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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - 77TDI 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Refinement, smoothness, comfort, dynamics, economy, low emissions, solidity, quality ambience, Golf reputation, expected high resale values
Room for improvement
Big turbo lag, low-speed DSG jerkiness, Trendline’s lack of standard cruise control

14 Dec 2009

TAKE a moment now to remember Andrew Ridgeley. Kate Jackson, Karen Allen and Ralf Schumacher.

No, none are dead to our knowledge, but great as they are in a myriad of wonderful ways we are sure, all live in the shadow of their respective Wham!, Charlie’s Angels, Raiders of the Lost Ark or F1 colleagues, co-stars or siblings.

And so does the latest small diesel engined Golf.

(Vee) dubbed the 77TDI, this all-new 1.6-litre common-rail turbo-diesel unit should be the child genius in a family overflowing with talent, delivering exactly the same power (77kW at 4400rpm) and torque (250Nm from 1500rpm) outputs as the dirty old 1.9-litre TDI it usurps, while providing significantly lower fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions to boot.

Throw in Volkswagen’s fresh seven-speed DSG gearbox – to replace the old six-speeder device – and the 77TDI looks like a real winner on paper.

A few hundred kilometres on the road with the diesel-sipping newcomer, however, provided a sobering dose of reality.

Rattly on the outside, quiet on the inside, the 77TDI feels like an altogether different engine to its 2.0-litre 103TDI sibling that has done so much to lift the Golf to the top of the small-car tree.

While the 103TDI package (along with the 118TSI and – especially – the GTI) feels beyond the sum of its parts, this engine is found wanting.

And here’s the classic scenario to help illustrate how: you’re on a freeway feeder lane, waiting for a gap in fast moving traffic, and when one comes along, you floor the 77TDI – fitted with the 7DSG in our case – and … OMG the car behind has to slow down hard while we are pushing the pedal up against the firewall waiting for that infernal turbo to kick in.

Time and again, whether you are at the lights, trying to overtake, or just edging forward in heavy traffic, the delay, followed by a jerky thrust forward, makes for a tiring and tiresome companion.

Having to keep flooring the 77TDI means fuel consumption is nowhere near the 5L/100km combined average mark that Volkswagen states. On mostly country road driving we seemed stuck at 6.4 litres – the same as a modern common-rail 2.0-litre turbo-diesel.

The only time this engine and gearbox mix truly shines is when barrelling along on a freeway or highway with the (optional) cruise control on and the rev counter stuck at around 2000rpm. Then all is forgiven and the 77TDI is a delight.

So here’s the deal. If the turbo lag doesn’t worry you, and you can live with occasional gearbox jerkiness, you are left with the accomplished Mk6 Golf’s excellent genes to see you through.

This means beautifully weighted (if a tad dull in feel) steering input and response, for linear and well-controlled handling. The Golf grips the road with commanding determination even when thrown through tight bends. The tendency to lean a little and corner progressively wider (understeer) is just a natural upshot of being a front-wheel drive car tuned for comfort, since the 77TDI has no qualms about soaking up most bumps big and small.

Step hard on the brakes and the car hauls up instantaneously, capping off a chassis that is absolutely world class. Suppleness, dynamicism and refinement, the Golf walks the fine line with aplomb.

And as we said earlier, you can’t really detect that there’s a diesel engine working (hard) up ahead from behind the wheel.

Our test car was fitted with the $2200 optional Comfort Pack, adding the crucial cruise control, as well as niceties such as remote steering wheel audio controls, alloy wheels, a more comprehensive trip computer, digital auxiliary speedo readout, auto-on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

Without these, the base 77TDI Trendline seems like a pauper’s special against way better equipped rivals like the Mazda3 Maxx Sport and Ford Focus TDCi hatch.

Yet no small-car rival feels as lush inside while few are as damn quiet.

The latest, German-built Golf is a paragon of conservative class, from the soft-feel surfaces to the attention to detail that prevails from the headlining down to the flocked door bins and handy bottle opener that acts as a cupholder separator.

Granted, at first glance the solidly made dash is almost boring to look at, but the exquisite white instrument markings, contrasting trim and well-oiled movement of all the controls makes you partly understand why the words Golf and premium have become so synonymous. It even smells expensive in here!

The Volkswagen’s driving position is also pretty much second-to-none, bolstered by a fine set of bucket seats, reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel and an effective semi climate control system (that is at least standard in all models).

There is ample space inside for four adults, and a skinnier individual stuck in between in the rear seat environment, which also features a pair of vent outlets, overhead grab handles and door storage compartments – but no centre armrest.

Moving further back, there is a spacious hatch if the cornucopia of cubbyholes and storage receptacles are insufficient for your needs.

For the record, the Golf offers 350 litres of luggage area, extending to 1305 litres with the rear seats folded down. And Volkswagen fits a trio of child-seat anchorage points across the back of the rear seats so as to not impede with the boot, while securing hooks, a 12 volt outlet and a light all help in their small ways.

There’s also a space-saver spare under the floor.

But is the Golf 77TDI the money saver it seems on paper?

Sadly no. Its performance deficit, combined with the fact that you have to add $2200 for decent equipment levels, means there is only a $2300 gap to the significantly more powerful, enjoyable and only slightly less frugal 103TDI Comfortline. No contest.

Alternatively, if that’s too much of a stretch, save your cash and choose the petrol powered (yet also impressively economical) Golf 90TSI with Comfort pack and pocket the $2700 saving.

No matter which way you look at it, the Golf 77TDI lives in the shadow of its more talented brethren.

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