9 / 10
Rewriting the small car rulebook
It doesn’t matter what you say, some people will never believe you. During the week’s test of the Volkswagen Golf 118TSI, when asked for the engine size, passengers would shoot you a look like you’re lying to them. “Yeah, right,” was the general response. And you can sort of understand it. For a car that weighs over 1.3 tonnes, but will still go from 0-100km/h in eight seconds, a 1.4-litre engine doesn’t seem like it would be able to pull it off. But it most definitely does.
Jump out of a 1.4-litre Hyundai Getz, and you can see why the incredulous responses come thick and fast. The secret to the Golf’s excellent turn of speed is how the fuel is delivered to the engine. Quite quickly, as it happens. 110bhp per litre tells the tale. You see, the 1.4-litre four cylinder is twin-charged. There’s a roots-type supercharger for boosting low-end torque, and a turbocharger for carrying the power up into the high revs. The best of both worlds, really. A solenoid clutch ensures that the supercharger hands over all of its boosting work from 3,500rpm upwards, while direct injection also maximises efficiency.
While it never sounds particularly special, it’s quiet and smooth, but the 240Nm of torque really gets the Golf moving from even the lowest of revs. Despite a sluggish take-up – typical of DSGs in general – there’s always grunt on tap no matter what the revs. The spread of maximum torque from 1750-4500rpm means it’s always on the boil, and the seven speed transmission facilitates both seamless changes and fuel economy. However, if you’ve quickly pulled up to a stop (like at an intersection) and then immediately decide to give it a bootfull to get in front of oncoming traffic, allow a few more seconds for the transmission to have a think and register what it is you want to do. Apart from that little glitch, the DSG is brilliant.
In real world terms, this 118kW TSI twin-charged engine (there’s also a cheaper, 90kW version) gives you maximum grunt from minimum fuel consumption. Volkswagen’s ADR sticker figure is a staggering 6.2 litres/100km when combined with its new seven-speed DSG transmission. You’d probably think its a good thing that its fuel use is so low, because the tank is a smallish 55 litres. But based on the ADR figures, that means around 880km from your tank – a very respectable figure indeed.
If you do plan of travelling for the full 880kms, you’ll thank Volkswagen’s interior designers for their forethought. There’s acres of space from this small car. The boot, for example, may not seem tremendously huge at 350 litres, but it’s shaped to be usable, and with the back seats down, it grows to a massive 1,305 litres. The rear seats (a bugbear of many a small car) will happily hold three adults, though they can be a little flat. The front seats are likewise expansive, but are supportive throughout your back, and benefit from brilliant bolstering that blends body-hugging qualities and comfortable movement in a way that puts some luxury cars to shame.
In a nod to its Audi offshoot, Volkswagen has used chrome accents to border the vents and dials, also borrowing the screen in between the tacho and speedo. The fabulous touchscreen RNS510 HDD based satnav is available, along with one of the clearest and widest angle reversing cameras available. The dash is of top shelf quality, being tactile and soft. A climate control module taken from the Volkswagen Passat CC and a new steering wheel with more intuitive buttons completes the revised interior.
Outside, apart from the roof, it’s all new. The Touareg-esque rear lights dominate the tail, along with the Golf-trademark thick C-pillar. A more squat stance by virtue of a wide mouthed front bumper, subtly flared wheel arches and slightly angled headlights with a wider, flatter grille separate it from the Mk V Golf, and modernise the exterior. Those quirky, but nice touches remain; the VW logo that doubles as the hatch door handle, for example, but now it integrates the reversing camera (if optioned along with the RNS510). The mirrors have also been redesigned, and according to Volkswagen, due to their more slippery shape, even become less dirty. Time will tell on that one.
In essence, the Mk VI is more of an evolution than all new model – a bit like the Land Rover Discovery 3 becoming the Discovery 4 – thus the underpinnings are the same as previous (save altered spring rates) but the exterior and interior have been revised. But just as the Mk V was a great drive, those same involving characteristics carry through to the Mk VI.
There’s the ride which manages to remain supple, despite the extra stiffness, yet keeps its class-leading handling. Sure, the steering doesn’t exude lashings of true feel, but there’s a weighty meatiness that still keeps you satisfied. There’s a beautifully linear feel to the rack, and nothing but the harshest of mid-corner bumps seems to fluster the suspension. The thing is, this is no GTI in the handling stakes, but for a daily commuter, it’s very, very good.
But there’s more to the story than just the drive. The Golf is also an extremely safe car. Don’t forget, this is still in the small car category, and with seven airbags, including a knee bag, occupants are well protected. There are also new sensors which detect the intensity of a crash and set off the airbags appropriately, by calculating where low frequency vibrations and audible components have come from. In Germany, this system received the Bavarian Innovation Prize. A new head-restraint system called WOKS, which has been patented due to its effectiveness, reduces whiplash severity, and stability control is standard also. ANCAP awarded the Mk VI Golf its maximum five stars.
It gets a bit boring, actually, this “Golf is excellent” business. But you can’t get away from the fact that it is just that – excellent. It’s punchy, got heaps of space, drives like a dream, is as safe as you can get, sips like a bird, looks terrific and feels expensive. Sure, it’s at the higher end of the small-car dollar-spectrum, but that age-old adage of getting what you pay for has never applied so aptly.
It’s a big call, but what you’re looking at here is the new small car yardstick. It’s as simple as that.
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