Owner Review

2011 Volkswagen Golf 118TSI Comfortline review

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I won't bore you too much with my rationale for purchasing this car, but I was on the hunt for a hatchback to comfortably ferry a disabled parent, drive to work and attend sporting fixtures, all predominantly in the inner city.

If I'd frequented any VW forums, I probably would've ruled out the twincharged engine. However, I only relied on new car reviews; all of which were glowing. I had a brief test drive of the Golf and it was a very easy sell. I'll attempt to summarise my experience over the seven years/85,000km of ownership.

My Mk6 has aged well. The paint is still in good nick, the quality of the tactile and understated interior (bar the small-screened RCD330 audio system) is, in my opinion, superior to the Mk7 and at least on par with its small-car rivals. Finding an ideal driving position has been a feature of Golfs from the Mk5 onward and the 118TSI doesn't disappoint here; the seats are just as comfortable as the day I drove out of the dealership.

Auto headlights and wipers are a nice convenience, and the dual-zone climate control is equally useful, although it doesn't provide cool air as quickly as it should. The 12V outlets in the cabin and boot, along with a factory-fitted Apple media device interface, make connecting/powering electronics a cinch, and the generous door bins have accommodated many bottles of plonk over the years. It's an easy vehicle to clean too, but unfortunately the 16-inch alloys are easily kerbed and brake dust accumulates quickly.

Boot space is more than adequate, and despite the rear seats not folding completely flat, I've been able to lug an entire IKEA flat-pack kitchen and a pre-built home entertainment cabinet (amongst other things) very comfortably. This was the sole reason I ruled out Mazda's 3 and the Ford Focus. Their boot space was completely inadequate in comparison.

Ride quality and noise suppression were two big selling points at the time of purchase, and the car still rides perfectly, soaking up the many imperfections of Melbourne's roads without fuss. During the first year or so of ownership I had a few annoying dash rattles, but they disappeared after a particularly hot summer.

I should mention that buying Michelin tyres transformed the handling when purchased a few years ago. On reflection, the factory-fitted Dunlops were pretty poor, often triggering the traction control as they squabbled for grip. This is by no means a sporty car, with gentle understeer the flavour of the day, but it's safe and predictable, and for 90 per cent of the driving I do it is more than adequate. I didn't tick the sports package that included fog lights, sports seats, lowered suspension and 17-inch alloys. At the time of purchase that was the ticket to a sporty, sub-GTI Golf, but I couldn't justify the extra cost.

The six-speed manual gearbox is light and accurate when shifting and the clutch engagement is smooth. The car doesn't launch all that well from standstill, but once on the move, a generous dollop of torque (240Nm) from 1750rpm makes for smooth progress. The engine has a lot of character, zinging eagerly up to its redline with a nice metallic sound, but also emits an addictive supercharger whine when accelerating below 3500. I'll often prod the throttle just to hear it.

Given the heritage, it's no surprise that motorway cruising is where the 118TSI is really in its element. She eats up country trips with ease and is supremely stable at highway speeds. On the flipside, the steering is light around town, but despite the supercharger assistance at low RPM, there is undeniable lag below the peak torque curve.

Despite its economical claims, the 118's fuel consumption has been mediocre. I tend to average around 10L/100km in the city with country trips just under 6L/100km. Unless you're on the freeway regularly, it isn't all that economical, and given you have to run these engines on 98RON, fuel bills can be a lot higher than the 90kW (turbo only) 1.4-litre.

Speaking of twinchargers, these engines have a poor reputation for reliability, and though I've never suffered a breakdown, I have had the water pump, drive belt and tensioner, battery, pressure control valve (boost failing at 3500rpm) and clutch (friction plate noise) all replaced under warranty.

This is a bloody long list, yet it seems I'm probably one of the lucky ones given I haven't had any major issues outside the warranty period. This may be a combination of being particularly fastidious in regards to maintenance (and the quality of repair work done by VW), but could just be luck of the draw. On a positive note, I've never experienced any electrical gremlins that were a bane of the Mk4 and Mk5 platforms.

I also haven't needed to replace many standard wear and tear items out of my own pocket. A headlight globe died last year, so both the low beams and parking lights were changed with a set of Osrams. Given the original halogens were quite poor, this has made night-time driving a lot safer. The stock wiper blades were abysmal, only lasting a couple of years, but the Bosch set I fitted are still working perfectly five years later. I also replaced the front swaybars a year ago, but fortunately that was a relatively inexpensive job.

As previously mentioned, I only run the car on (BP) 98, but in addition to that I change the oil more regularly than is specified, let the car idle down for a couple minutes after long trips/heavy driving, and have the coolant flushed every 3–4 years (VW says it's a lifetime fill, what bollocks!).

I also give it a bit of a flogging on the freeway every fortnight as carbon build-up is notorious with the TSI direct-injection engines. Using a reputable intake cleaner spray (Liqui Moly, Wurth et al) a day or so before an oil change may help also.

Overall, I find rating my Golf a difficult process. It's still a smooth, comfortable car that I enjoy driving, but to have so many important components fail is concerning, warranty or not. There was a stage around the 4–5 year mark when I was set to jettison it, wary that yet another problem would arise, but the last 2.5 years have been relatively trouble free.

It seems that owning a Golf requires you to be well informed about common issues (forums are your friend) and having them attended to swiftly. A proactive VW dealership in Melbourne's inner east quickly diagnosed and rectified all the warranty issues, although I did get the "we don't see many problems with 118TSIs" line a couple of times (which I always found amusing!).

So, the burning question: would I buy another Golf? Well, probably not a Mk6. I do have two friends with 2013 DSG Mk7s who are yet to experience any reliability issues, so the current model with its five-year warranty would come into consideration. The Hyundai i30 SR would be in that conversation as well.
But for the time being, I'm relatively happy with my Golf. Despite its flaws, the 118TSI's combination of practicality and comfort still meets my needs and I'll likely hang on to it for another year or two.

List of items replaced over seven years (not including standard interval filters, plugs and fluids):
• Clutch
• N75 charge pressure control valve
• Water pump
• Drive belt + tensioner
• Battery
• Tyres (all 4)
• Front and rear brake pads
• Front swaybars
• Front and rear wiper blades
• Low-beam headlight globes