Although the Volkswagen Golf has boasted the best perceived quality levels in its class for many years, the sixth-generation model of this icon has introduced near-Audi levels of sophistication in its cabin, meaning it is now knocking rather loudly on the premium class’s door. This, Volkswagen believes, firmly places the Golf in a higher class than “mere” Astras and Civics, but the question is whether the market will perceive it that way too. Or has the Volkswagen Golf simply evolved too far from its “quality for the man in the street” roots?
Premium Detailing for Volkswagen GolfAs the Volkswagen Golf 6 is heavily based on the preceding model, some have labelled it merely a facelift. Technically, this may be accurate, but even so the changes are substantial and not merely restricted to a fresh grille and lights, as facelifts tend to be. It is significantly more upmarket in appearance, with the subtle use of chrome lending a premium touch to what is otherwise a handsome, if conservative design. In Highline trim the Golf’s shape also benefits from the fitment of large 17-inch alloy wheels which boost the kerb-side appeal a lot. In front it has adopted the new “slim grille” face of VW.
Open the solid-feeling doors and you’re immediately struck not by the upmarket look of the cabin, but by – don’t laugh – that typical German premium car “aroma”. This means that the Volkswagen Golf pleases all the senses, because the interior doesn’t only “look” and “feel” upmarket, but smells it too. Much of the architecture inside the cabin will be familiar if you’ve driven a Golf before, but the detail changes have been intensive. The quality of the facia moulding and trim pieces have been lifted another notch or two, and the use of satin silver/chrome accenting again creates the illusion of driving something very expensive.
High Comfort LevelsAs is to be expected from Volkswagen, this Golf ticks all the comfort boxes. The steering wheel is lovely to grip, and boasts generous rake and reach adjustment. The driver’s seat, too, can be adjusted over a wide range and the cushion length and side bolstering play a big part in the Golf’s impressive long-distance comfort. Those seated in the rear are also well-catered for, with sufficient head- and legroom being offered, as well as ventilation outlets. The boot, however, is not the biggest in this class, but is nicely shaped. Plus, the rear seats can of course fold down if more space is required.
Volkswagen is often criticised for offering relatively sparsely furnished cabins, and that’s the case again with this Golf, especially given the relatively high price. Yes, climate control is fitted as standard, as is cruise control, but you still have to pay extra for leather and there are no auto wipers/lights either. No such complaints on the safety side, though… the Volkswagen Golf packs no fewer than seven airbags in addition to boasting ESP (electronic stability system).
Fantastic Diesel EngineAs the name indicates, this Volkswagen Golf is powered by the VW Group’s impressive 2,0-litre turbodiesel engine that also does duty in several Audi products. It delivers 103 kW and a solid 320 Nm of torque from a low 1 750 rpm. The engine is mated with a six-speed manual transmission that exhibits the “notchiness” so typical of VW products. Interestingly, some drivers appear to like this trait, saying the little bit of extra effort required to select the right gear also means that they’re more confident of actually doing so in the end. The Volkswagen Golf performance is sizzling for a diesel five-door hatchback, with a 0-100 km/h time of 9,3 seconds being rather easily achievable. But that’s nothing compared with the fuel economy. A consumption figure of below 5 L/100 km is on the cards if you drive carefully, and that’s just mind-numbingly good.
And yet, there’s more.
The engine also exhibits excellent refinement. Even at start-up there isn’t much of the typical direct-injection clatter, and it smoothes out very impressively at speed. It therefore fits in perfectly with the overall character of the car, because the ride is similarly refined, being absorbent yet appreciably firm when pushing on in the corners. The Volkswagen Golf also feels agile, and remains one of the most fun cars to drive in its class.
Volkswagen has also clearly paid a lot of attention to NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) control, because the insulation from road/wind/mechanical noise seems markedly improved compared with its already excellent predecessor.
Volkswagen Golf - VerdictThe Volkswagen Golf 2,0 TDI Highline is significantly more expensive than what is perceived to be its rivals. And yet, in the final analysis, it just about manages to justify the higher price, because it really comes across as a more refined, sophisticated product than the competitor products. If only Volkswagen could be a little more generous with the standard features, then there really would be no argument to be made here. It really is of a class above these days.
- Perceived quality
- Very comfortable interior
- Excellent fuel economy
- Sparse standard equipment
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 103 kW @ 4 200 rpm
Torque: 320 Nm @ 1 750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 209 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,3 seconds
Fuel economy: 4,9 litres/100 km
- Honda Civic 2,2i-CTDI: Cheaper, as powerful as the Volkswagen Golf, better equipped and comes with an excellent reputation for quality and reliability. It’s hard to fault the Honda, but the Civic’s way-out styling won’t appeal to everyone, and its ergonomics aren’t as good.
- Ford Focus 2,0 TDCI SI: The Ford is certainly well priced and on paper the engine seems up to the job. Somehow, however, it doesn’t quite work. The cabin isn’t up to scratch and the drivetrain refinement is lacking. Not nearly as economical either. But it is A LOT cheaper.
- Alfa Romeo 147 1,9 JTD MultiJet Distinctive: Looking for something a bit different? Alfa’s 147 may be nearing the end of its life cycle, but remains an interesting choice. The best part (besides the styling), is the gem of an engine. It delivers strong power and economy, as well as surprising refinement.