If all people went car shopping while wearing their sensible shoes, the roads would be dominated by diesel hatchbacks such as this VW Golf 1,9 TDI. In many ways they represent a perfect all-round package, offering strong performance combined with excellent economy, compact dimensions but practical interior packaging, in addition to high-value pricing. With the fourth-generation Golf, Volkswagen very much started this “diesel movement” in South Africa, and number five only makes an even stronger case.
VW Golf 1.9 TDI is conservative but classyBy now the VW Golf 5 is a familiar face – this Marc Lichte design represents a gentle evolution of Golf, with the trademark fat C-pillar a stand-out feature in an otherwise conservative overall look. That’s not to say the Golf is not attractive… There’s a sophistication to its appearance, a conservatism that is strangely alluring, and which will see it retain its value well in the second-hand market. In Comfortline trim there’s a marked absence of brightwork – the rubbing strips, lower rear bumper and door handles are all in black plastic, and the wheels are relatively small 15-inch items.
The interior is similarly devoid of flash, being mostly black and dark grey in colour and with only the cool Volkswagen blue backlighting providing some relief to the monotony. It’s a very straightforward design, too, with neatly laid-out controls and the instrumentation is both simple and classy. Where the VW Golf really impresses, however, is in the tactile quality of the cabin. Every surface that is often touched possesses a soft, satin-like finish, endowing this hatch with premium sedan-like perceived interior quality. The facia moulding is of the soft-touch variety, too.
Because there’s nothing distracting or garish about it, the VW Golf is a car in which you immediately feel comfortable and relaxed. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach, and the driver’s seat adjusts for height, too. The seats, upholstered in a grey cloth, boast excellent support and lateral bolstering. Up front, it really is difficult to fault the driving environment. Perhaps Volkswagen could’ve been a bit more generous with the standard specification, however. There aren’t remote audio controls, for example, but at the same time it has to be mentioned that the VW Golf does surprisingly feature automatic wipers. Also part of the package are; air-conditioning, electric windows all-round, radio/CD player, 6 airbags and ABS with EBD.
The overall packaging is good, too. Rear legroom is impressive, and the car’s width and rear cabin height endow it with good head- and shoulder-room. Ventilation outlets are provided for the rear passengers, which is always a nice touch. The boot could’ve perhaps been a bit bigger, but it is nicely shaped.
Outdated engine?Powered by a fairly old-fashioned 1,9-litre turbodiesel that features direct injection but not the more modern common-rail pressure system, the VW Golf is increasingly facing stiff competition from rivals with smaller, more high-tech engines that match the Golf’s power and improves on its economy. With “only” 77 kW being on offer, the Golf ranks as one of the least powerful cars of its type, but the torque output (250 Nm) is however impressive. Power goes to the front wheels via a very slick five-speed manual ‘box. The engine is very obviously of the diesel variety at idle (it sounds rattly), but the refinement on the move is impressive, with the engine note soon disappearing into the background.
The performance figures are what they are – 11,6 seconds to 100 km/h is certainly not fast, but then again does the target market care? Of more importance is the overtaking power (flexibility) of the engine, and here that torque figure comes into play. Keep the engine in its powerband, and there’s plenty of shove to shoot past slower traffic. Of course, one of the main reasons for considering a car of this type is fuel consumption. In this regard the VW Golf does not disappoint, sipping fuel at the rate of around 8,2 litres/100 km – a very reasonable figure and actually easily bettered with a bit of concentration.
Comfort and balanceThe previous two generations of Golf were often criticised for their dynamic dullness, the result of piling on weight and the fitment of torsion beam rear suspension systems. The VW Golf 5, however, is not too portly, tipping the scales at under 1,3 tonnes. Perhaps of equal importance is the adoption of a multi-link rear suspension set-up, which has given the car the ability to not only retain its trademark ride comfort levels, but also to add some dynamic sharpness to the mix. The VW Golf displays excellent body-control and stability when diving into a corner, even on the relatively plump tyres of this test car. And while the steering isn’t particularly communicative, it is at least very precise. Perhaps the best description would be to say that the VW Golf feels “light on its feet”.
VW Golf 1.9 TDI Comfortline - VerdictAlthough some may lament the overall conservatism of this car’s design, inside and out, it represent a very clever product from a very clever company. By endowing the VW Golf with such high levels of perceived quality, cabin comfort and superb ride/handling, Volkswagen has elevated what could have just been another diesel C-segment hatchback, into a type of “classless” position, which will only stand the brand’s long-term premium-segment ambitions in good stead. There’s precious little reason not to buy this car.
- Perceived quality
- Interior comfort
- Ride/handling balance
- Resale value
- Falling behind in the engine department
- Lacks some mod-cons as standard
Engine: 1,9-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 77 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 250 Nm @ 1 900 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch alloy
Top speed: 193km/h
0-100 km/h: 11,6 seconds
Fuel economy: 8,2 litres/100 km
- Ford Focus 2,0 TDCi Si: The Ford is a significantly more powerful car, quite a bit faster and yet doesn’t consume vastly more diesel. It rivals the Volkswagen for space, but can’t match the German’s overall perceived quality and refinement.
- Renault Megane 1,9 dCi Dynamique+: A quirky option that has enjoyed good success in South Africa. Very high comfort levels, though not quite as spacious in the rear as the Golf.
- Citroen C4 1,6 HDi: Another quirky Frenchman, but the Citroen is the newer car and you can see it in the interior, which is quite “out there”, especially in terms of its instrumentation and steering wheel. Build quality appears solid, though, and overall the C4 scores highly for comfort, performance and economy.