You more than likely know that the seventh generation of the Volkswagen Golf is a great hatchback. The motoring press loves it, it’s just been nominated ‘World Car Of The Year’ for 2013 and it continues to be Europe’s best selling car. After almost forty years of perfecting the design Volkswagen would have to make a monumental balls-up to give us a bad Golf.
The trouble is that the previous Golf was, and still is, a very good car. Can the new one really be that much better?
The Golf arrives bright and early. It looks good in GT spec, the Night Blue metallic paintwork gleaming in a rare bit of April sunshine. 17-inch wheels, tinted rear windows and chrome highlights are the hallmarks of the GT. The new styling is sharper with more creases but still recognisable as a Golf. It’s a bit on the safe side but it should age well.
A look at the spec sheet reveals some interesting numbers. 138bhp. 185lb/ft. 58.9mpg. 112g/km. Not so long ago they would have been excellent figures for a diesel engine but this Golf GT is no oil-burner. The turbocharged 1.4 runs on unleaded and yet it can sip fuel as if it’s savouring every last drop.
The impressive economy figures are thanks, in part, to Volkswagen’s Active Cylinder Technology. The savings are relatively small, roughly 2mpg and 9g/km of CO2, but when you add start/stop technology and direct injection it makes for a very efficient petrol engine.
First impressions of the cabin are very good. The driving position is spot on, the ergonomics are perfect, the materials of a high quality. It’s typically Volkswagen.
The first couple of days driving are all about testing the economy. Two days commuting, 30 miles each way, driving like a Saint (and I don’t mean Roger Moore). The resulting MPG figures are 51, 51, 49 and 50. That’s pretty good but I can’t see me getting anywhere near the official figure of 58mpg.
The ACT was working quite a bit too. There’s the faintest hiccup in power delivery when it swaps between 2 cylinders and 4 but other than that you can barely tell it’s there, other than the tell-tale ‘Eco’ sign in the computer display. That’s the sign of good technology, helping you save fuel without a fuss.
This 1.4 TSI is incredibly quiet. At tickover you can barely hear a thing or feel any vibration inside. It remains quiet at low revs and is very smooth with enough torque to let you sail along in a high gear. It’s a good engine for relaxed cruising.
The relaxing pace is enhanced further by the adaptive cruise control, or Automatic Distance Control in VW parlance. Set your top speed and let the car do the rest, keeping you moving with the ebb and flow of traffic. It’ll bring you to a complete stop if necessary so if your mind does start to wander you can rest assured that the Golf will stop you from parking yourself in the back of a lorry.
A late drive home reveals strips of LED lighting recessed into the doors. Nice touch.
Once freed from the shackles of economy testing it turns out that the Golf’s TSI can be quite frisky. Give it a dollop of throttle and it’ll spin quite happily and even develops a bit of a voice above 4,000rpm. It’s not the most exciting exhaust note but it’s far from unpleasant.
The 0-62mph time is 8.4 seconds, helped by the slick action of the six-speed manual box. DSG is a £,1415 option and boasts a slightly higher MPG figure of 60.1mpg (CO2 emissions are unchanged) but I say save your money. This manual gearbox is a delight to shuffle about and it’ll take a lot of miles to recoup the cost of the DSG ‘box.
It’s not just the the economy figures that remind me of a diesel. The power delivery is similar too, with a thick slug of torque in the mid-range that fades at the top end. Once past 5,000rpm the TSI has done its best work, even though it will happily rev further.
The Golf has been on a crash diet and shed roughly 100kg since its last outing. The weight saving allows the optional Adaptive Chassis Control to keep a tight rein on body roll, pitch and yaw. The GT has 10mm lower suspension than the S and SE models and it corners with a surprising sense of urgency and composure.
It really does enjoy being chucked around and feels light on its feet, much more so than the Mk6. It’s one those cars that seems to shrink around you, allowing you to place it with precision and confidence. It feels less prone to understeer too, although that may be as much to do with the small and light engine up front as it is to do with the new chassis.
One of the reasons the GT handles so well is that it has independent rear suspension. Lesser models have to make do with torsion beams, which are cheaper and less sophisticated, so if you’re a keen driver then you’ll definitely want to consider the GT ahead of lower models.
Driver Mode selection allows you to adjust the feel of the steering weight. In ‘Sport’ mode I found it to be ideal with just enough heft, and there’s no slack to be felt between your inputs and the reaction from the front wheels.
I hate electronic handbrakes. With a passion. Maneuvering a car in a tight gap on a steep slope with nothing but an on-off switch controlling the handbrake is a needlessly fraught task, but the Golf is merely the latest car to switch to a button instead of a lever.
However, my Luddite views have been softened slightly by the system on the Golf. It’s actually very good and you can tell the engineers have put some thought into it. It’s the ‘Auto Hold’ button that makes it so much easier to live with. Once you’ve released the handbrake at the start of your journey you don’t have to worry about it again. At all.
