Volkswagen Golf Plus 1.6 FSI: Crazy Golf

It used to get a hole-in-one each time it brought out a new Golf, but now Volkswagen has got lost in the undergrowth, says Michael Booth

Who ate all the pies? I think we have the answer: the new, Rubenesque Volkswagen Golf Plus - essentially an over- stuffed Golf with a tad more head- and boot-room and, well, not much else actually. I am sure there are remote South Pacific tribes for whom a Golf Plus would be the ultimate in automotive beauty, but I can't imagine anyone else getting terribly excited over one. With its bulging sides, behind and bonnet, it looks like it's been levered into a whalebone corset, and little effort has been put into making the interior any more appealing. The inside is swathed in slabs of forgettable VW Group plastic. It is almost two decades since VW wowed us with the damped grab handle, but the likes of Honda and Renault have moved way beyond this in terms of interior quality and innovation.

So why are VWs so dull these days? The new Passat looks pretty much like the last one, but a bit posher; the Golf is an improvement on the old model (which wasn't difficult) but hardly a radical departure; and don't get me started on the Touran, which looks like it was designed by a committee of bored actuaries. An easy jibe would be that they are too busy arranging hot- and cold-running lap-dancers for troublesome union leaders, and fighting lawsuits like the one brought recently by a resentful 86-year-old who claimed he was commissioned by the Nazis to design the VW logo (stirring up all that other murky silt about the company being founded on the use of slave labour). Last year VW spent a small fortune on renaming a Copenhagen hotel the Fox Hotel in an attempt to alert the world to the launch of its eponymous new hatchback (what do you mean you haven't heard of it?). But I was living in Copenhagen at the time and well recall the disinterested bafflement of locals and tourists. Meanwhile, motor-industry insiders have long been suggesting that VW has taken its corporate eye off the ball - the ball being the building of high-quality prestige hatches, of which the Golf Plus was supposed to be a prime example - by branching out into the supercar and luxury saloon market with the Phaeton and Bugatti projects (white elephants, both).

Even lower down the product range there is confusion. The Touran would seem to have rendered the Golf Plus redundant before it has even turned a wheel. It is priced at just a few hundred pounds more than the Golf Plus, and it is hard to see why anyone wouldn't go for the superior practicality and space of the seven-seat Touran - it is hardly as if the Golf is a more stylish prospect. VW claims there are 18,000 Golf Plus buyers a year out there; MPV-phobes who so fear the stigma of owning a car that screams "breeder" that they wouldn't dream of buying a Renault Scenic or Focus C-Max. In other words, Mercedes A-class buyers.

The trouble is that the new A-class is really rather good. It has been designed from the ground up, not just by pumping air into an existing smaller model. And the Mercedes badge, though tarnished by recalls and falling residuals, still counts for something on Privet Drive.

If things continue in this way for much longer, VW will start to see itself habitually referred to as "beleaguered VW", sales will tumble and, before they know what's hit them, they'll find themselves trying to negotiate terms with Shanghai Automotive.

It's a Classic Volkswagen Scirocco

Here's a Volkswagen to get a little more enthusiastic about. Volkswagen was decidedly lukewarm about the Scirocco when the idea was first mooted by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who was then putting the finishing touches to one of his great masterpieces, the revolutionary Golf. Initially VW rejected the idea of a rakish two-door coupé. When they saw the prototype they began to take it more seriously, but still balked at spending money on development. The coachbuilders Karmann agreed to engineer the body shell while VW supplied the oily bits, borrowed from the Golf, initially allowing it a meagre 1.1-litre engine (though a 1.5-litre came later). The Scirocco was launched before the Golf and proved surprisingly popular. It looked good, boasted the peerless reliability for which the company was becoming famous, and was at least a match for more obviously sporty cars of the period (MGs, Triumphs and the like). In all over half a million were made before the MKII was introduced in 1981 and, though it was always overshadowed by the dazzling Golf GTi, the Scirocco retains a cult following today.