“Sportsvan”, abbreviated to SV in Volkswagen-speak, is an unusual name for the latest addition to the Golf family. It’s not particularly sporty (there is no GTI derivative, and the engines come from the lower end of Volkswagen’s line-up), and it’s anything but van-like to look at (or to drive). The SV moniker rather points to a different kind of hatchback – one that offers the same virtues and driving experience as a 5-door Golf, but with added space and practicality.

It’s not new territory for Volkswagen, with its predecessor (then called the Golf Plus) selling almost a million units in Europe since 2004, but it is the first time we see them in South Africa – undoubtedly to counter the sales impact of the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer and Mercedes B-Class. It follows a similar recipe to these competitors by taking a strong-selling hatchback as a base, and then stretching it in every dimension. The result is a different kind of cross-over, one that combines the space of a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) with the driving dynamics of a compact hatchback.

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The Golf SV resembles a car more than it does a van – imagine a slightly distorted Golf and you’d get the picture. Apart from an extra window behind the rear doors, the SV follows the Golf’s profile quite faithfully, even though the proportions are all different: the roofline has been raised by 126 mm and the wheelbase stretched by 48 mm, while its overall length grows by 83 mm. All this translates to a fair increase in cabin space, and a much larger luggage compartment.

The boot now measures 500 litres with the 40/20/40 split rear seats in use (up from the regular Golf’s 380 litres), expanding to 1520 litres with them all folded flat. Headroom sees an equally serious increase due to that raised roof, and the extended wheelbase allows the rear seats to (individually) slide fore and aft to benefit either rear legroom or luggage space.

The drivetrain mirrors the entry-level Golf hierarchy, with a choice of 1.2 TSI (81 kW/175 Nm), 1.4 TSI (92 kW/200 Nm) and a 2.0 TDI (seen here in 81 kW/250 Nm form). A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, but the 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI can also be ordered with a 7-speed DSG. All SV’s send their power to the front wheels, with no option of 4Motion all-wheel drive. Sharing its clever, efficient MQB platform with the normal Golf also means that the SV isn’t exactly hefty either, weighing only about 100 kg more than the equivalent Golf – not a bad figure for a car that’s substantially larger and more user-friendly.

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And, being a close relative of the seventh-generation Golf, the SV boasts the same comprehensive equipment list as its non-inflated sibling: even the entry-level 1.2-litre Trendline derivative features 7 airbags (and a 5-star Euro-NCAP safety rating), stability control, a sound system with VW’s clever 5-inch colour touch-screen, tyre pressure monitoring and a leather-clad steering wheel with integrated sound system controls. The higher-specced 1.4 and 2.0 Comfortline variants add cruise control, larger alloy rims (16-inch diameter instead of the 1.2TSI’s 15-inch items), fog lights and automatic operation for the headlights and wipers.

Clever optional extras abound: you can specify anything from high beam assistance (the car switches between dipped- and high beams on your behalf), a parking assistant (steering the car into both parallel- and perpendicular parking spots) and a panoramic tilt/slide sunroof. Of course, being a German car, those nice options are bound to carry a stiff price tag, so think carefully before you start ticking option boxes. As it stands, the SV adds about R20 000 to the price of the equivalent Golf. Pricing ranges between R292 500 for the 1.2 TSI Trendline to R359 200 for a 2.0 TDI DSG, and includes a service plan for 5 years or 90 000 km in addition to the 3 year/120 000 km warranty.

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While it’s difficult to understand the need for a car like the Golf SV in Volkswagen’s product line-up (especially when they already offer the quite excellent Touran MPV, which is roughly the same size but even more practical), the Golf SV has an appeal of its own. It offers most of the practical advantages of an MPV, but wrapped in more stylish metal than most competitors, and feels just about identical to a normal Golf to the driver. Neither sporty nor van-like, the SV is just like any other Golf – there’s only more of it to enjoy…

Martin Pretorius