Last year, I was thrashing out the differences between an Octavia and the Golf.
In the final count back, the Golf won over with its price ($24,990 on the road, where the Skoda was shaping up for high twenties), smoother ride and interior. The price is long gone, but I appreciate the latter two every time I drive.
Power is plentiful enough to be fun, even though it's the starting point in Golf's Australian engines. The redline is at least 500 rpm away from my preferred maximum, as most of the good work is done between 4,000 and 5,500 rpm. There seems to be a diminishing return beyond that point. It's wise for prospective buyers and current owners to keep an eye on the oil level toward the end of the service interval, as mine needed a top-up.
These days, the trip computer is good enough for me to record economy. The Golf's official combined figure is 5.7 l/100 km, so I'm pleased with my own long term combined 5.9 l/100km. It's been coming down progressively over the year. I use 95 or 98 fuel, whichever takes my fancy. On the occasions I fill with 98, it's on the basis that the car might appreciate it, but it's impossible to notice any difference in driveability in practical terms.
In busy Melbourne, the supple and quiet suspension impresses more than any gung-ho handling ability, although steering, road holding and handling are very good for its non-GTI station in life. It doesn't have the speed bump absorption of a Falcon or Commodore, but excels once on the move. Quiet, too. I recently spent time driving a current model Citroen C4 and KIA Rondo. Getting back into the Golf, it was as though I was wearing ear plugs.
Inside, comfort, features and visibility all score highly. Thankfully,I had no cause to curse the air conditioning in a recent 41 degree day. That's worth a mention, as various journalists have noted it's a weaker system than in the Mazda 3. That may be so, but I was cool and stayed cool for two hours. The Golf's infamous C-pillar is no impediment to visibility. Through the front and sides, it's panoramic and the car doesn't have the upswept side windows of some competitors. Similarly, the view through the windscreen mirror is no-nonsense rectangular, not oval shaped or a letterbox slit.
Features-wise, the stereo is crisp, Bluetooth easy and stop-start system operates whenever the car is placed in neutral. It comes to life the moment the clutch is pressed to select first. It's clever enough to sort itself out according to what systems are running, ambient temperature, battery charge and so on. If it doesn't want to turn itself off, such as on that drive from the airport on that 41 degree day, it jolly well won't! The steering wheel has good 4-way adjustable range and is beautiful to hold, but there are 18 switches on the thing that will never be learnt properly. The switches partly control what's viewed on the multi-function display in the instrument panel and there lots of duplication between that and the main display in the dash centre. VW could have saved the duplication and given us back some of the nice things that have disappeared, such as the window visors that telescope back to the B-pillar when turned to the side.
If there are any things that I'd like to see in a refreshed mid-life update, it might be better choice of colour and trim, an illuminated ignition barrel and those magic telescoping visors.
The first service rocks around soon with 11,000 kms on the odo. I might be asking the boys to have a look at a sticky button on the sunglasses holder and a left rear door trim that became vocal on courser chip at high speed on a recent run to the Great Ocean Road and back, but that's all.