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We drive VW's Golf VI

2009-07-24 08:16
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Volkswagen
Model Golf VI
Engine 1.6, 1.4, 2.0 TDI
Power 75kW @ 5 600r/min, 90kW @ 5000r/min, 118kW @ 5 800r/min, 103kW @ 4 200r/min
Torque 148Nm @ 3 800r/min, 200Nm @ 1 500r/min, 240Nm @ 1 500r/min, 320Nm @ 1 750r/min
Transmission Five and six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 11.3-, 9.5-, 8-, 9.3 seconds
Top Speed 188-, 200-, 220-, 209km/h
Fuel Tank 55l
Fuel Consumption 7.1-, 6.2-, 6.3-, 4.9l/100km
Weight 1159-, 1215-, 1271-, 1299kg
Boot Size 350l
ABS Yes, with ASR, EBD
Airbags Seven
Tyres 195/65/15, 205/55/16, 225/45/17
Front Suspension Independent McPherson struts
Rear Suspension Independent multi-link
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 5 year/90 000km
Warranty 3 year/120 000km

Lance Branquinho

We drive what is perhaps the most important car to be launched locally this year – the Volkswagen Golf VI – but is it worth that bumper price tag?

Now spanning six generations, Volkswagen has managed to move its Golf from definitive hatchback in 1974 to premium hatch in 2009, selling many cars (26 million) in between.

It remains the authoritative hatchback, although locally, where Golf VI will bizarrely retail alongside the MK1 version, buyers have seemed to rally against its admittedly premium billing.

Despite venomous semantics concerning the new car’s pricing, allegedly completely out of step with VW’s "people’s car" roots, Golf VI is set to continue the hugely impressive premium feel ascendancy ushered in with the MK IV model in the late 1990s.

New car, or more of the same?

Marc Lichte is responsible for the design, with VW group design boss Walter de Silva reserving final validation signing rights. Silhouetted similarities between the V and VI are uncanny to the point of frustration - mistaking one car for the other in a crowded parking lot should be irritatingly easy.

With only 5mm difference bumper-to-bumper (Golf VI is half a centimetre shorter), the new car’s profile only appears slightly more flattened (despite being 20mm wider).

De Silva says Golf VI is more three-dimensional. All I can see is bodywork that is flush and simple, accentuated by a single shoulder line. Golf may have defined the hatchback segment in the 1970s, and invented the premium hatchback class in the late 1990s, yet aesthetically it remains a thoroughly underwhelming car.

The most distinguishing feature of Golf VI, its rear lights, are of the oversized wraparound variety and have a Touareg feel to them.

Split vertical steering spoke is new - like wow. Multifunction steering wheel is an R2 300 option (R1 100 on Highline models).

Interior design is nearly indistinguishable from the car it replaces too, with a new steering wheel, featuring a split vertical spoke, ushering in a feeble attempt at contemporary design differentiation.

Instrumentation and switchgear will be awfully familiar to Golf V owners, and though the option list in terms of infotainment goodies has lengthened considerably, Golf VI retains the characteristically sombre cabin environment launched with Golf II way back in the 1980s.

Familiar trim names, better value trim levels?

Cognisant of an auto market in flux, VW says it has been particularly careful to position Golf VI as a true mix of luxury and features in the large hatchback class.

With VW marketing five models across three trim levels, customers have the option of either Trendline, Comfortline or Highline equipment packages.

Entry level Trendline cars (1.6 and 90kW 1.4 TSI) roll on 15-inch alloy wheels, pamper occupants with dual-zone climatic air conditioning control and blow them away with an eight-speaker single-slot CD/MP3 player.

The sole Comfortline model – a 90kW 1.4 TSI -  adds cruise control, a 12V boot power socket, both rear cup holders and power windows, manually adjustable front seat lumbar support and a drop-down sunglass stowage space as extra features to the Trendline.

Range-topping Highline cars (118kW 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI) sport 17-inch alloys, trim out the steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake grip with leather and bolt in front sport seats (sans leather) too.

Red lettering indicates twin-charged 1.4 TSI model, which produces 28kW more power than the supercharged only version.

Standard equipment levels are not overly generous then, yet the list of optionals is well stocked to test the tolerance of any marriage or personal financial planner’s nerve.

There are the Tiguan-sourced RCD 510 and RNS 510 sound systems, which are both touchscreen-enabled, with the RNS version featuring a 30Gig hard drive for all media stowage.

VW also offers a Scandinavian-sourced Dynaudio sound system (R13 650) for the discerning acoustic fetishist. Featuring four 168mm-inch woofers (made of magnesium-silicate membrane no less) balanced by 50- and 60-mm tweeters, the 300W digitally amplified system is guaranteed to render aftermarket sound shop retrofitting superfluous.

