Test Drives

Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan review: Tripping the Light Vantastic



The facelifted Volkwagen Golf Sportsvan might just be the perfect wheels for single-car families

TERENGGANU, MALAYSIA — In an ideal world, it would be nice to have a dedicated tool for every conceivable need.

But when it comes to Singapore, for most people a single car has to fulfill as many different needs as possible.

The Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan is one such car, being at once practical, comfortable, luxurious and even sprightly to drive.

Of course, there are plenty of cars which would be better in one or even two of those areas, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that is as capable across the board as the Sportsvan.

But first, an introduction. The uninitiated would never guess that the Sportsvan was part of the Golf family range, but it is, built upon the same MQB bones and sharing the same 1.4-litre turbo engine and 7-speed DSG gearbox as the Golf hatchback (which we tested in Highline trim), as well as the Golf Variant.

While the Variant, err, varies only in its booty, the Sportsvan has its own distinct look.

It’s one of a small handful of five-seater mini-MPVs on sale (the others being the Renault Scenic, BMW 2 Series ActiveTourer, and Mercedes B-Class), offering a great deal more space and versatility than a hatchback or sedan, while still maintaining a compact footprint – useful when some HDB carparks can give full-size MPV drivers anxiety attacks.

How compact, you ask? Well the Sportsvan measures in at 4,351mm, just 93mm longer than the regular Golf. For comparison, that’s shorter than most compact sedans like the Toyota Vios or Honda City.

Yet despite that, there’s heaps of space in the Sportsvan all round, thanks to a 50mm-stretched wheelbase, and a 121mm taller roofline.

The core of the Sportsvan’s appeal though, lies in its practicality. The boot is one-third larger than a Golf hatchback (500-litres) in its regular configuration, but can increase to 1520-litres when you knock the 40:20:40 seats flat. The rear seats also slide fore and aft 180mm, for an extra 90-litres of space and more load-lugging options.

Further forward, the door bins are properly cavernous for all the bottles, snacks, and tissues required for family life, there’s a useful extra compartment on top of the dashboard, and the flip-up tray tables on the front seatbacks can lock at various angles, should you want to use them to hold the food the kids might need, or the digital entertainment they crave.

It’s not just life with children that becomes easier with the Sportsvan; their grandparents will also appreciate the higher seat hip points, which allows them to slide their bums onto the seats with ease, unlike sedans and hatchbacks which can be a bit laborious for octogenarians to climb out from.

Despite the extra height, the Sportsvan is nowhere near as ponderous to drive as its shape might suggest. Ok, it doesn’t quite live up to the “sports” in its name either, but it’s definitely a lot less floppy on the road than most similarly-sized MPVs and SUVs.

Part of that is thanks to the sports suspension and 18-inch wheels on the Highline version we drove, but fundamentally the Sportsvan is still a Golf underneath, one of the benchmarks for ride and handling in the compact class.

The suspension and wheels did mean we felt the bumps around town, but on the flipside, they were greatly appreciated on the Malaysian North-South Highway and old trunk roads that constituted most of our test drive, providing a level of body control and stability at the extremely unpublishable speeds we were travelling at that isn’t normally expected in such family-oriented cars.

In this environment the long-leggedness of the TSI engine and 7-speed DSG really come to the fore, averaging around 8.0 L/100km despite the constant hard (read: exuberant) driving, and the 125hp/200Nm peak outputs made overtakes on narrow single carriageways a cinch as well.

The drive isn’t the only thing that’s premium about the Sportsvan, but the toys and features, too.

The spiffy digital instrument cluster that we loved in the Golf Highline and Variant sadly is absent, but all Sportsvans do get LED head and tailights, dual-zone climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, seven airbags and a rear view camera.

For a $10,000 premium, opting for the Highline model nets you that wheel/suspension combo, a panoramic sunroof, cruise control, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the high-definition 9.2-inch Discover Pro infotainment system present in other Volkswagens (instead of an 8.0-inch unit, though both are Apple CarPLay and Android Auto-compatible).

The sad trend among car buyers these days is that many of them would overlook the Sportsvan simply because it isn’t an SUV.

It’s a shame, because it has genuine real-world user-friendliness, and straddles the divide between family and luxury so well. This is one jack of all trades that can show the established masters a thing or two.

Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan 1.4 Highline
Engine 1,395cc, turbo inline 4
Power 125hp at 5000 to 6600rpm
Torque 200Nm at 1400 to 4000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed twin-clutch auto
0-100km/h 9.9 seconds
Top Speed200km/h
Fuel Efficiency 5.5 L/100km
Agent Volkswagen Group Singapore
Price S$135,400 with COE
Available Now

about the author

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Jon Lim
CarBuyer's latest addition is its fourth historical Jonathan. Old-fashioned in all but body, he thinks car design peaked in the '90s. He also strongly believes any car can be a race car if you have a sufficient lack of self-preservation, which explains why he nearly flipped a Chinese van while racing it.