By Jonathan Crouch
If you've ever got out of a Volkswagen Golf feeling you could do with a bit more space, the answer is right here in the chiselled form of the Golf SV, the letters standing for 'Sports Van', a name never used in the UK. Here, back in 2014, the Wolfsburg brand at last brought us a proper, purpose-built family-sized five-seat MPV offering properly purposeful advantages to justify its premium over the standard hatchback model. It's Volkswagen's idea of what a Scenic or a C-MAX should really be and if you're buying in this segment from this era and want something with a really quality feel, you could find it hard to resist. Here, we look at the later facelifted version of this model, which sold between 2018 and 2020.
Designing an MPV People Carrier needs to amount to more than just raising the roof height of a conventional family hatchback and giving it a different badge. Volkswagen knows that now after a sobering experience with their slow-selling Golf Plus model, launched in 2005 and updated in 2010. That car was supposed to be the brand's answer to five-seat People Carriers like Renault's Scenic and Ford's C-MAX, contenders that were successful because they were properly developed to offer families significantly more. Constrained by restrictive old fashioned turn-of-the-century underpinnings, the disappointing Golf Plus couldn't deliver that kind of proposition. Its replacement though, the Golf SV 5-seat people carrier that was launched in 2014, certainly could.
The 'SV' moniker stands for 'Sports Van', a name the importers here understandably didn't much like, hence its shortening to a couple of simple letters. True, some utilitarian MPVs are little more than refurbished vans - Volkswagen's own Caddy Life model for example. This one though, is a long way from being an LCV. By the same token, it also sits some distance from sportiness. What buyers do get though is a proper five-seat compact MPV in the Scenic or C-MAX mould that borrows from its conventional MK7 model Golf stablemate but, thanks to the hi-tech flexibility of the Group's clever modern day MQB platform, doesn't have to sit on that car's restricted wheelbase. It's free-er, in other words, to do its own thing - just as, after purchase, Volkswagen hopes potential buyers will be.
The niche here is an admittedly narrow one. If a standard Golf isn't enough but you still want something pretty compact, there's the Volkswagen brand's straightforward Golf Estate, their 7-seater Touran small people mover or the van-derived Caddy Life MPV we mentioned earlier. None of these cars though, have the dynamic style, flair and driveway cred necessary for widespread acceptance in the Scenic and C-MAX class. In contrast, the Golf SV has always claimed to offer exactly that. It's still not the largest car of its kind - but claims to be the classiest. The SV sold in its original form until early 2018, when it was updated with slightly smarter looks and a more modern range of petrol engines, plus upgraded safety and media kit. It's that later version of this model we look at here as a used buy, a car which sold until 2020, when it was deleted from the range and not replaced.
What You Get
The last thing the stylists wanted with this Golf SV was the high-roofed Toytown awkwardness of the old Golf Plus. Though this car is just as tall, its proportions are far more carefully considered, with aesthetic tricks like a glasshouse-extending fifth side window and bonnet-lengthening creases preserving the smartly conservative look of Volkswagen's best-selling family hatch.
As for the changes made to this revised post-2018-era model, well the alterations made can mostly be found at the front, where this central lower grille was re-designed. The forward-facing camera that previously sat in the middle of it was more neatly located behind the Volkswagen badge in the central of the upper grille. From this brand logo, chromed strips flow out into revised headlamps that feature re-styled LED daytime lighting graphics.
In analysing the interior, let's start with issues of luggage versatility, since that's probably one of the key things that a prospective MPV buyer is going to want to know about. Some of the motoring magazines have moaned that this SV doesn't have quite as much luggage space as some of its direct rivals, but that's a bit misleading as it's a comment that applies to a seats-folded total cargo configuration you'll hardly ever use.
In terms of the standard boot, the thing you'll access every day, the capacity that this Volkswagen can offer is actually class-leading from its era - 590-litres with the neat sliding rear bench pushed right forward, which is 30% more than a Golf hatch from this era can offer and only a fraction less than you'd get in a Golf Estate. The flexibility continues once you push the rear backrest forward, something that's possible to do in a 40:20:40 configuration that's very useful if all you want to do is to poke long items like skis through from the boot.
Take a seat up-front and you'll find yourself sat 59mm higher than you would be in a Golf hatch, which provides a slightly more commanding view out. Around you lies the usual classy Volkswagen interior, embellished by higher quality materials on this revised model and now even more difficult to fault. The big change with this revised model was the inclusion of a more sophisticated 8-inch 'Composition Media' centre-dash infotainment screen which above entry-level trim is enhanced with Volkswagen's clever 'App-Connect' set-up. This is the starting point for the brand's 'Car-Net' connectivity system and the key tool for bringing the best functions of your smartphone into your Golf SV via the 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring systems. An even higher-tech 'Discover Navigation Pro' set-up with an even larger 9.2-inch monitor and clever 'gesture' control was optional.
