Being tasked with designing a new-generation VW Golf must be a stressful exercise. Perhaps that’s why Volkswagen designer Marc Lichte looks like a frazzled young Einstein. The car he has penned, the VW Golf 5, carries on not only a proud legacy, but is also expected to make a healthy contribution to the Volkswagen bank account, as every Golf has done before. Failure is not an option. Lichte’s dilemma must also be viewed within the context of the market. Opel is about to launch a sexy new Astra. Renault’s quirky Megane has been doing well. And Mazda’s new “3” has garnered considerable acclaim. Then there’s also a new Focus around the corner. Observers have noted that the levels of flair evident in this market segment have never been higher. Has VW been brave and followed suit?
Classy conservatism for VW Golf 5Volkswagen has decided to remain true to its strategy of design evolution for the new Golf and the result is a conservative, yet handsome car that is unlikely to date fast. The VW Golf has traditionally boasted high resale values, and a conservative, consistent design approach is one of the key reasons. It’s certainly not an unattractive car, with its rear end being particularly neat and boasting a tail lamp design inspired by the marque’s Phaeton luxury sedan. A lovely touch is the big VW badge that doubles as the tailgate handle. In Comfortline trim there’s nothing flashy about the VW Golf – there are no front foglamps, plenty black plastic and the wheels are relatively small 15-inch items. At least they are of the alloy variety.
Surprisingly, given the car’s compact looks, the new VW Golf is longer, wider and taller than the model it replaces. The wheelbase has also grown by a significant amount (67 mm). The result is a vastly more spacious cabin – rear legroom has been improved by more than 50 mm, and headroom has been stretched, too. The boot has shrunk slightly but this has also been the case with most of its rivals, and consequently the Golf’s packing space remains competitive.
Comfort is kingInitial impressions of the cabin are not entirely favourable. With grey being the colour of choice and not much brightwork to add some contrast, the Golf’s interior can be described as drab and boring. The design is also very straightforward, featuring a raised centre section housing logically placed controls for the entertainment and climate systems. The only slightly sporty touch is a pair of leg braces inspired by those found on the Audi TT. Thankfully the instrumentation still features Volkswagen’s classy blue backlighting and the gear lever knob exhibits a hint of aluminium.
But those first impressions quickly fade, because the Golf offers the most comfortable accommodation in its segment… by some margin. The seats are superb, offering soft cushions as well as sufficient lateral support. It goes without saying that height adjustment is part of the package. The steering wheel, too, features a wide range of adjustment (rake and reach), and therefore a comfortable driving position is a given.
Comfortline specification lives up to its name and includes such items as cruise control, auto lights and wipers, radio/CD system, electric windows, heated side mirrors and an automatic anti-dazzle rear-view mirror. The safety package consists of ABS with EBD and front, side and curtain airbags.
Under the skinThe new VW Golf is vastly different under the skin, with Volkswagen determined to improve on the somewhat dull dynamics of its predecessor. The old torsion beam rear suspension has been ditched for a more advanced (and costlier) multi-link set-up that theoretically should provide improved cornering stability without impacting negatively on ride comfort. The car’s structure is also massively stiffer (around 80 %), and yet the Golf weighs only slightly more than its predecessor.
Has it worked? In short, yes. From the moment the wheels start turning, the VW Golf feels lighter, more agile and more responsive. It still rides with the best of them, but it resists understeer far better and the body control is among the best in this segment. It certainly feels like a platform that would make for a good GTI! The only downside is the steering which, while precise enough, doesn’t offer much feel.
Powered by a slightly tweaked version of the company’s known 1,6-litre petrol engine, there are no fireworks in the performance department. In fact, the Golf 1,6 Comfortline is one of the lazier cars in its segment, proving to be rather sluggish off the mark as well as in the overtaking stakes. Perhaps as a result of its dearth of power, one tends to drive it harder and consequently its fuel economy suffers. At least it is a refined unit, revving smoothly and quietly.
VW Golf 1.6 Comfortline - VerdictWhile it may thus far sound as if the VW Golf 1,6 Comfortline is a middle-of-the-road product, the reality is that as an ownership proposition it is near unbeatable. It is not only competitively priced, decently equipped and supremely comfortable, but also offers a standard maintenance plan and the very strong likelihood of unmatchable residuals. For the overwhelming majority of South Africans, this will be more important than “flair”. Sleep easy, herr Lichte.
- Perceived quality
- Interior comfort
- Ride/handling balance
- Resale value
- Drab interior
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 75 kW @ 5 600 rpm
Torque: 148 Nm @ 3 800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch alloy
Top speed: 181 km/h
0-100 km/h: 12,9 seconds
Fuel economy: 9,9 litres/100 km
- Renault Megane 1,6 Dynamique: Rather quirky, but the Renault has proven popular in South Africa. Slightly more affordable and offers a comprehensive standard specification level. Not as spacious, though, and the resale won’t be near as good either.
- Toyota RunX 160 RX: Feels lightweight and slightly “cheap” next to the Golf, but the upshot is far livelier performance. Small boot and a less sophisticated cabin are disappointments.
- Mazda3 Sport 1,6 Dynamic: An underestimated rival that offers a healthy dose of “zoom-zoom” spirit in its performance and handling, and a decent standard specification list. Unfortunately road noise levels are high, so it doesn’t come across as refined enough.