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First Drive: Volkswagen Golf VI

Review by Feann Torr - 26/February/2009

Volkswagen Golf VI review

In the early 1970s, Volkswagen was faced with a dilemma of considerable proportions: to find a replacement for the Beetle.

In 1974, the VW Golf was born. It was the vehicle that would succeed the Beetle, which until then was one of the world's best-selling motor vehicles.

During the past three-and-a-bit decades, more than 26 million Golfs have been built, so I guess you could say the dilemma was resolved.

Today the Golf is still going strong.

This small car is the backbone of the Volkswagen brand, a highly recognisable vehicle that accounts for the lion's share of Volkswagen's global sales.

Understandably it is a vitally important model so when the time came to update the car - this is only the sixth new model in more than 30 years - a lot of people started to sweat.

It had to look like a Golf but fit into a rapidly changing world and it had to deliver better performance while reducing emissions.

We've seen the photos of the new Golf before, but now we finally get to sit behind the wheel of the sixth generation Golf. But is this the new wunder-car or just a sloppy serve of gerstonkken-strudel with a colourful garnish? Let's find out:

Make: Volkswagen
Model: Golf
Price: $25,990 - $35,690
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 6-speed DSG auto, 7-speed DSG auto
Engine: 2.0-litre Inline 4-cylinder turbo diesel / 1.4-litre Inline 4-cylinder petrol turbo/supercharged
Seats: 5
Safety: 7 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), front-side head (x2), side curtain airbags (x2), driver knee airbag (x1)), ESP, ABS, EBD, BA
Car SupplierVolkswagen Australia


Volkswagen Golf VI review

The Volkswagen Golf VI is not just a pretty face,
it steers well and incredibly fuel efficient to boot

Volkswagen Golf VI review

The VW Golf's pumped wheel archs look good and
this photo shows the larger side windows clearly

Volkswagen Golf VI review

Powered by a 1.4-litre twincharged engine, the
VW Golf TSI sprints to 100km/h in 8.0 seconds

Engine: 2.0-litre I4 Turbo Diesel (TDI)

The transversely mounted 1968cc 4-cylinder diesel engine. It has dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) that actuate 16-valves (4-valves per cylinder). It has a 55 litre fuel tank and makes use of a turbocharger and intercooler to improve power.

Fuel consumption: 5.3L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 139g/km

Max Power: 103kW @ 4200rpm
Max Torque: 320Nm @ 1750rpm
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds

Engine: 1.4-litre I4 TwinCharged Petrol (TSI)

The transversely mounted 1390cc 4-cylinder petrol engine has dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) that actuate 16-valves (4-valves per cylinder). It has a 55 litre fuel tank and makes use of a turbocharger and supercharger to boost power.

Fuel consumption: 6.2L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 150g/km

Max Power: 118kW @ 5900rpm
Max Torque: 240Nm @ 1750rpm
0-100km/h: 8.0 seconds

Engine: 1.4-litre I4 Turbocharged Petrol (TSI)

The transversely mounted 1390cc 4-cylinder petrol engine has dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) that actuate 16-valves (4-valves per cylinder). It has a 55 litre fuel tank and takes advantage of a turbocharger to increase power.

Fuel consumption: 6.4L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 149g/km

Max Power: 90kW @ 5000rpm
Max Torque: 200Nm @ 1500rpm
0-100km/h: 9.5 seconds

Volkswagen Golf VI review

The new Volkswagen Golf is available in a range
of colours, including many silver and grey shades

Volkswagen Golf VI review

The interior of the new Volkswagen Golf takes a lot
of inspiration from the Audi A4 and is quite luxurious

Golf Time

The new sixth generation VW Golf is a pearler of a vehicle to drive and it's got a strong pedigree. The original "Golf I" was born in 1974, followed by the Golf II in 1983, the Golf III 1991, the Golf IV in 1997, then the Golf V in 2003. The Golf VI which we're testing here arrived in 2009.