And in the rear? Well, it's true that in a rival Scenic, a C-MAX or a C4 Picasso, you've the option of taking out the middle seat to free up more space for the two outer passengers. That's not an option with this Volkswagen - but then how often would you really want it to be?
On the positive side, most models get useful fold-out seat back tables, plus there are door bins capable of taking 1.0-litre bottles and you get little storage areas on each side between the seat base side and the door. There's a fold-down armrest with twin cup holders, plus a central 12v socket so the kids can power up their games and a storage area around it for small items, along with rear passenger vents. More importantly, headroom's good and can be improved by the included seat reclining function. Likewise, your legroom can be similarly enhanced to almost limousine levels by the fact that the rear bench can slide backwards and forwards throughout a travel of 180mm. Lovely.
What to Look For
Most Golf SV owners we surveyed were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there have been those who have had problems you'll want to look out for. One owner reported squeaky noises coming from the suspension over speed humps. Another noted that his steering wheel made a slightly wheezy noise when going round bends slowly. There were reports of the boot juddering when closing. And fuel caps that were difficult to open, making re-fuelling a struggle. One owner reported vibration from the door cards at the front and the rear. And another reckoned that his infotainment system was choosing not to function in very cold weather - and at times, was choosing to control itself.
As for mechanical stuff, well we came across one owner who'd had a clutch go after just 4,600 miles - but that's very unusual. Another experienced faulty injectors. And another experienced a power failure related to his DSG auto gearbox. Also look out for smearing wipers, problems with the cabin air blowers and a rattle from the gearbox over speed humps.
(approx based on a 2018 1.6 TDI) An air filter will be priced in the £9 to £22 bracket, an oil filter will sit in the £6 to £12 bracket and a fuel filter will cost in the £14 to £33 bracket. A radiator will likely cost between £100 and £190. The front brake discs we came across sat in the £62 to £130 bracket for a pair, with pricier-branded discs costing between £130 and £280 for a pair. A pair of rear discs sit typically in the £25-£80 bracket, with pricier brands costing up to around £135. A set of front brake pads are in the £25 to £48 bracket for a set but for pricier brands, you could pay in the £70 bracket. A set of rear brake pads sit in the £11-£60 bracket. A thermostat is around £15-£17. Wiper blades cost in the £8-£14 bracket. A shock absorber will be around £50-£100.
On the Road
This Golf SV gets impressively close to the driving dynamics of the standard Golf hatch model it's based upon, despite the fact that it's 80mm longer and wider, 120mm higher and about 120kg heavier. A standard XDS electronic differential lock torque vectoring system helps get the power down through bends you'd be able to tackle even more confidently if the electric steering set-up offered a bit more feedback. You can improve that by changing the settings on the 'Driving Mode Selection' system that most variants have, this set-up tweaking steering, throttle response and - on auto models - gearchange timings to suit your preference.
It'll alter suspension feel too if you get a car whose original owner took up the option Volkswagen offered of 'DCC' 'Dynamic Chassis Control' - though to have that, you have to have picked one of the more powerful engines. There are two of these - the 1.5-litre TSI EVO petrol unit, offered with either 130 or 150PS. And the 2.0 TDI 150PS diesel. All these powerplants come with the brand's more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension package. Further down the range, you'll be stuck with the cruder torsion beam set-up that gives a slightly more unsettled low speed ride over bumpier surfaces. This lower-grade suspension package is paired with the other two engines on offer, a 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel and a three cylinder 1.0 TSI petrol unit, offered with either 85 or 110PS. The 1.0 TSI 110PS variant was a popular one, offering a decent blend of performance and efficiency, with 56.5mpg possible on the combined cycle along with 113g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures). As with the 1.5 TSI EVO 130PS derivative, there's a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG auto transmission.
If you think you'd need a very good reason to buy a compact MPV with fewer than seven seats, you might like the Golf SV. It offers a range of very good reasons. The class, style and quality on offer here are certainly very tempting compensations for the absence of those extra chairs. And if you have decided that you can do without the additional pews, an SV certainly stacks up very well against the other potential five-seat solutions on offer for families seeking more flexibility than an ordinary Golf or Focus family hatch could offer. Do you really want the mundanity of an estate or a converted van, the rather self-conscious funkiness of a Qashqai-style crossover - or the maternity unit practicality of, say, a Scenic or a C-MAX?
Overall, this is a car that adds a dash of desirability to the business of owning what is, at the end of the day, nothing more than a practical family tool. In a sensible world, this is the kind of car that typical families would prefer over the fashionable frippery of an SUV. That won't happen of course. But if a sensible world is the one you prefer to live in, we can see how the prospect of Golf SV ownership might appeal. It makes sense. And it's a Golf. For quite a number of prospective buyers, that'll be all they need to know.