The Auto Hold applies the handbrake for you whenever you come to a stop. A little green symbol on the dash lets you know it’s on and as soon as you lift the clutch to pull away it disengages itself.
Even better, when you arrive, switch off the engine and inevitably forget to press the button to activate the handbrake, the Golf is looking after you. As soon as you take off your seatbelt it does the job for you, with the telltale red handbrake symbol appearing. It’s probably the best electronic handbrake I’ve tested … but I’d still rather have an old-fashioned handle.
Another example of how the Golf is always looking after you is the phone connection. If you had your phone Bluetoothed to the stero, when you switch the engine off it reminds you to take your phone. Shame it can’t help me when I’ve lost it in the house.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I need DAB digital radio in my life. All Golfs are fitted with it as standard and I’m really enjoying it. Reception is strong and clear and the choice of stations is so much better than on FM. The Golf’s eight speakers are very good and the wheel-mounted controls are easier to use than fiddling around with the touchscreen (I miss having proper buttons to press).
DAB as standard also means there’s none of the worry about what to do when the FM transmitters are eventually switched off. Mind you, even without a radio the Golf gives you choices for your musical entertainment. You can stream audio from your phone via Bluetooth or drop an SD card filled with MP3s into the slot in the glovebox.
There’s a second SD card slot but that’s used to hold the sat-nav’s maps. It’s another standard feature on the GT and works well thanks to the 5.8-inch colour display.
Time to take the family out. The kids fit in the back with ease, even on their booster seats, but that was never likely to be a problem as there’s room in the back for all but the tallest of adults. My son’s convinced we’ve had this car before but I’m sure he’s thinking of the Volvo XC60 Polestar we had earlier in the year. That should be considered as praise for the Golf.
After a couple of miles there’s some disagreement between myself and Mrs A. She thinks the ride is too fidgety. I try switching the optional Adaptive Chassis Control from its firmest ‘Sport’ setting to softer ‘Eco’ mode but she’s still not impressed. I think it’s fine and strikes an ideal compromise between entertaining handling and everyday comfort but Mrs A. remains unconvinced.
The kids are impressed by the large electric sunroof. It’s a £900 option but it does brighten up the interior and it’s great to have it wide open when the sun is shining.
You could never accuse the Golf of being cheap. At a starting price of over £22 grand the GT is noticeably more expensive than its closest rivals but look more closely and that price is softened by the level of standard kit.
Notable features are the touchscreen that controls the DAB radio, sat-nav, bluetooth phone and media streaming, SD card interface, and a clever car status display that shows all manner of information about the car and its fuel consumption. Then there’s the adaptive cruise, as well as the option of a speed limiter. You’ve also got manual air-con (dual zone climate is an option), auto lights, auto wipers, fog lights, electric heated folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, those 17-inch wheels, tinted rear windows, and a cabin that makes a lot of rivals look cheap and fussy.
Running costs should be low too. As well as the decent economy there’s the low Band C road tax to consider. The City Safety emergency braking system also helps to keep the GT’s insurance group down to just 17.
If the Golf still looks too expensive you should also consider its enviable reputation on the second hand market. The pain you might suffer at purchase time will almost certainly become your gain at trade-in time.
They’re coming to take the Golf away today. I realise I’m rather disappointed to see it go as I’ve enjoyed my time with it. It seems to suit my needs quite well thanks to decent economy, a lively petrol engine and an entertaining chassis.
After 350 miles of mixed driving the trip computer is down to 45mpg but that’s still good for a 140PS warm hatch, and one that was driven quickly.
My attempts to convince the repo man to take my Focus instead of the Golf fall on deaf ears. Perhaps I should have hidden it in the garage.
The Final Reckoning
There was never any doubt that the Golf GT was going to be a good car but as usual Volkswagen have given us a great car. The Golf is better to drive than ever, particularly in GT spec, and the new TSI engine is a brilliant unit that employs advanced technology to great effect. The interior is built to the high standards we’ve come to expect of Volkswagen but now includes more advanced technology that integrates seamlessly with the latest smartphones.
After a week I really couldn’t pick fault with the GT. The seventh generation of Golf improves on the last in almost every way. It was a hard act to follow but Volkswagen have pulled it off. It makes me wonder just how good the next one will be.
Volkswagen Golf GT TSI Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Good compromise between performance and economy||7|
|HANDLING||Alert and responsive, just lacking sparkle||7|
|AFFORDABILITY||High price, low running costs, good residuals||8|
|DESIRABILITY||It’s the hatchback you want to buy||8|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||No GTI but a good starting point||8|
Volkswagen Golf GT TSI Specifications
|Engine:||1,395cc 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power:||138 bhp @ 4,500rpm|
|Torque:||185lb/ft @ 1,500rpm|
|0-60 mph:||8.4 seconds|
|Top Speed:||131 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||112 g/km (Band C)|
|Official Economy:||58.9 mpg|
|Price (As Tested):||£25,155*|
*Prices taken from Volkswagen website, April 2013