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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - 103TSI Highline

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, packaging, quality, performance, economy, handling, composure, comfort, ergonomics
Room for improvement
Some road noise on 17-inch tyres, some hidden buttons, not much else

Volkswagen logo6 Sep 2013

By DANIEL GARDNER

Price and equipment

TO paraphrase a classic old Aussie slogan: when you’re on a Golf thing, stick to it!Yep, for the seventh time since 1974, Volkswagen’s small-car staple gently evolves into something that’s just a bit more modern, efficient, and refined, while also being safer and better value.

Unfortunately the previous Golf’s perfect image has been blotted by claims of unreliability of late, something that has quickly taken the lustre off the latest iteration.

But beyond the controversy is something quite unusual in this day and age – a genuinely all-new car. Body, drivetrain, suspension, and chassis, this one is fresh out of the box.

It only looks similar.

Here we assess one of the key variants, the $31,990 103TSI Highline DSG.

Like all Golfs, equipment levels rise in this new generation, with goodies such as a new 5.8-inch touchscreen and the Extended Differential Lock (XDL) that was previously only the provenance of the Mk6 GTI now fitted range-wide.

Additionally, the new-to-Golf Highline spec brings a myriad of upmarket items normally reserved for luxo barges further up the food chain – including a complete sat-nav system as part of a wider (and effective) Bluetooth audio-streaming and telephony set-up.

It also gets an Alcantara and cloth combo, unique cabin highlights including LED pinpoint lighting, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, rain sensing windscreen wipers, auto dimming rear-view mirror and automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control air conditioning and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Golf 103TSI Highline, then, is loaded. Not bad for a $32K car out of Germany.

Interior

No surprises here. The latest Golf is more of the same – only better.

In this case we’re talking about more space – including a sizeable rear-legroom increase – and a 30-litre boost in the cargo area. Combined with the deep side windows, it makes for an appealingly inviting interior.

But Aussies haven’t bought a Golf because of the amount of practicality it offers since the 1970s, when the Mk1 original was the only front-drive hatch option in town.

This VW, then, is a vanity purchase, pure and simple.

So, as a result, the cabin ambience oozes upmarket quality and plushness, in an environment that is fundamentally the same as the previous-gen car, but subtlety different too.

Differences? For the first time, there’s a (tiny) triangular window ahead of the repositioned exterior mirrors, emphasising the deeper windscreen rake and reducing pillar thickness for improved vision.

The park brake is now an electric toggle switch instead of a manually operated lever (boo for hooning – but it does save space). And smartphone-style swipe and pinch touchscreen tech takes care of dozens of audio, Bluetooth and vehicular-related functions.

Yet you still sit before a traditional but elegant dashboard, immaculately presented and finished, and featuring crisp analogue dials bookending an LED screen choc-a-block full of trip, sat-nav, and other driving-related data.

Plus, there’s nothing challenging about how the air-con and heating work the wheel is perfectly positioned a pair of part-suede front seats grab and caress in equal and optimal measure and the deeply sculptured rear bench absolutely lacks nothing in terms of accommodation yet shows up more expensive rivals for comfort, support, and attention-to-detail.

Heck, even the back door pockets are flocked, while beneath that large hatch aperture VW provides all the hoped-for little trinkets such as 12V power outlets and tie hooks, as well some you might not be expecting – such as the floor above the (space-saver) spare with its own lift-up support mechanism.

Classy!You can see why most rivals aspire to be like the incredibly thoroughly thought out Golf. It is the mainstream quality C-segment benchmark bar none.

We have to descend down into the nit-picking realm to really criticise VW’s towering interior efforts.

Let’s see… the DSG gear lever obscures some of the buttons surrounding it Golf V and VI owners will notice that the Germans no longer offer a bottle opener/cupholder divider the glovebox isn’t quite as big as some people might like and the Highline’s glossy fascia trim and multi-toned seat trim is a tad crass compared to the lower-spec Comfortline’s far-classier presentation.

Helpfully, an owner has reminded us that since Australian Design Rules require all locally bound Golfs to be built in three-monthly batches, the electric eight-way adjustable driver’s seat available elsewhere isn’t even an option here the ignition keyhole is not illuminated and the City Safety low-speed radar-controlled braking device’s over-sensitivity means it chimes in when overtaking trucks or through certain types of fast bends But in the final wash-up, this Golf takes the small-car game up a notch or two – and it was already on a higher plane.

Engine and transmission

On paper the up-spec but non-GTI engine news isn’t off to a promising start.

There’s less power (103kW versus 118kW) compared to its direct predecessor – the sweetly punchy and always intriguing 1.4-litre Twincharger 118TSI – with just one turbo and no supercharger.

But this all-new lightweight 1395cc (versus 1390cc) direct-injection twin-cammer is a corker, with an earlier and more linear power delivery, for stronger lower-speed acceleration.