With one of the longest histories in the small car class, the first Golf came to Australia in 1976, and the first diesel Golf arrived in '78. In the '70s you'd be lucky to get fog lights on your Golf, but today the story is very different, with a long options list:

Metallic / Pearl Effect Paint $700
Electric Glass Sunroof $1,900
Comfort Package - Trendline $2,200
Sport Package - Comfortline $2,000
Dynaudio Excite 300W Stereo $1,800
Satellite Navigation RNS510 $3,000
Satellite Navigation RNS510 with Dynaudio Excite 300W $4,000
Rear View Camera (RVC) (with RNS510) $500
Media Device Interface (MDI) $270
Leather Upholstery - Comfortline $3,300
Park Assist with front and rear parking sensors and Optical Parking System $1,400
Adaptive Chassis Control $1,500
Front Fog Lights with Static Cornering Lights $400
Anti-theft Alarm System $600 

Volkswagen hasn't talked about sales forecasts, but predicts it will sell more than the 11,632 it shipped to Australia in 2008. Will the global slowdown affect sales? "I don't worry, I think we're very prepared for the future," stated VW Australia boss Jutta Dierks, whose confidence in the car is absolute.

Volkswagen Golf VI review

The new Volkswagen Golf VI is marvelous
small car, with only a handful of shortcomings

Volkswagen Golf VI review

The Volkswagen Golf was a never an unattractive vehicle, but the new car's simple elegance is simultaneously appealing and intriguing.

Forget the ultra-low fuel economy, the super quiet cabin, the stability control and seven airbags that are now standard on every model -- for many buyers the new look will seal the deal.

We spoke to one of the Golf's designers, a German bloke by the name of Frank Bruese, who said that throughout history the Volkswagen Golf has always retained three principle design cues: a horizontal face, distinct wheel arches, and strong C-pillars.

The new Golf retains these elements but "The design is original and unique," opines Bruese, adding that "for the first time the Golf is sexy". And I concur.

In my opinion the front end looks superb with its simple, clean style. Comprised of two dark horizontal features (the grille and lower airdam) which achieves a sense of proportion, while the modern headlights hint at the vehicle's upmarket positioning.

Like previous Golfs, the cars' silhouette is unmistakable and the photos don't really do the car justice. In the metal it looks more confident, likened by one of my colleagues to an affordable Audi.

Bruese revealed that Volkswagen Group's design boss, Walter de'Silva, drives a Golf. Not a Bentley? "Just Golf," confirms Bruese. And this is the guy who oversees all of the VW Groups designs, from Lamborghinis to Audis.

There is one element that hasn't won me over, however. The rear end design. Volkswagen says the brake lights give the car a wider and lower stance but I reckon the widened brake lights look a bit out of place, muddling the cars' contemporary look. Overall I really like what VW has done with the new model, but the back will take time to get used to.

Volkswagen reports that every single part of the new Golf has been refined or changed (only the roof is carried over from the previous model) and it looks like setting a safety benchmark in the small car class as well.

Seven airbags covering front and rear passengers are standard on every model, as is an electronic stability program (ESP) and numerous other traction and braking aids. All three rear seat passengers get 3-point lap sash seatbelts too.

One of the first things you notice when stepping into the Golf VI and piloting the vehicle is its quietness.

The Golf's upmarket push is probably best evidenced in this respect. Thanks to improved door seals, 10 per cent thicker side windows and a special sound blocking PVB (polyvinyl butyl) film on the windscreen, there is barely any wind or tyre noise. Floor the throttle and engine noise is only ever a background thrum and doesn't really intrude into the cabin -- and that goes for the turbo diesel variant too.

Australian customers have three models to pick from, a pair of 1.4-litre 'charged' petrol engines and one turbo diesel, all of which are priced between $25,990 and $33,190. The new models weigh between 1270kg and 1380kg, roughly 30 kilograms heavier than previous models.

Quieter, sexier and safer; the new Golf is also more efficient. Unbelievably, the thirstiest car in the range is the 1.4-litre twin-charged Golf TSI ($30,490) which drinks 6.5L/100km. This engine spins at just 2000rpm in seventh gear (yes, seventh!) while cruising at 100km/h, which is astonishing for a such a small 4-cylinder engine.

