What's a Volkswagen Golf like to own? We buy one to find out
I haven’t deliberately bought a Volkswagen Golf for a scientific test, but it’s fair to say my ownership experience will be interesting considering the German brand generates plenty of lively debate, particularly in Australia.
Volkswagen Australia sales continue to boom, however, though the car maker has also admitted it needs to focus on improving its standings in quality and service satisfaction surveys.
Buying a new car wasn’t my original intention. I’ve only previously owned used vehicles, including my last car – a BMW Z4 that was in no way practical, rather expensive to run and costly to insure, and perhaps not the best choice for someone who is a cameraman (and head of video at CarAdvice).
I set out with no specific type of vehicle in mind, just something a bit more practical – so SUVs, wagons and hatchbacks of various sizes were all on the table.
Top of my SUV list was the Hyundai Santa Fe Active CRDi. Plenty of space, a potent but economical diesel engine and attractive styling made it a tempting buy. The added ground clearance of an SUV would make heading off road easier when the shoot required it, but these situations aren’t that common.
The new Mazda 6 Touring wagon was in serious contention, too. Also a stylish number, the entry-level Mazda 6 is well equipped with Tom Tom satellite navigation and climate control, as well as strong dynamics and a smooth 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine.
I then decided to think smaller and cheaper, though. Living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and spending time in the city, having a smaller vehicle would be a big plus considering the parking constraints. Add to that these cars were circa-$40,000, a rather unnecessary spend when a hatch with the seats folded could suffice 99 per cent of the time. At this point the choices started to narrow.
The Mazda 3 was immediately out, as it was the old model on run out with the new model still months away when I was looking (August 2013).
The Ford Focus Trend is a great drive, with a good 2.0-litre engine and sharp handling, but I wasn’t a fan of the confusing console and low-res monochrome screen for a place I’d be spending plenty of time.
The latest Toyota Corolla is a vast improvement on the one that came before, both in styling and the way it drives. Like the Focus, though, it’s let down by an interior that could do more on the style and quality front (the injection-moulded plastic stitching on the steering wheel airbag cover is one of the most bemusing things I’ve ever seen in a car interior).
In the end I narrowed the field down to two: the Hyundai i30 CRDi and Volkswagen Golf 90TSI.
The Hyundai i30 is a solid car, especially in diesel form. Quality switchgear, good performance and an exceptional warranty are all big points in its favour. I also think it’s quite a good looking car, and one of the more convincing results of Hyundai’s ‘Fluidic sculpture’ design language.
Unfortunately, as with most base models, the Hyundai i30 is let down with some cheap tactile points, namely the steering wheel and gear knob.
That left the Volkswagen Golf 90TSI. I decided on a base model with metallic paint and the six-speed manual gearbox.
Why the manual? I’ll admit to being conscious of the mixed views in the VW ownership world of DSG dual-clutch automatic, though for me it was mostly about enjoyment. I like driving a manual, and in a small car they can be quite entertaining. With a smooth shift action, the Golf’s teams nicely with its 1.4-litre turbocharged engine.
Class-leading ride comfort, a premium feel to the cabin and an extensive list of standard features – qualities that have made the Golf the reigning small car champion – sealed the deal.
The purchase process was actually fairly simple. I already had my own finance pre-approved; all I needed to do was find a dealer who was willing to sell for the price I wanted to pay.
Handily, that turned out to be my local Volkwagen dealer, who after a bit of haggling agreed to a driveaway price of $22,500 with metallic paint.
A few days after ordering I had a change of heart on my colour choice, and fortunately the dealership was able to amend it and my brand new car – with 17km on the clock – was ready to collect four weeks later.
There’s something a bit special about buying a new car, getting it set up for the first time, and heading out onto the road for the first time.
In my eyes, the Golf Mark 7 looks like a direct descendant of the Mark 4 rather than the Mk5 or 6. It’s styling remains conservative, with sharp lines and little flair – but that’s fine by me. The 15-inch steel wheels are something of a sore point, though, mainly due to the bland hubcaps.
Inside is where the new Volkswagen Golf shines. And the base model is much better specified than before, especially compared with its predecessor that charged extra for Bluetooth.
Front and centre is the new 5.8-inch ‘Composition’ touchscreen media interface. Combining the swiping gestures we’ve all become familiar with, it includes radio, CD, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, SD card and AUX 3.5mm inputs.
The Bluetooth phone functionality is particularly neat with an Android device, as it pulls in not only your contacts but their pictures as well, displaying them on the screen when you have an incoming call.
The only feature missing is iPod connectivity. The USB port can only be used for charging a phone or playing music off a USB stick, which is a shame.
But back to the positives, such as the flat-bottom leather steering wheel and leather gear knob that are more tactile than those I tried in comparably priced competitors.
Add in things like auto up-down windows all around, a large digital speedo, and an electric park brake, and I was convinced of the Golf’s value even if some other hatchbacks start at a lower price.
Several people have asked me why I didn’t go for the Comfortline model, which gets alloy wheels, climate control, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera among others. Pricing up the cars, the best deal I could get on a Comfortline still asked almost $5000 more, a significant extra spend.
I’m already approaching six months and 7000km behind the wheel of my new Volkswagen Golf 90TSI, so there’s some catching up to do with long-term reports.
We know there’ll be plenty of CarAdvice readers interested to see how the Golf goes…