Combined with a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with far less hesitation and fewer jerky take-offs than before (but still too slow to react when moving off on an incline), and the Golf 103TSI is a discernibly smoother everyday urban driving proposition than previously.

It ain’t half bad on the open road either, since the now-260Nm wad of torque feels spread more evenly across the 1500-6000rpm rev range, for sharper throttle response over a greater range of driving conditions.

VW’s newly redesigned DSG includes a couple of improvements to help kick the car along more effortlessly too, such as a one-tap Sport setting that holds on to the lower gears longer.

So, what do we make of the Drive Mode device that allows the Golf’s handler to choose how lively or laidback the car feels? In Sport the drivetrain seems too eager around town, and in the Efficiency, Comfort and Auto settings the VW feels sprightly enough anyway. Just one more thing to go wrong down the track? We can probably live without such gimmicks, since the standard set-up is so right to begin with.

Speaking of efficiency earlier, the standard idle-stop Bluemotion tech helped achieve a 7.2L/100km average on our run (compared to the official 5.2 figure) – though it is on premium unleaded. VW recommends 95 RON as the fuel minimum across the petrol product.

Ride and handling

Almost 100kg lighter than the smaller Golf VI, the 7’s dynamics truly are a revelation for a car this size – and don’t forget that dimensionally the newcomer’s length and wheelbase are some 150mm and 46mm longer than before.

In a nutshell, the Vee Dub feels lighter on its feet, turns into corners with a tautness and tightness normally reserved for hot hatches, and grips the road with equal tenacity.

Ripping along a ragged country road, the helm’s feedback and response is brilliantly resolved, with more of the good stuff and none of the bad filtering through.

Basically, the Golf’s body control is second-to-none.

The earlier Drive Mode that changes engine/gearbox algorithms also applies to the electric steering feel, for a weightier sensation in Sport and a correspondingly more relaxed attitude in the softer settings.

Note though, that a bit more steering feel would make the latest Golf the king of small cars, dynamically speaking, hands down.

Moving on to the suspension’s absorption properties, the ride isn’t as firm as we’d expected on the 225/45 R17 Dunlop SportMaxx tyres. But they do promote some road noise on certain bitumen surfaces – something we did not notice as much on a 90TSI Comfortline wearing 205/55 R16 Continentals.

Whether braking on wet, dry, smooth, rough, or gravel surfaces, the Golf remains an assured performer, though a moment is required for novice drivers to become used to the VW’s trademark touch pedal response.

Finally, a word about the Driver Assist package – the Active Cruise Control system is one of the best we’ve encountered, working consistently and reliably to help make the rigours of commuting less tiresome similarly the parking-assist tech that steers the car into tight spots is a boon – if only to keep owners from kerbing their expensive alloys!Safety and servicing

Unsurprisingly, the Mk7 is a gun five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rater, scoring high marks for its class.

Though the warranty period is for three-years/unlimited kilometres, Golf owners will be able to see the cost of the work done under the bonnet of their Golfs for up to six years and over 90,000 kilometres.

Verdict

A testimony to VW’s world-dominating ambitions, the latest Golf is a toweringly capable and incredibly refined package. There’s been a revolution under the evolutionary skin and, boy, doesn’t it show!In 103TSI Highline DSG guise, the German mainstream hatchback should strike fear in the hearts of Mercedes A-Class, Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volvo V50 sales people.

In very real terms, the VW gives very little away to these, while costing significantly less.

Not such a vanity purchase, then.

Rivals

Ford LW II Focus Titanium (from $32,990 plus on-roads).

Just two years old, the third-generation Focus luxury flagship is now outclassed by the Golf for ride comfort and interior ambience, but the Ford still holds its head up high for sheer driving pleasure.

Mazda3 SP25 (from $33,670 plus on-roads).

Still competitive even in its twilight year, the second-gen 3 relies on the soon-to-be-binned Ford-based 2.5-litre engine, but everything works fine, and you can count on years of trouble-free motoring.

Opel Astra Sports (from $35,490 plus on-roads).

The tragedy of Opel’s local demise is that Aussies won’t know how capable and refined the good-looking Astra really is, especially in dynamic Sports guise.

Haggle hard and you’ll cherish it.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: VW Golf 103TSI Highline 7DSG
ENGINE: 1395cc 4-cyl DI petrol turbo
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 103kW @ 4500-6000rpm
TORQUE: 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-spd dual-clutch
0-100km: 8.4
TOP SPEED: N/A
FUEL: 5.2L/100km
CO2: 121g/km
L/W/H/W’BASE: 4349/1799/1491/2620mm
WEIGHT: 1270kg
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Multi-link
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discsPRICE: From $31,990 plus on-roads

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