This 118kW, 250Nm 1.4-litre engine has a supercharger and a turbocharger working in tandem, which together with the all-new 7-speed DSG automatic - the first application of this gearbox in Australia - ensures that the car hoons along.

Though the 7-speed DSG gearbox doesn't come with launch control it does have hill start assist. Besides, the car still boots away from standstill and has excellent mid-gear roll on acceleration and the 7-speed automatic is one of the fastest shifting gearboxes on the planet. 

We're absolutely psyched about the upcoming Golf GTI's performance potential but Jutta Dierks, the head of Volkswagen in Australia, said it probably won't come to Australia until 2010.

Nevertheless, the tenacious TSI Golf is not to be underestimated. True, a tiny 1.4-litre 4-cylinder heart beats rhythmically away under the bonnet, but it creates excellent power at fairly low engine revs which is a rare thing for a small motor. A powerplant that can achieve this feat while spinning the front wheels under a full throttle launch and then sip around 5.5L/100km on the highway is something very special indeed.

The entry-level Golf TSI ($25,990) uses a detuned version of the 1.4-litre engine, without the supercharger. This compact engine outputs 90kW and 200Nm from its turbocharged mill, while the most expensive model in the range is the 2.0-litre TDI diesel ($33,190), which is a 103kW and 320Nm proposition.

Even the entry-level 90kW model has a fair bit of poke, accelerating far more decisively than the gutless 1.6-litre engine it replaces. I had only one minor quibble with the pair of 1.4-litre TSI engines: they require 98 RON high performance fuel.

Driven on some really bodgy roads - ruts galore, crumbling verges and the like - the new Golf excelled. Punting the entry-level 1.4-litre turbocharged 90kW TSI model at first, I was immensely impressed by the ride quality. It absorbed almost all of the rutted road's imperfections and has has gone a long way to proving its suitability for even Australia's most shoddy roads.

This entry level model did exhibit a bit of wallow when nailing it hard through corners but it's still a lively little car that doesn't mind being whipped along. The 118kW 'twincharged' TSI model felt a bit sportier and didn't exhibit quite as much body roll.

All three Golf variants that are on sale in Australia have a good steering feel and I personally liked that the steering wasn't ultra-light: it had a bit of weight which made driving the car rather satisfying.

The final model we tested was the range-topping Golf TDI turbo diesel model, which wasn't as quick as the 118kW TSI model from standstill but could easily keep pace once moving, thanks to a huge 320Nm torque hit @ 1750rpm. It's also surprisingly quiet - inside and out. 

It doesn't take an aerospace engineer to see why almost half of all Volkswagen Golfs sold in Australia are diesel-powered. With an average fuel consumption of just 5.3L/100km on the combined cycle, the 2.0-litre diesel engine is getting very close to hybrid levels of fuel economy - only without the power drain.

Whilst captaining the smooth 2.0-litre turbo diesel model I also had the good fortune to test the optional adaptive chassis control, which is a bargain at $1,500. Similar to the system used in VW's flagship Passat CC model, it constantly adjusts the shock absorber damping rates and can be set to comfort, normal, or sports modes via a button push and the differences in ride and handling characteristics are very discernible.

In comfort mode the ride quality is very good, soaking up most bumps and ruts in the road with ease. Whack it in sports mode and everything stiffens up, allowing you to attack corners without fear of losing traction due to increasing levels of body roll.

The adjustable damping rates work incredibly well on the new Golf and sports mode ensures the tyres have a bigger contact patch on the road by keeping the car flatter through corners. Along with seven airbags, an ultra-quiet interior and an automatic parking system, this is yet another luxury car feature that has found its way into Volkswagen's small car.

Cruising on the freeway at 110km/h is effortless in the Golf and the blind spot isn't too large when head checking, but I have to say that it's a shame to see the entry-level $25,990 Golf TSI doesn't come with cruise control.

The new Golf models have a lot more torque than previously and as such can tow trailers weighing up to 640kg, or 1300kg if the trailer has its own brakes.

