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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - 110TSI

Our Opinion

We like
Refinement, comfort, quality, packaging, performance, economy, handling, composure, ease
Room for improvement
Some wet-road axle tramping, premium unleaded diet, not much else

Volkswagen logo4 Aug 2017

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Overview

SUCH a small percentage of buyers choose manual gearboxes that often they’re worth more than the equivalent auto come resale time – and that’s the case with the Golf.

Always the keen driver’s choice, the German hatch icon – updated with a raft of minor changes in ‘7.5’ guise – is at its sweetest as the base 110TSI.

So if you don’t mind using one of the nicest shifters around, there is much to enjoy here. Get ready to be deeply impressed. Again.

Price and equipment

LIKE JFK in 1960, Kiss in 1980 and Microsoft in 2000, Volkswagen entered this decade on top of the world.

Literally as the globe’s biggest (and perhaps richest) car-maker, the Wolfsburg powerhouse was rich enough to pull out all stops to offer the best regardless of price and positioning.

As the resulting Mk7 Golf proved, the definition of ‘People’s Car’ had broadened with profound depth, whether you drove one in Monaco or Mozambique.

Since launching in late 2012, it has topped most comparisons, highlighting how progressive the Volkswagen was, even against newer rivals such as the Mazda3 (2014) and last year’s foursome of fresh challengers (Holden Astra, Honda Civic, Renault Megane and Subaru Impreza). And not to mention the latest Hyundai i30.

Still, Wolfsburg’s decision to only very gently facelift its champion is risky against such fierce foes, and the term is debatable since the fussily restyled headlights, bumpers and now all-LED tail-light lenses only add lines unnecessarily. The front mudguards are also new, while all non-performance petrol hatches employ the more powerful of the 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbos – the 110kW 110TSI. The lovely old 92TSI engine has been consigned to history.

Probably another uncalled for update, as the latter was hardly lacking.

An increase to standard safety spec, on the other hand, is welcome. Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) joins seven airbags, anti-lock brakes, multi-collision brake function (that applies a second time should the car be struck from behind after a collision), a driver fatigue detection system and a reversing camera.

Additionally, the 110TSI from $23,990 plus on-roads also brings an 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen, App-Connect with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth, eight-speaker stereo, dust and pollen filter air-con with rear vent outlets, cruise control with speed limiter, heated exterior mirrors, leather-covered steering wheel, remote-actuated power windows and 16-inch alloys.

For another $1000 the Trendline ushers in auto on/off headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, front/rear parking sensors, front-seat lumbar adjustment and rear-seat centre armrest with a ski port. That’s a grand well spent.

So here’s an entry 110TSI, available for the first time in six-speed manual in Australia. Previously the provenance of the Highline, this German-built five-door is also the most powerful base Golf ever.

Interior

Except for the central console area, not much has altered inside.

This means space to spare up front (the comfortable yet supportive seats slide a long way back), excellent forward vision thanks to deep windows, excellent ergonomics, simple-to-fathom switchgear, ventilation, an easy driving position, pleasingly comprehensive and elegantly crisp instrumentation and plentiful storage.

Rear-seat passengers are also well catered for thanks to thoughtfully designed backrests and cushions, face-level air outlets and deep door pockets. Note there are no cupholders or folding middle armrest unless you move up to the Trendline.

So what’s new? An all-new capacitive touchscreen and fresh trim colours, that’s what. At the entry level they replace a smaller screen with actual buttons to push, and operate reliably – and probably better than most rivals’ similar efforts (thinking Honda and Renault here).

Other than that, it’s the same beautifully built, intelligently designed, highly tactile and somewhat conservative cabin presentation that has lured buyers in from all directions regardless of status for nearly five years now.

Who else’s door bins are flocked?The beautifully finished boot is also generous dimensionally at 380 litres (extendable to 1270L with the second row folded), with a low loading sill, flat area with hooks for securing things down and a deep floor. Beneath that lurks a space-saver spare tyre, accessible via a lift action that keeps the cover up for easier access. Clever.

After all these years, the Golf 7’s cabin still takes a lot of beating.

Engine and transmission

More power, and manual gearbox availability… we’re glad Volkswagen Australia hasn’t yet conceded to bean-counters’ whinging and whining about streamlining model ranges.

