The Volkswagen Golf 90 TSI Comfortline hasn't changed, but its rivals have... is it still the benchmark?
As some of our regular readers have noted over time, the Volkswagen Golf is consistently one of the top-rated small cars.
In fact, the word ‘benchmark’ is one that has been applied to the car so many times that it’s all but perfectly synonymous.
Not much has changed with the Golf since its local launch in April of 2013, though two years is not long in motoring terms.
Nevertheless, with this in mind, some of you may be asking why we’re reviewing the car at all.
Simple: the car may not have changed, but the segment that it fights within sure has. Sometimes it’s good to remind oneself of a benchmark car’s value in light of a revised context.
Yours truly spent a week with the excellent new Peugeot 308 Active recently, for instance, and found it to be right up there. Given Peugeot has recently added some extra value to that car, I reckon the pair are close to neck-and-neck.
The base 90TSI Golf is the top-selling variant within the wider range, though the 90TSI Comfortline we’re testing here is among the most purchased behind it.
And when we talk sales figures, it’s important, given the Golf is one of the most popular cars on the market of any stripe. It’s usually in the top ten market-wide, and in its segment only the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30 regularly outgun it.
So, given its popularity and history, we hope the grounds for another spin have been elucidated.
First, the breadth of the Golf range may be massive — you have GTI and R versions, a wagon, a soft-top and a diesel option — but the humble 90TSI Comfortline might just be a sweet spot in the range.
Why? Because Volkswagen’s engineering nous goes to the core, rather than being focused on the accoutrements. The lightweight MQB architecture and multimedia systems, the suspension and drivetrains, the cabin presentation — all are ostensibly semi-premium.
The 90 TSI Comfortline retails for $25,640 plus on-road costs, which is $3850 more than the base 90TSI version. It’s also $1150 more than it was when it launched two years ago. That creeping exchange rate may be to blame there…
Add a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission in place of the standard six-speed manual and the cost jumps to $28,140. In comparison, a Mazda 3 SP25 with an auto will cost you $27,190, and a Peugeot 308 Active Sports auto $28,340.
Under the bonnet is a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 90kW of power between 5000-6000rpm and 200Nm of torque between 1400-4000rpm, matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto sending torque to the front wheels.
Volkswagen was an early adopter of the modern ‘downsizing’ zeitgeist. Pay no heed to the diminutive engine capacity, the turbocharger gives it a meaty mid-range for excellent rolling response and a counter-intuitive refined manner. The 0-100km/h dash takes 9.3 seconds.
The DSG is much better in its most modern incarnations than in the early days, with greatly reduced hesitancy and lag in urban surrounds, and a hill-start assist to counter rollback.
There is still a slight throttle delay that a normally aspirated engine rarely has, meaning you might think twice about chasing that small gap in traffic. Cruise about in Sports mode and it holds a lower ratio, giving you more immediacy at the expense of refinement (you might just buzz along at 3000rpm at 60km/h).
Volkswagen claims a combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 5.4 litres per 100km, though we hovered in the mid-6s. It’s still among the class best, though the lighter 308 potentially edges it.
You get the same all-round independent suspension on any Golf you buy, and as ever it remains the most accomplished in the segment at towing the line between supple, effective bump absorption and the tied-down feeling of a sporty car.
The ride quality over a B-road rivals a big Aussie six at times, and its body control on some snaking tarmac is exemplary — as is the feel and feedback, and weighting, of its electro-mechanical steering system.
Some rivals — the 308, Mazda 3 and Focus — offer front ends as keen to turn-in and steering racks just as sharp and fast as the Golf, but the Golf remains the most accomplished all-rounder.
Much of this rationale stems from the Golf’s noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression, an area in which it is extremely accomplished. The car dismisses road noise — even with the Hankook tyres used on our test car (a surprising choice) — though there is some wind noise evident, especially from the A-pillars. Better than almost any rival though.
Inside the cabin, the Golf is a subdued affair, though it’s the small touches you notice after some time at the wheel. The sound-insulated, felt-lined cubby holes for example.
The quality and tactility remains supreme, with the use of premium-grade materials most marked at entry level, and one level above entry as driven here. Every dial has pleasing resistance, and every contact point is cushioned.
Its design isn’t all that exciting though, is it? The Mazda and Peugeot both have more flair, and the Golf’s 5.8-inch touchscreen with a laggy swiping function feels decidedly dated to use compared to, say, Mazda’s MZD Connect system. Rivals such as the Mazda get sat-nav for this money, too.
Still, the swathes of silvery trim, the lovely almost retro dials and that delightful steering wheel give the cabin a degree of charm and flair… OK, maybe ‘flair’ is too strong a word. That electric park brake with Auto Hold is classy.
Standard equipment levels are decent. You get front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, that touchscreen, USB/Aux-in, Bluetooth streaming and steering wheel audio and cruise control buttons.
The Comfortline is worth the step up from the base 90 TSI, given it adds: 16-inch alloy wheels (the entry car gets hubcaps), automatic climate control, a reversing camera, dusk-sensing headlights, silver cabin inlays, a 12V socket and better-bolstered ‘comfort’ seats.
You also get seven airbags, two rear ISOFIX anchors and five-star ANCAP safety, and a nifty feature that brakes the car automatically upon rear impact to stop you rolling into more trouble if you’ve been ‘cleaned-up’.
In the back seat, the Golf remains about mid-pack for space, though there’s plenty of space for two adults, and those large and square side windows are easy to see out of. Too bad about the cheap door plastics back there, though.
The Comfortline also gets rear vents, a ski port with cupholders, map lights, coat hooks and door pockets.
With the seats upright you can store a decent 380 litres, while flipping them flat gives you 1270L, with a loading length of 1558mm. You get a two-tier loading area and a nifty hidden area to stow the cargo over in, above the space-saver (not full-size) spare.
One area where we’re often asked questions on the Golf is general ownership. “Are they reliable?” “How are the dealers?” “Is it expensive to fix?” “Do I trust the DSG?”.
It’s true, the previous iteration of the Golf had it share of problems. Anecdotally, the tales we hear say the Mk7 is better. Still, Volkswagen did finish bottom in the most recent JD Power dealer satisfaction survey, though it’s tracking upward.
Buyers get the reassurance of a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing (meaning the service price is mandated at a set price and publicised, though is also apt to change with inflation) for either six-years or 90,000km, whichever comes first.
Volkswagen has 12-month or 15,000km service intervals, with the first two costing $330, the third $392, the fourth $562, the fifth $330 and the final $438. A new pollen filter is $56 ever second year, and new brake fluid is $138 every second year too.
For context, Mazda — which won the aforementioned JD Power survey — caps the Mazda 3 servicing for life, with increments of either 12-months of 10,000km, with staggered costs of $299 and $326 per visit. The replacement brake fluid is also about half the cost.
So, based on those numbers, the Golf could be pricier than some, though the difference is hardly chalk and cheese (with the exception of the fourth service outlier).
All told, the Golf remains much what it always was. The segment’s Mr Consistent.
There are cars that are narrowly more nimble, have more cabin flair or edge it in rear seat space, but if the Golf doesn’t match every peak, it conversely has fewer noticeable troughs.
It’s also the most refined, has the nicest engine and the best ride in a small-car of any price. As an all-round engineering exercise, the Golf remains an all-round star, though as we hope the copy has illustrated, it has better competition than ever.