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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - 5-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Diesel engine performance, quality interior, solid engineering
Room for improvement
Chassis still not cutting edge – unlike powertrains

20 Aug 2004

DIDN’T mind Golf IV. Solid, maybe a little uninspiring, but thoroughly and impressively engineered.

Its problem really came when compared with the Holden (nee Opel) Astra launched here at roughly the same time in the late 1990s at a substantially cheaper price.

Maybe the Astra wasn’t quite as tight, but it was damned close. Engine performance was ahead of the Golf, while the chassis was at least on par. And hey, it was from Germany (although neither car was/is actually built there).

Suddenly the Golf didn’t look quite as premium as the spin was insisting.

Roll on to a new generation and the Golf is better value than ever, while the Astra is about to be replaced with an all-new and more expensive iteration.

Such is the way of the ultra-competitive Australian new car market – particularly in small cars where private buyers rule. What was once clearly defined is now blurred. Mass market? Premium? It’s all a melting pot in which the various combinations of quality and price meet, merge and combat.

On these or any other grounds Golf V deserves to succeed. It retains the solidity of its predecessors in engineering terms but advances by offering a better drive and better looks.

This car is still recognisably Golf outside, but the blunt edges have been rounded that little more, the headlights are more daring and the wedge more pronounced.

Inside it’s the same story. New, different but still somehow Golf. There’s a wrap-over vertical centre console that isn’t sexy but it’s modern and effective. The quality is obvious.

Different interior trims offer different atmospheres thanks to a handsome use of light and shade. The further up the spec chart you go the less Euro-dark the choices become.

There is lots to enjoy, like the big and comfy front seats, the Venetian blind cover for the lower console, the large door pockets with bottle holders and a grippy steering wheel with reach and rake adjustment.

Head further back and you’ll find better rear seat room than previously, complemented by wide opening doors that make entry and exit easy. Luggage space is also more than acceptable.

So enough of what it looks like, what’s it like to drive? Well, the drive program was predominantly freeway, which means you’ll have to wait until the full GoAuto road test for a proper appreciation, but our taste test was impressive.

The first part of the drive was completed in a manual 2.0 TDi manual and it simply reinforced VW Group’s well earned reputation for being at the cutting edge when it comes to oil-burner technology.

In the cut and thrust of Sydney traffic this car was a gem. Predominantly because of the 2.0’s well of bottom-end torque, a dash for a hole in the traffic, a passing move or a hill was despatched with ease.

There was certainly no need for the top two gears in the easy-shifting gearbox in those conditions.

Get out on the open road and the quietness and smoothness up to 4000rpm is quite incredible. Beyond that you can hear the diesel clatter, but you rarely need to go there considering 110km/h comes up at 2800rpm.

Complemented by the body’s excellent noise, vibration and harshness characteristics, it’s a silent progression. Most of the time the badge is the best giveaway that this is a diesel!

Oh, and the fuel consumption average gives you a hint too, our 180km drive averaging 6.3L/100km.

If it hadn’t been for that drive, the return to Sydney in the 2.0 FSI would have been particularly memorable. As it was, it was simply impressive.

With either petrol or diesel power the chassis performance was uniform. There was particularly good ride - if on the firm side - for a small car, reasonable handling and a so-so feel from the new steering system.

Considering this car is longer in the wheelbase and stronger than its predecessor, there’s no surprise it feels a more mature package.

That’s the overall impression as well. Golf V is an evolutionary but significant improvement over Golf IV. That it offers more value and more choice simply makes it all the more attractive.

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