I never saw a seatbelt until I was in my teens. When I was a toddler I was simply chucked, or possibly clambered, into the back seat where I was free to roam untethered. I certainly didn’t have my own child seat, far less a booster cushion.
Now, quite rightly, with faster cars and considerably busier roads, we take a great deal of care when we put our small nearest and dearest into the family runabout.
But that in itself is becoming quite an operation. I know a young mother who was delighted when she finally bought her much-anticipated Mini, only to discover the near impossibility of installing a childseat, followed by a child, in the rear seats through the narrow front door with the passenger seat folded forward to its fullest extent.
What she needed was something with easy access to the back seats and useful headroom coupled with a low sill. And that’s just what VW have come up with in their third version of the Golf, alongside the hatchback and estate, as a replacement for the Golf Plus.
They’ve dropped the previous name, opting instead for the rather vague Golf SV. The explanation is that it is sold in Europe as the Sportsvan but VW UK knew that British buyers couldn’t accept it as either a van – it’s more like a mini-estate – or anything sporty so they opted instead for the two letters, but interestingly they don’t appear on a badge anywhere on the car itself. My man at VW, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, suggested that buyers could think of it instead as a “super vehicle” but that’s stretching it a bit.
It’s a very competent and practical car, especially for young families, with a boot more than 30 per cent bigger than in the standard Golf hatch, longer than the Golf Plus it replaces and only slightly shorter than the Golf estate.
Its interior space is generous and flexible. The rear seats are a 40:60 split bench and can slide backwards and forwards to increase either passenger or luggage space. There’s an option for the front passenger seat to fold fully forward to create a loadspace almost two and a half metres long. The one-hand-operated variable height boot floor is useful too and at its highest it is level with the rear door lip for easy access.
So it’s very practical with lots of useful space but I can’t help thinking why it wouldn’t be best to simply go for the excellent Golf estate, especially as it’s about £500 cheaper and has more room inside, but admittedly without the higher headroom of the SV. It also doesn’t have the capacity of its rivals such as the Ford C-Max, Citroen’s C4 Picasso and Renault’s Scenic.
What it does have is excellent build quality and a solid, reliable feel, even if the workmanlike interior looks a bit austere. The S version of the test car came full of equipment on top of the standard specification, which includes Bluetooth, DAB radio and a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, although given the target market I was surprised that child locks in the rear door don’t come as a matter of course.
The test car had the superb DSG automatic gearbox which seems to have overcome early reliability issues. It makes city driving so much less strenuous and on the open road it adapts effortlessly to a range of driving styles.
The best seller is expected to be the 1.6-litre SE TDI with 108bhp but I found the smaller 1.4-litre with 123bhp perfectly adequate for most journeys. There’s also a range-topping GT version but while the larger 17-inch alloys and sports suspension may go down well on the better roads around Europe they make the ride a touch harsher on our rougher surfaces.
The Golf has been a stalwart for the past 40 years, and for the last nine of them the Golf Plus has done a great job in filling the gap for those who like the Golf but need more space. The latest version has already gone down well in its German homeland and it’s expected around 5,000 buyers in the UK every year will find their SV does a great job. They may even say it’s VG.
Car VW Golf SV S 1.4 litre TSI 125PS 5-Door 7-speed DSG
Price £22,060 (£22,595 as tested)
Engine 1.4l, 4 cyl petrol
Performance Max speed 124mph; 0-62mph 9.9 secs
Economy 54mpg combined
CO2 emissions 121g/km