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Tested: VW Golf VI

2009-07-23 07:36

Hailey Philander

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Volkswagen
Model GOLF 6
Engine 1.4 TSI; 2.0 TDI
Power 90 kW @ 5 000 r/min or 118 kW @ 5 800 r/min; 103 kW @ 4 200 r/min
Torque 200 Nm or 240 Nm from 1 500 r/min; 320 Nm from 1 750 r/min
Transmission six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 9.5 seconds; 8 seconds; 9.3 seconds
Top Speed 200 km/h; 220 km/h; 209 km/h
Fuel Tank 55 l
Fuel Consumption 6.2 l/100 km; 6.3 l/100 km; 4.9 l/100 km
Boot Size 350 l to 1 305 l
ABS with ESP with brake assist and EDL, EBD and ASR
Airbags seven
Front Suspension MacPherson with helical springs and telescoping dampers
Rear Suspension multi-link
Service Intervals 15 000 km
Service Plan five-year/90 000 km
Warranty three-year/120 000 km
Wheels24 Golf preview
Golf VI senses

I didn’t want to like the Golf VI.

The fact that VW had kind of overshot the mark with the superlative Golf V and then tried to backtrack and recoup some of its costs with this glorified facelift is no secret. However, the marketing gurus at VW deserve some praise for managing to successfully dupe a whole lot of people.

"They say it’s time for a change, but – oh – I don't know," said one VWer to the other. "We could alter this a little and drop that. Although we should probably change the lights too.

"Oh! And give it the number 6 – they'll never know!" they chuckled gleefully in the chambers of Wolfsburg.

Come on!

That a new number automatically infers an all-new model is clear… This car even managed to nab the World Car of the Year title for 2009, ahead of some very worthy competitors in the Ford Fiesta and the Toyota iQ ( although the latter is not sold in SA).

There must be something about this "Golf 5.5" then…

Something old, something new...

For one, Volkswagen seems to have made an effort to make this car appear all-new. It carries the evolved face of VW which sees a narrow grille, stretched between the headlamps that are more angular and slash dramatically towards the A-pillars. This look is used to great effect on the sexy Scirocco, new Polo and the forthcoming Amaroc bakkie, too.

In profile, this car looks identical to the Golf 5, despite it being about 50mm shorter and 20mm wider. The front overhang, also, is noticeably shorter than before.

The rear's design, however, is a bit of a mess. The characterless, linear lighting detail could have been lifted directly from the Touareg, but on Golf merely adds to the design's all-round anonymity. Even the ubiquitous over-eager Citi Golf drivers barely give this car a second glance.

Yet, the design is not unpleasant. It is more three-dimensional than the car it succeeds and its inoffensive styling should find some appeal.

The new dash is a big improvement. Note to the left the optional touch screen with large buttons and the square buttons for the optional multifunction steering wheel.

There are some dramatic improvements, though. For the interior, the new dash, while it has the typically no-nonsense presentation familiar to VW products, is neat and ergonomically sound.

Particularly useful is the new touch screen satellite navigation system that will set you back close to R30 000, but is quite nifty. More than a simple satnav, it has a 30 Gb hard drive and governs a host of other functions. Response via the touchpad is super quick, too.

The (optional) steering wheel controls may appear a little too square and ungainly at first, but the chunkiness of the buttons soon make it easy to change functions or check key information without removing your eyes from the road.

The three dials controlling the air conditioning and other key functions are large and chunky, although on models without the multifunction steering wheel, the dash-mounted audio controls are smaller and fussy. Instruments gain chrome surrounds to add a little drama to an otherwise dark facia.

Plain, wraparound taillight clusters are not pretty, but they are functional and add to Golf's uncluttered look.

Initial quality of the plastics within the cabin and general fit and finish also appears to be of a high quality.

So while this Golf may not look like much, it more than makes up for it in the dynamic department.

Handling remains top notch as it uses the proven MacPherson struts up front, combined with a multi-link arrangement at the rear and anti-roll bars on both axles.

And steering via the electro-mechanical rack and pinion system is an absolute treat. Weighting on the speed dependent system firms up nicely which makes for very assured cruising on demanding road sections that require extra speed…

This is a very refined car. This was brought home on the diesel model especially, where practically zero engine rumble penetrated the cabin and vibration at idle and low engine speeds was a no-no. This car does, after all, have a host of NVH (or noise, vibration and harshness) lessening features, including aerodynamic exterior mirrors, tyres with a lower rolling resistance and a windscreen with sound deadening properties.