Safer, dynamically and passively?

So it looks fearsomely familiar, both inside and out, forcing one to pause and take stock of whether this is a very well resolved facelift or truly a car worthy of sixth generation Golf status?

When you start delving into the technical renderings and mechanical fine print you realise where the value is.

Oft ignored in favour of outright dynamics, safety features abound on Golf VI. Seven airbags are standard across the range. VW’s Whiplash Optimised Head Restraint System (WOKS) factors parameters in seatback and headrest design and material technology to lessen whiplash in the event of rear impacts.

Hardly suspiring then, Golf VI scored five stars and 36/37 on the revised EuroNCAP rating system.

The new car sports a variety of dynamic driver aids that are standard across the range. Beyond the usual dynamic feature acronyms (ABS, ASR, ESP and EDB), electronic front axle differential lock (EDL) is now onboard too, rounding off a pretty impressive collection of electro-mechanical driver aids.

Rear assist camera (R5 670) features 180-degree fisheye field of view with clever distortion correcting software rendering objects more accurately, enabling dexterous alligningment of parking spaces or trailers.

Premium price for a premium drive?

Plenty of expensive options, tiny petrol engines and a lukewarm exterior design must leave you thinking why we’re calling Golf VI the most important car to be launched this year?

Well, the confirmation of this Golf as the pre-eminent premium hatchback, is in the driving experience.

Peruse the chassis specification and you’ll notice it remains independently suspended at all four wheel corners (despite being a front-wheel drive hatchback), with a sophisticated multi-link set-up managing the rear wheels. Golf VI has anti-roll bars all-round too, and the 20mm wider track has added just enough bite to the new car’s dynamics.

In a world of electric power steering systems devoid of any tactility or properly geared, the linear feedback of the Golf V system was a rare exception. Golf VI builds on this tradition, with responsive, properly weighted steering.

It’s especially good just a touch off the centre point, where most modern electronically assisted systems are disconcertingly devoid of countering feel. In a class of anesthetised steering, it’s an algorithm programmed right, first time.

Until GTI arrives in the third quarter, 118kW 1.4l twin-charged power is the performance derivative - and it's a lot more virile than in the Tiguan application thanks to Golf VI's 200kg odd lower mass.

Engines are sure to steer Golf traditionalists to a paradigm shift too – I mean, the headline petrol engine is only a 1.4…

Entry level 1.6 power is carried over from Golf V, as is the venerable 2.0 TDI, with the latter benefiting from common-rail injection for improved efficiency and lower noise levels.

Forced induction petrol power makes up the bulk of the range now, either in turbocharged form (90kW/200Nm) or twin-charged configuration (118kW/240Nm). South Africans will no doubt be aghast at the though of paying premium money for 1.4-litre power. Considering the smaller capacity engine’s lower vibration and harshness properties, seamless forced induction performance characteristics and trimmed emissions, it’s a win-win situation.

While Europeans are taxed mercilessly with regards to vehicle emissions, local drivers are (for the time being) still living in a capacity- and CO2 emission fools paradise, which goes some way to explaining the disdain contemporary small capacity turbo engines are viewed with.

After two days driving around the finest Cape mountain passes, I can tell you without hesitation, the 1.4 TSI is better than any previous Golf 2.0-litre engine, and the twin-charged 1.4 is even better. They’re quiet, spool up effortlessly, and with six perfectly-spaced ratios to shift around, impressively tractable too.

Beyond the resolved dynamics and keen engines, Golf VI’s defining dynamic characteristic is not measured in kW numbers or how fast the bottom third of Franschhoek pass can be negotiated. It is in the eerily low levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) present. Seriously, Golf VI refinement is now at a level where driver fatigue will only be measured in days at the wheel instead of hours.

Hardly the most glamorous of engineering sub-divisions, VW’s NVH designers have now employed the front windscreen as a fully stressed member (and key noise reducer) of the car’s structure and coated it with a special film. Tyres have been specially developed for Golf VI too, and Golf fanatics (no, it’s not a pun) might notice the redesigned door handles and mirrors too.

The confluence of these design details mitigate against wind, mechanical and road noise drowning out the serenity of your driving experience or crispness of your travelling partners conversation.

It’s about now you realise why you’re paying premium money for what was once the world’s entry level hatchback – because it’s become a nearly-peerless premium hatchback.


Golf 1.6 Trendline 75kW: R214 400
Golf 1.4 TSi Trendline 90kW: R227 900
Golf 1.4 TSi Comfortline 90kW: R238 400
Golf 1.4 TSi Highline 118kW: R272 900
Golf 2.0 TDi Highline 103kW: R298 900

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