:22
St Tropez, France –
Wait, what is this...Sportsvan?
The Golf Sportsvan is essentially a slightly bigger version of Volkswagen’s immensely popular Golf hatchback, with a taller stance, higher seating position and longer wheelbase for enhanced practicality.
So, it’s like a Golf MPV then. Don’t they already have the Touran for that?
No, not quite. The Sportsvan is part of an increasingly growing segment of compact crossover MPVs that are not quite full-sized people carriers, but offer a fair bit more over ordinary hatchbacks. Unlike the Touran, the Sportsvan only has five seats, and it also looks less like a van than the Touran, despite the irony of its name.
Okay. I still don’t get the point of it though...
Perhaps not in Singapore just yet, but the crossover MPV market is now huge in Europe. Similar cars like the Citroen C4 Picasso, Nissan Qashqai and the (thus far) Europe-only Ford C-Max are selling faster than their makers can produce them all across the Continent. Even the premium brands are wanting in on the action, with Mercedes-Benz offering the B-Class and BMW set to launch the new 2 Series Active Tourer to compete in this segment.
Right. Why are they so popular then?
According to Volkswagen, crossovers such as the Golf Sportsvan are extremely popular in Europe precisely because of their ideal combination of compact size, greater versatility and high driving position. That last point appears to be crucial, as according to Volkswagen’s own research data, a good number of such cars are bought by, let’s just say, slightly older folk. To these drivers, being able to step in and out of the car easily, as well as having a commanding view from a higher seating position, is of paramount importance. Full-size SUVs are out of the question given the type of roads you find in Europe, a lot of which are narrow country lanes or tight city streets.
Volkswagen have tread down this path before, with the Sportsvan’s immediate predecessor, the Mk5-based Golf Plus, selling over 500,000 units in Germany alone during its 10-year production run. If you’ve never heard of a Golf Plus, don’t worry. It was never sold in Singapore, and here’s what it looked like:
Golf Plus sounds like a nice name. Why the change?
Primarily image. As mentioned earlier, the Golf Plus was immensely popular among older drivers, and while Volkswagen will not turn them away should they trade in their cars for a Sportsvan, the company is also looking to appeal to younger drivers, especially small families, with this car. Aside from the name change, the Sportsvan certainly looks sharper and more dynamic than the relatively-dull and aged Plus, with its chiselled lines clearly derived from the Mk7 Golf on which it is based on.
Volkswagen thinks that the Sportsvan is ideal for young couples with kids simply because it offers more space and versatility in a car that is not much bigger than a regular hatchback, and yet does not look like you’ve given up on life, as most people do when they buy a classic seven-seater MPV. The Sportsvan is some 83mm longer than the Golf hatch, and offers a whopping 500 litres of boot space with all the seats up, 120 litres more than the hatch. The rear seats can also slide forwards to free up an extra 90 litres, while with the seats folded down, the Sportsvan offers up to 1,520 litres of cargo capacity.
Sounds impressive. But does it drive like a van?
Not at all. For the most part the Sportsvan is fairly composed and refined, making it the ideal family wagon. But the real surprise comes when you hit a twisty stretch of road, of which there are several nestled in the hills surrounding St Tropez in France where we had our international test drive. Despite its increased height, the Sportsvan handles pretty gamely with little body roll. Frankly, unless you’re driving it at silly speeds, it’s actually pretty hard-pressed to tell the Sportsvan apart from the regular Golf in terms of driving dynamics. This could be down to the fact that the Sportsvan utilises the same MQB modular platform architecture, and as a whole the car feels very well-sorted, and can even be slightly entertaining with its sharp and responsive steering.
There were three engine variants available to drive on our trip, and the one that’s definitely going to make it to Singapore is the 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged engine with 125bhp and 200Nm of torque, ostensibly so that the car can acquire a Cat A COE. This particular powerplant feels adequately responsive for the most part, but does feel a bit breathless when it is asked to do a bit more, such as when pulling out for a quick overtake. To be fair the Sportsvan is about 100kg heavier than a similarly-powered Golf, so whilst the engine does have a tad bit more horsepower, the increase in weight is still a bit noticeable.
The second petrol engine we tried, and arguably the better option if we disregard our local regulations, is the 1.4 TSI with 150bhp and 250Nm of torque. This unit seemed to be a good fit for the Sportsvan, offering plenty of perky performance delivered in an energetic fashion. We also drove a 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel version which also had 150bhp, but produces 340Nm of torque, all of which is delivered extremely smoothly through most of the rev range, giving the Sportsvan plenty of pull. Unfortunately Volkswagen Singapore is still weighing up the options as to whether to bring in these two variants into Singapore, so for now we’ll have to make do with just the 125bhp petrol.
Okay then. When can I expect to see it on our roads?
Not for a while yet. Volkswagen is targeting for an early 2015 launch locally, possibly in due part to strong demand from European markets. The car goes on sale in Germany in early June, but a German Volkswagen engineer told us that orders have already been streaming in for the car before it has even gone to market. The Sportsvan costs about 1500 Euros extra over a regular Golf, but in Singapore terms that premium should be around $10,000 or so. That means an estimated $140,000 retail price, give or take depending on the COE, which is a fairly good value if you think about it.
If anything, the Sportvan only serves to broaden the Golf’s appeal even further. If you like the looks and drive of Volkswagen’s venerable hatchback, but just want a teeny bit more space, then you’ll do well to consider one of these seriously.
NEED TO KNOW: Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan 1.4 TSI 125bhp
Engine 1,395cc, 16V, turbocharged, inline-four
Power 125bhp at 5000rpm
Torque 200Nm at 1400-4000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Top Speed 200km/h
0-100kmh 9.9 seconds
Fuel Efficiency 5.4L/100km
Price To Be Announced
Availability Early 2015