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

Our Opinion

We like
Discernable improvements in fuel economy, diesel refinement, noise reduction, cabin quality and functionality, safety and value, expected resale values
Room for improvement
Too-samey styling, forced-induction 1.4s need 98 RON ultra-premium unleaded for best results, tiny engine capacity may put off some buyers, still too expensive compared to non-German rivals like Mazda3, no cruise control on base Trendline

26 Feb 2009

VW’S evergreen Golf inhabits the same brand turf as an Apple iPod or Swatch watch as an original and trendsetting item that consumers seem more than happy to pay a premium to own.

Every other C-segment hatch in comparison has a generic whiff to it.

But except for the first year in 1976 when the Australian-assembled, first-generation, A1-series Golf LS was priced within the reach of most small-car buyers, the so-called “classless” Volkswagen has been on the nose for value.

Let’s briefly investigate this, as it puts the so-called ‘all-new’ A6-series Golf VI in fresh perspective.

Until about a year ago, buyers of the base model – the 1.6 Trendline – paid $25,490 for a smooth but breathless 75kW/148Nm 1600cc petrol with no ESP stability control, cruise control or alloy wheels, when – say – the Mazda3 Maxx or Ford Focus LX boasted a 108kW/200Nm-plus 2000cc unit with most of these items for similar money. Only when the run-out 1.6-litre Edition arrived did VW begin to redress the situation – but buyers were still stuck with the same significant performance shortfall.

Little wonder, then, that only the upper-reaches of the Golf range made hay for VW, which saw models such as the fine TDI turbo-diesels and GTI hot-hatch display decisive leadership in their segments.

So the really, really good news for Golf fans is that – for the first time since 1976 – buying even the most basic no-frills version will not make you feel like you’ve just bought into an image and little else.

Furthermore, we believe VW will be rewarded with many more conquest sales from Japanese and even Korean rivals who will finally find plenty to like in the base Golf.

Known as the 90TSI, it employs an example of the small capacity forced-induction petrol engine wave that is sweeping across European manufacturers’ product portfolios in an effort to slash emissions and fuel consumption.

Paired to either a slick new six-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, the resulting, 90kW/200Nm 1.4-litre TSI four-cylinder engine achieves its maker’s goals admirably, injecting smooth, instantaneous performance and incredibly high petrol economy. How does 6.4L/100km sound?

This is a massive 25 per cent improvement on the already impressively frugal old 1.6 Trendline. Combined with exceptionally low carbon dioxide emissions, the 90 TSI 1.4 makes for an extremely compelling and relevant engine choice.

No mainstream rival can quite match that. And we guarantee even the most cynical engine-size queen will not notice the powerplant’s tiny capacity, since this smooth, quiet car is a pleasure to drive.

The downside? Take a deep breath now, because these cars require 98 RON ultra premium unleaded to run properly efficiently. 95 RON Premium will do too, but forget 91 RON standard.

As Kevin Rudd says, though, cutting emissions requires some sacrifices ...

In the old Golf V, prospective buyers wanting proper petrol performance had to breach the $30K bracket for the fine 110kW/200Nm 2.0FSI Comfortline, and were rewarded by a punchy yet smooth powerplant … which also now fails to meet European emissions standards.

So it’s out with the 2.0FSI and in with the 118TSI. That’s 118kW and a handy 240Nm, from that same sweet little 1.4-litre four-pot petrol unit, but with a Roots supercharger to aid the turbo. Called Twin Charge, it provides the sparkling acceleration and strong mid-range urge of a high-performance 2.0-litre engine. And, again, the six-speed manual and 7DSG gearboxes facilitate the driving experience while again maintaining startling cuts of around 25 per cent in consumption and pollution. It’s a little beauty.

But would we still consider the TDI?

The problem here is that the old 1.9TDI engine is gone, and there is no replacement as yet. So Golf buyers wanting diesel will have to stump up nearly $35,000 for the 2.0TDI, meaning that the decisively cheaper 90TSI and 118TSI petrol engines suddenly look a lot more inviting.

However, even though the 2.0TDI’s 103kW and 320Nm power and torque outputs are identical to the outgoing model’s, this engine is an all-new common-rail unit fitted with a diesel particulate filter.

And the results are quite astounding. Driving the 109TDI is like before except that you’re now wearing earplugs and there is a whole lot less vibration evident at idle or when powering up the rev range. If there was ever a semi-performance diesel small car to consider, the Golf is it.

Every engine powering the Golf now deserves the fine chassis that lurks underneath. As ever, there is an easy fluidity to the way the controls work, with the steering walking a fine line between easiness and weighting, while the front driver’s level of handling and roadholding remain top shelf.

Aiding the VW’s newfound mechanical refinement is a comfortable – if familiar – interior environment, brandishing much higher levels of material quality, improved ergonomics, and nicer choices of colour and trim.

But, as we said, it is all very déjà vu in here, since the architecture is broadly the same as before. Yet this is no bad thing, as the outgoing Golf was certainly no laggard for cabin space, practicality or comfort.

So what we have here, to sum up, is a Golf that has moved forward emphatically in some much-needed areas such as base petrol-engine performance, while either matching others or setting new standards for economy, emissions, refinement and quality.

Personally, some of us find the styling too timid in an era of bold small car design and the fact that cruise control costs extra in the base model is appalling, but otherwise there is no question that this is the best Golf in many years, and a fine example as to why the brand deserves its classless reputation.

Furthermore, you can almost make a waterproof value argument for it – a first in 33 years.

Just be wary of that 98 RON fuel requirement in the Golf TSI models, and don’t be caught out without it.

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