"For the first time the Golf is sexy"

In unison with the new exterior, the interior has been thoroughly updated and my initial response - after from the impressive quietness - was that it feels slightly roomier inside. This is despite the new Mk.VI Golf measuring roughly the same size as its predecessor at 4.2 metres long, 1.78 metres wide and 1.47 metres tall.

Ergonomically it's an improved vehicle too, with more intuitive control placements and options. The redesigned controls are thoughtfully clustered and the driver's three most used areas - the centre console, the instrument cluster and electric window controls on the door - are all at roughly the same height.

A redesigned steering wheel, which is also used on the Passat CC, has been added which not only looks great and feels better than previous tillers, it's got more functionality via the trip computer and stereo controls on the spokes.

The overall design of the dashboard is best described as inoffensive but it must be said that fit and finish are very good (this Golf is made in Germany and not South Africa as previously) and the dash plastics are excellent. The person who invented soft-touch dash plastics should be given an award, as it makes the car feel more approachable.

Chrome rings around the air vents add to the cars upmarket look and feel, likewise with the instrument dials, and the centre console is a less intimidating collection of the buttons and dials. The intuitive stereo and heater functions are carried over from the Passat CC and as well as being intuitive to use they're more compact and look classier as a result.

Volkswagen's new Golf is the only small car to offer the option of an automatic parking assistant, and there's a fairly impressive list of cost options if you want more bells and whistles (see the green breakout box).

The standard equipment list is fairly impressive: air conditioning, electro-mechanical power steering and power windows and mirrors are convenient, while seven airbags, ESP, driver's seat height adjust, remote central locking and 6-speed manual transmissions are some of the other standard features.

It's easy finding a comfortable driving position in the new Golf thanks to the height adjustable seat, plus there's plenty of head and leg room for front seat occupants and the trendy instrument dials and centralised multifunction display are easy to read at a glance.

I spent some time in the back seat and while the rear bench is comfy enough, rear leg room hasn't really improved. If you're taller than six foot then prepared to be a bit cramped, but overall there's enough room in this small car for four adults to travel in relative comfort.

Opening the boot is still accomplished by pushing the large VW badge on the rear, availing 350 litres of space which was more than enough for a a couple of medium sized suitcases, two laptop bags and plenty of camera equipment. The boot also expands to 1305 litres when you fold the rear seats down, allowing for the loading of longer, bulkier items.

Inside and out, Volkswagen's new Golf exudes class. It's a step ahead of its rivals which include the Holden Astra, Ford Focus and Peugeot 307.

The extensive cosmetic changes will ensure Volkswagen's bread-and-butter model attracts a lot of attention, but for mine it's the way the car behaves that impresses the most. 

Volkswagen's sixth generation Golf is very good and these front-wheel drive German cars are satisfying to drive in a range of different situations.

The 2.0-litre turbo diesel mill is ludicrously efficient, but it's the new 1.4-litre TSI engines that left me hanging for another drive. Excellent response, torquey mid-range punch and class-leading fuel economy are the highlights, while their smooth-revving nature and quiet operation are the side shows.

No longer made in South Africa, the Volkswagen Golf now carries the highly sought-after 'made in Germany' badge and deservedly so - this is an excellent small car.

Conclusion

The new Volkswagen Golf is no pretender: this is a wunder-car for a generation of drivers who want it all. It isn't just the safest Golf ever built, with a 5-star safety rating from both European and Australian authorities, it's also the smoothest and the quietest.

Ride refinement is almost unparalleled for a car of this size, while the engine line-up delivers power and efficiency in equal measure.

The Golf is the third most popular vehicle in history behind the Toyota Corolla and Ford F-Series pickups and doesn't look like giving up this position; the new model adds premium features by the bucketful while retaining the car's pragmatism and charm. 

Volkswagen Australia's managing director, Jutta Dierks sums it up nicely: "We took a very good Golf and made it better".

Pros:

Cons:

  • Ride Quality
  • Quiet Cabin
  • Safety Suite
  • Frugal Engines
  • Rear Exterior Design
  • Rear Seat Room
  • No Launch Control On DSG

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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