Volkswagen Golf 1.2 TSI review

The most affordable version of the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf has a 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine. Jonathan Crouch checks it out

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, with the less sophisticated one fitted to lower order models like the petrol 1.2 TSI variants we look at here.

Background

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. Let's see how much sense it makes in its most affordable 1.2-litre TSI petrol guise.

Driving Experience

Get under the skin of this latest Volkswagen Golf and you'll find a 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 Phaeton limousine not so long ago. Here, we're looking at the two affordable four-cylinder 1.2-litre TSI petrol units producing either 85 or 105PS. I'd avoid the least powerful of these if I were you, which doesn't really have enough about it to properly exercise this Volkswagen's lithe responses and shift along 1.2 tonnes of Golf. The 105PS version of this engine is better, improving the rest to 62mph time from 11.9 to 10.2s and raising the maximum speed from 111 to 119mph. Like all Golf models with less than 120PS, these two feature unsophisticated torsion beam suspension rather than the clever multi-link set-up found further up the range. The perfectionist in me is disappointed by this, but the pragmatist can understand their point of view: will the largely undemanding drivers who choose lower-order Golfs really notice? Almost certainly not.

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. Nobody does it better than this. It isn't that it feels especially plush - though the quality of materials used is excellent - and far better, incidentally, in this Wolfsburg-constructed Golf than Volkswagen's similarly priced but Mexican-built compact Jetta saloon. It's just that everything is of just the right quality and feels absolutely fit for purpose. 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.

Market and Model

Pricing for a 85PS 1.2 TSI petrol Golf starts from around £16,500, about £1,000 less than the 105PS variant: there's a premium of around £650 to go from the three to the five-door bodystyle. All Golf models come with seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS braking with ESP stability control and a clever XDS electronic differential lock to get the power down out of tight corners. 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. Safety kit includes ISOFIX childseat fastenings, anti-whiplash head restraints, tyre pressure monitoring and seven airbags - twin front, side and curtain 'bags, plus a driver's knee 'bag. There's also a clever Automatic Post-Collision Braking System that automatically brakes the car down to 6mph after a collision - so if, say, someone hits you and, understandably, you go to pieces, the car will automatically sort itself out.

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. Added to that are the benefits of Volkswagen's 'BlueMotion Technology' programme which across the range include battery regeneration (to reclaim energy that would otherwise be lost under braking) and a Start/Stop engine system to cut the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. The early petrol engine options (carried over from the previous Golf line-up) are pretty frugal - 85 and 105PS 1.2-litre TSI units that return 57.6mpg on the combined cycle and around 113g/km of CO2 To help you get somewhere near the quoted figures in everyday driving, all Golfs offer a gearchange indicator as well as an 'Eco function' on the infotainment touchscreen that offers tips for economical driving. Downsides? Well other rivals better the three year 60,000 mile warranty that Volkswagen provides. Other than that, there's little to criticise. There's a choice of fixed mileage or flexible servicing regimes, depending on whether the annual distance you cover is short or long. And industry experts reckon that residual values will be far better than mainstream Golf or Astra-type family hatchbacks (which you would expect) and better even than some premium-badged compact hatches like BMW's 1 Series (which you might not).

Summary

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 the 1.2 TSI petrol variants we've been looking at here is certainly unsophisticated but it's an issue 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 petrol engines like the 1.2 TSI unit back into sharp relevance. 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.