Volkswagen Golf 77TSI Review

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It's hard to fathom, but Volkswagen has somehow managed to put a motorcycle-size engine in a Golf and sell it to the public. It's called the Volkswagen Golf 77TSI. 77 stands for how many kilowatts it has and it's priced from an unbelievably low $21,990 (plus all the usual).

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If you saw it on an informercial late at night, you'd be very suspicious. $21,990 for a brand-new Volkswagen Golf? Seriously? Is it a Chinese clone? Does it come with wheels? The loud and annoying man in the ad would try to convince you of how its tiny engine would save you fuel and still provide adequate power to get the family around. If you ordered it within the next 20 minutes you'd also get seat covers and a DVD that tells you about the car. Not to mention a 30-day money back guarantee.

Thankfully, we are talking about a mighty product from Volkswagen and not a piece of junk from Danoz direct. So you'd better believe it, because it's true.

It's now legitimately possible to shop a Japanese or Korean small-car against a Golf on price alone. The Toyota Corolla Ascent starts from $20,990, Mitsubishi Lancer ES starts from $21,490 and Hyundai i30 SX starts from $19,590. All within the same price range as a German-built Volkswagen. How times have changed.

So what's the catch? What's wrong with the 77TSI? Absolutely nothing. The 1.2-litre engine powering the Golf 77TSI is at the heart of this genius. Yes, it does sound small but believe me when I say it's more than adequate for everyday use (and no, I don't work for Danoz). Volkswagen has continued its tradition of downsizing engine capacity but upsizing its technological advancements.

The 1.2-litre TSI engine makes use of turbocharging technology and years of research and development to produce 77kW and 175Nm of torque. To put that into perspective, the 1.8-litre engine powering the Corolla manages 100kW and 175Nm of torque and the i30's 1.6-litre petrol is 89kW and 153Nm of torque. Not only is the Golf's engine size smaller than those two, but its fuel economy is also better. The Volkswagen uses just 6.1 litres of fuel per 100km while the Corolla sips 7.3L/100km and i30 6.5L/100km.

If you're unfamiliar with engine specifications the main figure to look for in a car like this is the torque number (Nm) and at what engine rpm (revolutions per minute) it comes alive. This will give you an idea of how the car will be around town and in traffic. So for example, the Golf TSI produces 175Nm of torque between 1550 and 4100rpm. In English, it means that the engine is designed to provide its pushing force from low revs, not requiring you to rev its guts out to get it to perform.

In contrast, the 1.8-litre engine in the Corolla produces the same 175Nm of torque at 4400rpm, much higher in the rev range. This means you will really need to step on the accelerator and wait for the revs to climb before you'll feel much pulling force. The i30 is even worse, making its smaller 153 Nm at 6300 rpm.

The reason the Golf TSI manages its power so low in the rev range is due to a turbocharger and the company's engine development team being years ahead of the competition. Turbocharging is nothing new, it's been in cars for longer than I've been alive, but remember, Volkswagen are the guys who own Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche and Bugatti. Between those four companies, they make the world's fastest and most desirable cars, so it's safe to say that Volkswagen knows a thing or two about engine technology.

So why would you buy an entry model Golf over an i30, Corolla, Mazda3, Lancer, etc.? Firstly, because it's a Volkswagen. Despite the German company being a 'people's car' brand in Europe, in Australia it still has a brand status that tops that of its Japanese rivals. Secondly, because it drives so much better than its mentioned competition. The beauty about the Golf is that it's built on a platform that supports a whole variety of different applications. So despite being the cheapest variant in the range, it still provides excellent driving dynamics, ride and handling plus brilliant low levels of noise inside the cabin.

But let's not get carried away, this base model Golf 77TSI isn't exactly a luxury European car. It comes with five seats, a steering wheel, a great engine and it just happens to drive well. That's about it. There are no luxuries inside, at all. There are five basic seats, a cheap feeling steering wheel without any audio controls, no cruise control, no parking sensors, no leather to be seen anywhere and certainly no smart features like Bluetooth or smart entry. It also has steel rims.

It wouldn't be the kind of car you'd buy if you had to carry more than three adults all the time. Its performance credentials are great for small families or to be used as a second car but certainly not the sort of car you'd start towing things with (even though it technically has a 1300kg braked towing capacity).

On the plus side, it doesn't skimp on safety as it comes with seven airbags, electronic stability control (to stop you losing control) and the benefits of Golf's crash-tested chassis. Its interior soft-touch materials are significantly superior to its competition, so it feels nicer to touch. It has a reasonably good stereo but fails to come with USB or iPod connectivity (but does have Auxiliary), and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were colourblind because there is hardly any colour used inside, it's mostly just black. As some would say, very German.

My review car was equipped with a seven-speed DSG gearbox which adds a good $2500 to the price. Note that this is not an automatic, but an automated manual gearbox with two clutch plates that allow for near instantaneous gear-changes. It's light-years ahead when compared with the lousy four-speed automatics offered in its rivals.

Is it worth it? Depends on the buyer. If you can drive a manual then save yourself the cash and go with the six-speed manual option. The seven-speed DSG is pretty darn good but if you drive it in fully automated mode you will experience the traditional momentary delay going from drive to reverse and vice versa.

Around town the Golf is well behaved and easy to manoeuvre, it can keep up (and overtake) traffic with ease and does so without making a big fuss. On the highway it's pretty much the same story. It will cruise comfortably at 110km/h with enough willpower to perform an overtake when needed.

Despite its great handling ability, the Continental tyres tend to make a lot of noise if you push them even marginally past their traction threshold, certainly not designed for spirited driving. If you really want to be smart, I'd suggest buying the manual variant and spending the $2,500 you saved not getting a DSG on a set of aftermarket alloy-wheels to really give your Golf more character.

This is a car designed for those that simply want a no-frills German-built Volkswagen Golf that doesn't compromise on practicality, safety or driveability. An ideal first new car or the perfect second family car.

Overall, it's hard to fault the Volkswagen Golf 77TSI. Perhaps it's due to its Japanese rivals being years behind in technological innovations or maybe it's just because Volkswagen has nailed this current generation of Golf so well. Either way, if you're looking for a entry-model small car you'd be mad not to try out the Golf range now that price is no longer an excuse. Also, it's worth noting that if you really don't need that extra space, the Volkswagen Polo is an excellent alternative.