Volkswagen Sportsvan Highline | A Complete Club

BY Azfar Hashim

Volkswagen's Sportsvan fills the gap between the Golf hatchback and Touran MPV, but does it do what the labels says or is it just another vain segment filler?

Photos by Azfar Hashim

When Volkswagen’s Mark 7 Golf arrived, the car sold by the truckloads; it didn’t matter whether it was the top-tier 140 bhp Sport, 121 bhp ‘regular’ or later on, even entry-level 1.2-litre model - Singaporeans seem to take to the car very well. In fact, it has been quite a long while since we saw a hatchback doing this well, here.

That said, even the Touran MPV was not doing that shoddily. Thanks to the fact that it has space for seven and a pocket-friendly engine that performs very well for its class, every family man (and grandpa) decided to have one.

And Volkswagen doesn’t seem done yet. As you can see, they’re keen to cover every segment they could and thus, to fill the gap between the Golf and Touran, they’ve recently introduced the Sportsvan. As to why it’s called a ‘Sportsvan’ will remain unsolved; after all it doesn’t have the essence of a van, like (a) a sliding door and (b) three rows of benches.

Which meant it belongs to the compact MPV class instead, along with the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s B-Class and BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer; historically speaking though, it was the parallel-imported Honda Edix that made Singaporeans go all mad with this class of car. It’s the perfect, long-term answer for buyers who want a spacious car but do not need a third-row seat — practically a hatchback that’s slightly wider and stretched, with a taller driving position.

From initial impression, there’s frankly a lot to like about this Sportsvan. It has a proportionate exterior and is handsomely styled; yes, some of you readers will opine it, essentially, still looks like a brick but I have to point out that it still looks pleasing to the eye. The other good thing here is that VW didn’t try too hard to make it look like what it’s not meant to be: the ‘sporty’ bit has been limited only to the subtle roof spoiler and 18-inch alloys that come standard. In Highline spec as seen with this test car, a large sunroof also comes at no extra cost.

For the curious, the Sportsvan is 83 mm longer, 8 mm wider, 126 mm taller than the Golf hatchback. On top of that — pun intended — it’s also endowed with a wheelbase that has been stretched by 48 mm. All these translates to a larger and family-friendlier cabin — while the Golf is truly a practical hatchback that could ferry five comfortably, this Sportsvan does so with more comfort thanks to extra leg, head and shoulder room. The large sunroof also helped at making things airy in there.

That said, there’s also the additional boot space. The Sportsvan offers 500-litres (+ 120-litres over the hatchback) with the rear seats up and 1,520-litres (+ 250-litres) with it stowed away.

The Sportsvan doesn’t fall short of factory-fitted goodies. Santa Claus probably works at Volkswagen, looking at the extensive standard equipment list. Besides allowing you to choose between four different driving modes - Normal, Sport, Eco or Individual - via the self-explaining ‘Mode’ button, there’s also the ultra-attentive parking sensor and park assist function (the latter helps you at parallel parking by steering the car into the lot). Another surprise here is the brake Auto Hold function that activates the anchors for you the moment the car comes to a standstill — very useful in traffic-heavy conditions.

Also standard is the 8-inch multimedia head-unit with a proximity sensor VW calls ‘Discover Pro’. As soon as you move your finger (yes, your finger doesn’t even need to touch it) near the touchscreen, a myriad of graphic-rich commands will pop up to allow you to toggle between the different modes, like GPS, Bluetooth and radio for example. While using the GPS mode, you can even zoom in - like how you would normally do via your smartphone: Just by using your finger.

Powering the Sportsvan is VW’s 1.4-litre 4-cylinder TSI turbocharged engine, mated to a 7-speed DSG automatic. This combination whips out 123 bhp and 200 Nm — decent numbers by today’s standard. Oh, by the way kerbweight is some 1,362 kg for the curious.

As a family transportation device, this car is quick and brisk, useful for merging with traffic and overtaking. The ‘box does an equally good job of keeping up with the driver’s right foot input, and to make it even sweeter, shifts are a seamless affair.

And if you do want to have a quick blast, there’s the pair of paddle-shifter that allows you to play road racer. Out on the expressway, the engine also picks up crisply from 80 km/h in top gear, something beyond many other naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre.

Handling wise, it’s an easy car to drive — ‘easy’ in this context refers to a nicely weighted helm, predictable handling and at expressway speed, feels planted. The suspension is brilliantly balanced, and rather importantly by segment standard, doesn’t feel as firm as the B-Class’s.

Surprisingly it can handle spirited driving as well thanks largely to that composed and well-controlled body movement. You can still throw it fast into corners and bends; but once you reach its physical limitation, understeer can be felt almost immediately before the traction control kicks in to take order. Let’s not forget those responsive and assuring anchors that deserve praise, as well.

As a whole, VW’s new Sportsvan here offers all the goodness of the Golf hatchback but with extra space; the only downside is the slight compromise in the handling department, which is a given due to the car’s slightly taller stature.

Driving position is spot on; has to be among the best from Volkswagen

Driving position is spot on; has to be among the best from Volkswagen

Thankfully too, VW didn’t cut corners, which mean you get a long list of standard equipment list. Then we come to the price: You can take one home for less than $133k with COE, undercutting its peers the Mercedes-Benz B180 ($159k with COE) and diesel-powered BMW 216d Active Tourer ($157k with COE. FYI, the local BMW dealer has stopped selling the petrol-driven 218i Active Tourer.)