It is still the direct-injection twin-cam four-pot turbo cracker that came before, but with 110kW of power instead of 92kW and 50Nm more torque at 250Nm.

Result? Instant and lasting urge right up past the 6000rpm limiter, sheathed in that Teflon-like slickness modern Volkswagens are renowned for. That turbo is spinning from just 1500rpm, so there’s also a tractability even in higher-than-usual gears that means shifting between the ratios isn’t as necessary as you might imagine.

Yet the 110TSI’s manual action is as refined as the powertrain, and so one of the most satisfying available at any price. Unless having an auto is an absolute must, there is just no justification to pay the extra for the DSG dual-clutch transmission, which can occasionally be caught out as laggy at low speeds.

That the three-pedal version weighs some 80kg less also brings efficiency benefits such as exceptional fuel economy (albeit on 98 RON premium unleaded – but the subsequent savings do outweigh the cost of the petrol). This is further testimony to the rightness of the original engineering ideals that shaped this generation Wolfsburg hatch. Brilliant stuff.

Out on the open road, the 1.4 turbo’s ability to cruise all day with uncanny quietness probably makes this Golf the world’s most accessible true grand tourer. It’s just such a joy. Premium hatchbacks of the same size costing twice as much and more aren’t as civilised or comfortable as the hushed Volkswagen.

Even almost half a decade on.

Ride and handling

In no way, shape or form does the 110TSI manual feel like it is based on a vehicle that’s five years old. It still shines brightly for steering precision, handling accuracy, road-holding, ride comfort, and noise suppression.

Point it to a corner and the Volkswagen is light as well as quick on its feet, turning in with ease and control, with very little bodyroll.

Whether at 20km/h or 120km/h, the inherent measured balance of the MacPherson strut-style front and multi-link rear suspension systems working in unison with the multitude of electronic driving and safety aids makes for an outstandingly surefooted machine.

However, on wet roads, with all that turbo-fed torque barrelling through to the front wheels, some axle tramp is possible, especially if you’re heavy footed, uncovering a downside to the upsize in power.

Otherwise, it’s smooth sailing as usual for this latest of Golf variants.

Highlights include excellent steering feel with no steering column rack-rattle, impressive suspension suppleness and exceptionally strong brakes. For a car so light, it feels particularly rock-solid at speed.

For overall dynamic aptitude alone, the 110TSI is worth the price of entry.

Safety and servicing

Like its predecessor, the 7.5-series Golf is a five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rater.

The warranty period is for three-years/unlimited kilometres, with service intervals fixed at every 12 months or 15,000km, while owners will be able to see the cost of standard scheduled work for up to five years and over 75,000 kilometres.

Verdict

Besides being the humblest, the 110TSI is one of the greatest of the Golf breed. It certainly is right up there as among the best all-round cars on the market today. At any given price point.

Furthermore, in manual form, the Golf is more than just a sporty delight, soaring as a result of its superb smoothness and precision that neatly sidesteps the lag and potential expensive maintenance issues that have blighted many DSG transmissions.

We can imagine a driver of a used Mercedes-Benz E-Class wanting to downsize into something more modern being unexpectedly delighted with the refinement, enjoyment and efficiency that this hatch brings.

The Golf is as strong today as it ever has been. Volkswagen remains at the top of the game.

Rivals

Holden Astra R from $21,490 plus on-road costs
Engineered to take on the Golf, the German-devised Polish-built Holden Astra is very nearly as accomplished as the Volkswagen, but doesn’t quite have the quality or polish to topple the 110TSI. Be sure to spend another $1000 on the essential Driver Assistance pack, though.

Ford Focus Trend from $23,390 plus on-road costs
Better than its heavy-handed styling suggests, the Euro-engineered but Thai-made Focus Trend is packed with standard kit, steers like a sportscar, rides beautifully and is rewarding to punt around quickly. But it’s a little thirstier than its German compatriots and dated to look at. Still a sorely underrated proposition anyway.

Mazda3 Maxx from $22,890 plus on-road costs
Sporty to look at and fun to drive, the nicely specified Maxx is a gem of the 3 range, and is now a little quieter and better equipped than before as well.

Note the 2.0L atmo engine needs a bootful of revs to really hustle. If reliability with added spice is your thing you can’t go past one of Australia’s best-sellers.

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