Test Drives

Volkswagen Golf Variant (2018) review: Extra real estate



Looking to pack a little extra junk in the trunk? The Golf Variant should be on your shortlist. It’s bigger where it counts.

SINGAPORE — How to size up a car like the Volkswagen Golf Variant 1.4 R-Line, which is basically the wagon (or “estate” if you wish to be posh and English) version of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous hatchback? Start by thinking who it’s for, instead of what it’s like.

The new features that formed part of a mid-life update for the Golf early this year have now made their way into the Variant (say ‘vah-ree-ahhnt’), which gives us a chance to revisit a car that Team CarBuyer liked quite a lot the first time around.

Station wagons are typically designed to carry stuff around, so the Variant is essentially a Golf XL. It’s all of 309mm longer than the hatchback, with all the extra metal devoted to the very back of the car, behind the rear axle, meaning it’s been stretched where it counts.

That bumps up boot space, as you’d expect. By how much? Basically a Golf offers 380 litres of haulage capacity, while the Variant can carry a mammoth 605 litres. Mind you, that includes a pretty substantial underfloor compartment, but then other carmakers measure capacity the same way.

The real Hercules stuff is when you fold the rear seats, which you can do with two handy levers in the boot.

Yank them to flip those seatbacks down and the Golf Variant can swallow 1,620 litres of cargo — about a week’s worth of beer for a Bavarian person, or maybe three days’ for a proud Australian.

Put another way, it’s more than a Volvo V90 can carry (1,526 litres). Essentially, you can shove more into the caboose of a Golf estate than you can in Volvo’s flagship wagon.

The loading space has been well-designed, too. It’s relatively wide and flat, and not too high up above ground level. Four useful hooks let you hang bags there and keep stuff from skating around in the boot.

One new feature (at least for our market) to complement all that load-lugging ability is a cargo net; it’s to separate the loading compartment from the passenger cell if you’re carrying a stack of loose items and want to make sure that none of it becomes a deadly projectile under sudden braking or a crash.

Or you could think of it as a pet barrier, or maybe somewhere to put your children when they behave like animals (please don’t, no matter how tempted).

Whatever it is, the Variant is obviously suitable if you have a bit more of a lifestyle than a standard Golf can carry.

But even if you aren’t an outdoors fiend/animal lover/mountain bike enthusiast, there’s a case for the Golf Variant regardless.

For one thing, it’s pretty much the poshest Golf of the lot before you get into GTI territory. Under its snout is the same 1.4-litre turbo with 125 horsepower that powers the Golf Highline (along with the same, twin-clutch seven-speed auto), but it’s sold here in R-Line trim, which comes with plenty of kit.

Volkswagen Golf Variant Singapore

Much of that is cosmetic, so you get front bumpers with prominent airdams in gloss black, and rear bumpers with stylised diffusers and fake exhaust pipes (although to be fair, VW does call them “trapezoidal chrome trim”). The front fenders get “R-Line” badges and so does the front grille. So far, so tasteful.

But climb aboard and you’ll find plenty that you don’t get with the Golf 1.4 Highline — a powered driver’s seat, for one thing, and a panoramic glass roof, for another.

The roof lets light flood the cabin, which helps to make it feel more spacious; indeed, the back seems to offer more headroom than you get in the Golf hatch, but that could literally be a trick of the light. The Variant is actually 11mm lower in height than the hatchback, probably to keep its proportions in check and make it look less bus-like.

This year the Golf got more “digitalised”, meaning some versions gained the brilliant Discover Pro touchscreen infotainment system (all 9.2 inches of it), along with the Active Info Display virtual instruments.

Both are present in the Variant, along with the connectivity that comes with the latter — Apple CarPlay means an endless stream of podcasts kept the CarBuyer team company on long test drives, though it’s worth pointing out that Golfs could digitally tango with iPhones before this, too.

The Variant also comes with the Park Assist system that lets a skilled ghost take over the steering when you have to slip the VW into a parking spot, which the Highline doesn’t come with (presumably you need less help with a car that’s nearly 31cm shorter).

What befits the R-Line stuff a bit more are the gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel — pull left for a downchange, right for an upshift and play out your racing driver fantasies to your heart’s content.

Mind you, any thoughts of racing in a Golf Variant will be strictly fantasy. There’s a little extra weight to carry around (we reckon it’s 80kg flabbier than the hatchback) and you’re dimly aware of it because compared to the Golf 1.4 Highline, the Variant does feel like it could use a cup of strong coffee.

The stopwatch confirms that it’s slightly (0.4 seconds) slower to 100km/h than the hatchback.

Anyway, the acceleration counts as adequate by today’s standards, and most of the engine’s firepower is in the mid-range, meaning you won’t struggle to merge with fast traffic in the Variant but there’s little point revving the thing hard, either.

As for the ride and handling, the Golf still sets the standard in the class. There’s a satisfying quality to the way it sails smoothly through corners, like gossamer slipping between your fingers.

And because the wheelbase is the same as that of the hatchback, the wagon feels just as eager to alter its course at your whim. Body roll is nicely curtailed, and there’s a sense of everything being well under control, even if you’re in a hurry.

READ MORE > What we think of the Golf Highline

The Variant is specced with sports suspension, however, which is a head-scratcher for a car meant to be more mule than racehorse.

It divided opinion at CarBuyer HQ somewhat: while none of us could see the point, some of us thought it ruined the supple ride quality that the latest Golfs have, while others thought it felt less crashy and jarring than the same setup does in the Golf Highline.

And no, you can’t order the Golf Variant here with normal suspension (we asked).

That said, this is probably a case of wanting to ensure that the Variant feels like The Golf With More. It’s a little pricier than the Golf Highline, after all.

The good news is that the gap in price is just S$2,000. That’s a price worth paying not just for the goodies (panoramic roof, park assist, gearshift paddles and so on), but for the extra real estate, especially if you have a genuine need to carry lots of stuff around.


Besides, Golf sales in general have been going swimmingly, so there’s a case for choosing the Variant just to stand out a bit. Never mind what it’s like, it’s for people who want a VW Golf and then some.

Volkswagen Golf Variant 1.4 R-Line
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 9.5 seconds
Top Speed 205km/h
Fuel Efficiency 5.5 L/100km
Agent Volkswagen Group Singapore
Price S$127,900 with COE
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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.