The best selling British version of the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is the 1.6 TDI diesel. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Golf is back for its seventh go around and it's a formula that's tried, tested and popular with British buyers. This latest car feature a chassis with a choice of two rear suspension set ups, but it's the humbler of the two you'll find on lower-order models like the 110PS 1.6 TDI diesel on test here. Still, British buyers seem to like it. Let's find out why.
After six model generations, 38 years and 29 million cars, it would perhaps be a little surprising if Volkswagen didn't have the hang of building Golfs by now. You certainly wouldn't expect anything radical or off-beat with the Golf Mk 7 and, without wishing to destroy a cliffhanger of a plot line, so it proves. This is a well-honed formula that works. Why mess with it? So how have we come to this point, this incrementally bigger, sleeker and more sophisticated take on an established favourite? Its predecessor, the Golf Mk 6, had been one of the more successful Golf models. Introduced in 2008, it built on the foundations of the Mk 5, offering better safety, better efficiency but a lower build cost. The Mk 7 might look like another refinement of that vehicle, but despite the evolutionary styling, it's completely fresh from the ground up but still unambiguously a Golf. And it's in the 110PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel form we look at here, that most British-bound Golfs will be ordered.
Get under the skin of this latest Volkswagen Golf and you'll find a redesigned MQB chassis that's a lot stiffer and is almost infinitely customisable. Interior refinement has improved enormously, with very little road noise filtering back into the cabin. Tyre noise and engine sounds have also been muted to the sort of level you'd have expected from a Phateon limousine not so long ago. The 110PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel variant I tried is far quieter than I remember its direct predecessor being. Otherwise, the engine's not much different - the main development work on it went into creating an eco-conscious BlueMotion version. Still, in either form, it's a unit that's acceptably rapid for its modest station in life, with 62mph from rest in the ordinary model I tested occupying just under 11s on the way to around 110mph, with 250Nm of torque to zip you through the five-speed gearbox. The ride suffers a little with the adoption of a less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension for lower order Golf models like this one, but you only really feel it over very poor surfaces or when pushing on hard. On the move, there's a standard XDS electronic differential lock for sharper corner turn-in and, on all but the entry trim level, a so-called 'driver profile selection' system. Here, four available programmes - 'Eco', 'Sport', 'Normal' and 'Individual' - alter the throttle mapping and engine management to suit your chosen driving style. Add the optional ACC Adaptive Chassis Control system, which enables you to tweak the suspension to suit the road and your mood, and there's a fifth 'Comfort' mode.
Design and Build
This car's clever MQB modular chassis not only offers Volkswagen the scope to run different models spun off it down the same production line, it also pares weight right back, such that this Golf Mk 7 rolls back the years. In fact it's not significantly weightier than a Mk 4, despite boasting massively improved safety features and more interior equipment. It's miles bigger inside too. The driving position is almost unfeasibly adjustable and unlike many family hatches, you can get properly hunkered down in the car if required. The sheer amount of steering wheel rake and reach means that both shorter and taller drivers will have little difficulty achieving a perfect seating position. The cabin's a little wider than before, which helps with elbow room and there's also a bit more rear leg room which is a welcome touch. The boot measures a hefty 380-litres, is well shaped and features a low loading height. An expert will tell you that Volkswagen could have cut costs further and offered more boot space if they had migrated to a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension: well actually, they have - well on cheaper versions anyway. As I suggested earlier, lower order variants like this 1.6 TDI are fitted with an inexpensive torsion beam rear end, so you'll need to buy a more powerful Golf model to get the expensive and effective multi link rear suspension. That's a clear sign of cost-cutting.
Market and Model
Pricing starts from around £20,000 for the five-door version of this 1.6 TDI that most will want - with a £655 saving if you're prepared to put up with three doors. All Golf models come with seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS braking with ESP stability control, a clever XDS electronic differential lock to get the power down out of tight corners and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats. The entry-level 'Composition Media' system includes a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, a DAB digital radio, a CD player, what Volkswagen calls an 'MDI interface' (for connecting iPod or MP3 player), Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming for the eight-speaker stereo. Also standard is semi-automatic air conditioning, among a host of other features. Moving up from S to SE trim of course brings more, including standard ADC 'Automatic Distance Control with Front Assist' (to help you keep a safe distance from the car in front on the highway) and 'City Emergency Braking' which will alert you to low speed collision risks and can even bring the vehicle to a complete halt if necessary. There's also a Driver Alert System (that'll alert you if your reactions indicate that you're getting drowsy), PreCrash preventative occupant protection (that can pre-tension the seatbelts and put up the windows if the ESP suggests the car is about to skid), rain-sensitive wipers, an automatically dimming rear-view mirror and a dusk sensor. A black radiator grille with chrome trimmed-inserts and 16-inch alloy wheels complete the exterior.
Cost of Ownership
One of Volkswagen's key priorities with this seventh-generation Golf was to reclaim its position as one of the most efficient family hatches, a position it had been struggling to maintain in the latter years of Mk 6 production. So how has it gone about achieving these efficiency gains? The big one is a weight loss plan. Then there are aerodynamic advantages, lower internal friction in the engines and optimised gearing on not only the five and six-speed manuals but also the six and seven-speed DSG twin clutch units. All new Golf models - both diesel and petrol - come with a Stop/Start system as standard, along with battery regeneration. All well and good. What about the figures? The 1.6 TDI returns a combined cycle reading of 74.3mpg and emits just 99g/km in the process, so if you're collecting petrol station loyalty points, that toaster you're saving up for won't be yours until somewhere in the region of 2019. And you'll do even better if you specify this 1.6-litre TDI engine in BlueMotion' form, in which guise this car is capable of returning 88.3mpg on the combined cycle and hybrid-like CO2 emissions of 85g/km.
The Volkswagen Golf Mk 7 is an interesting vehicle and it's not always quite as up-front as you expect. The lower specification torsion-beam suspension that's fitted to less powerful models like this 1.6 TDI diesel is certainly a step backwards but it's one that many buyers shopping through the lower order trim levels won't care very much about. In most other areas, the Golf forges inexorably onwards. Less weight and more space is always a good combination and a number of efficiency measures have brought impressive steps forward in the reduction f running costs. You'll especially get the benefit of that if you specify this car in 1.6 TDI BlueMotion form. The styling is evolutionary but includes a number of interesting details, cabin quality is well up to par and residual values look promising. In short it's a Golf. A more polished, smarter Golf, but still a Golf. Reassuringly so.