Of course, the four-cylinder 2.0 TDI turbodiesel unit is a familiar fixture in the Audi and VW line-ups and has been carried over from the Golf 5 range.

The 1.6-litre petrol unit has been carried over too, although a brand new and more efficient 77-kW 1.6-litre turbodiesel unit with the seven-speed DSG will join the range from August.

World Engine of the Year

But beneath the bonnet and in the engine bay, the main attraction is the new force-fed four-cylinder 1.4 TSI engine. Offered in both 90 kW and 118 kW guises, this also happens to be the 2009 World Engine of the Year. Magic!

This engine uses both a super- and/or turbocharger to tap into its power resources and the torque from low revs (200 Nm and 240 Nm at 1 500 r/min in both guises) is astounding.

We spent part of the test period with the twincharged 118 kW unit and we're currently driving a 90-kW version.

In the 118-kW version, the belt-driven supercharger gets railed in at low engine speeds to boost the torque, while the turbo takes over in the upper ranges. Working in series, the switch between the supercharger and turbocharger (at around 3 500 r/min) is totally seamless.

The 90-kW version uses a turbo only and, while it is the tamer of the two 1.4s, is hardly lazy. For us, based on its driveability and comfort levels (it does without the sports suspension of the 118-kW version and TDI), it's the pick of the bunch.

However, if your budget does not extend to hot hatch territory, the 118-kW version is probably the next best thing to the Golf 6 GTI in this range. Even though only one member of the Wheels24 team has driven the latest GTI, the rest of us are keen to sample it.

All models send power to the front wheels via a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission.

Braking is via ABS with discs all round, although Golf's safety quotient is increased with the standard fitment of the latest ESP said to have a finer response, EDL (electronic diff lock), ASR and EBD. Furthermore, seven airbags are standard, along with very useful daytime running lights.

This Golf is also fitted with a list of technological features not seen before in this class. Park assist and a rearview camera can both be ticked on the options list.

Park assist (costing R 5 670) is activated by punching a button on the centre console. The system measures the parking bay for you before gently easing the car in, only requiring that the driver hook reverse and modulate the accelerator and brakes. It is neat, but only for those who really can't park. Frankly, I just ignored it, finding it quicker and less bothersome to chuck the car into a bay in the good, old-fashioned way.

Very neat operation of the optional rear parking camera

Three trim levels - Trendline, Comfortline and Highline - are again offered on Golf VI.

Even the "base" Trendline is relatively well equipped and comes standard with power side mirrors with integrated indicators, daytime running lights, rear fog lamps, 15-inch alloys, a glove box with a cooling feature, Climatic air conditioning, central locking, height adjustable driver's seat and steering column adjustment, a split rear bench and multifunction display.  

So despite my best efforts to remain cool towards this Golf, it valiantly banished my mutterings with its composure, refined cabin and comforting road manners.

The Golf continues to provide benchmark-setting dynamics and traditional Golf buyers may even be a little surprised by just how polished this car is.

Just don't expect me to start calling it the "all-new" Golf 6.

Golf VI is safe, too, with seven airbags as standard along with ESP and the expected ABS.

More of the same when compared with the Golf 5, but the front end is rather attractive. The Touareg-style rear lights take some getting used to. However, as with most new looks, the Golf VI's styling grows on you the more you view it. Cute details, such as the tiny VW logo in the outer headlights, are probably worth considering, too.  

The new dash makes a world of difference. However, all test units provided were fitted with the new satellite navigation system with the touch screen functionality controlling audio, media, climate and other settings.

Dynamically, this Golf remains in the top ranks. It would be interesting to compare it to the facelifted Ford Focus and the all-new Mazda3. For now, the Golf's high comfort levels, stability and poise under "trying conditions", and point-perfect steering earns it big points.

It may have a new name, but this Golf is a very, very good example of a modern family hatchback with enough heritage to appeal to a larger cross-section of society. It's immensely comfortable, handles like a dream and, in these uncertain economic times, many may be attracted to Volkswagen's solid infrastructure.

Award-winning 1.4 TSI engine
Class-leading interior

It's still just a facelift
Also, it's a Golf, so everyone will soon own one or know of someone who owns one.

Wheels24 Golf preview
Golf VI senses


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