By all accounts, the sixth-generation Volkswagen Golf 1.4 has the makings of one of the best new cars to hit town this year.
It goes well and it stops well. It even treats its occupants fine. What more do you want?
But there’s a slight misrepresentation to the claim: The car isn’t completely new.
So it can’t really be called the “sixth” generation, or “VI” (if you’re into Roman numerals, as Golf fans tend to be).
In this modern age of computer software product cycles, this Golf 1.4 should be called the 5.5.
Or if I were an absolute stickler for details, I’d call it the 5.25.
In car years, five is about right for a full model change.
But Volkswagen obviously felt that the Golf V still had plenty of life left in it.
Instead of engineering a ground-up replacement, the “new” Golf is pretty much the essence of the V packed neatly into a better-looking body.
After all, the automotive giant had invested much into creating the Golf V to replace its top-selling predecessor.
They gave the car a multi-link rear suspension, which is a leap from the traditional torsion beam set-up. (That Asian carmakers offer a more sophisticated system for less money is besides the point.)
Electro-mechanical power steering, direct-injection petrol engines and the acclaimed dual-clutch transmission (called DSG) have all debuted on the Golf V.
Do we need any reminder of how wonderful the GTI version of the Golf V is?
Overall, the core structure and chassis have been transferred onto the Golf VI.
It has exactly the same wheelbase as its predecessor and is incapable of swallowing an extra litre of luggage.
The new body is not as tall but wider overall (by 34mm and 27mm respectively), and the wheel track has been widen, all this to give the car a sportier stance.
However, the more compact bumpers make the car 5mm shorter.
We reported on how the Golf VI worked so impeccably well in Iceland.
This first local test drive confirms those findings.
The car tested is the 160bhp 1.4-litre twin-charged (that’s turbo and supercharged) Golf Sport TSI, which has been matched with the second-generation DSG gearbox.
The engine is a revised version of the 170bhp motor offered as the GT on the Golf V, now with improved lubrication and tuning to enhance longevity.
The transmission features an even more energy efficient dry-clutch set-up and seven forward ratios, one more than before.
It debuted at the tail end of the Golf V’s run but was paired exclusively with the 120bhp 1.4-litre turbo (sans supercharger) engine.
Although this is the range-topper until the 210bhp GTI comes to town, the 160bhp car doesn’t shout out its status, even if it’s known as the Golf Sport on paper to differentiate itself from the 120bhp model.
It wears 16-inch alloy wheels that look rather lost under the generous wheel arches and has a very unexciting colour palette.
The new design is unmistakably Golf-like, but the more extensive use of colour coding (no more half-painted bumpers and black rubbing strips) gives it a slightly more premium look.
Doing away with the ornate “goatee” chin and picking up a new scowling-face corporate look are probably good things, too.
The cabin is where the Golf VI has made real improvements over its predecessor.
The steering wheel, for example, looks like the handsome item on the Passat CC, complete with tasteful chrome embellishments.
The instruments have an even crisper typeface and illumination than the Golf V’s.
Most notable is the centre console, which now carries the latest full-colour digital display, similar to the one found in the updated Touareg.
The touchscreen interface, which integrates the climate control as well as the in-car entertainment, works as good as, say, Audi’s fancy MMI knob and button set-up, but with less fanfare.
The new switchgear seems to operate with better tactility than the previous set, although the new dual-zone climate control knob still seems a bit too light to exude absolute confidence.
One of the key objectives for Volkswagen in replacing the Golf V was to find ways to build the Golf more cheaply, or at least simplify the process to save production time.
While it’s not yet known how many euros were saved as a result, the final product betrays no sign of cutting corners.
Clever design has managed to make the car’s cabin quieter than the fifth generation’s, without the need for additional sound-deadening materials (this not only controls costs but also weight).
As with its predecessor, the “new” car drives extremely well.
The suspension setting is soft, with an obvious comfort bias, and the turn-in is a bit on the mushy side, thanks in part to the high-profile Bridgestone Turanza tyres.
Still, the chassis musters more than enough grip to allow a brisk and flowing rhythm while the car is on the move.
The 160bhp engine has plenty of low-end grunt, so it feels more like a lusty, big engine than a compact 1.4-litre.
Compared to the 170bhp version on the Golf GT, this revised unit breathes a little freer on the top end, even though the zest still tapers off markedly as it nears 5000rpm or so.
Then again, with so much oomph packed in the low- to mid-range engine speeds, refinement levels near 6500rpm are largely academic.
A case of having a cake and eating it, the engine is frugal, too.
It claims a combined consumption figure of 16.7km/L, which is remarkable for a car capable of a century sprint timing of just 8 seconds.
But denting the car’s overall appeal by just a little is the transmission’s tendency to jackrabbit at low speeds – especially on inclines.
So drivers had better beware when parallel parking on slopes!
It’s perhaps real wisdom (on top of penny-pinching) that has stopped Volkswagen from re-inventing itself – or it is brandishing how genuinely sporty its “new” 160bhp Golf TSI is.
After all, the car answers to the exact same brief of its five generations of predecessors – and that’s to do everything well.
It’s a tall order to replace what’s probably the best Golf 1.4 in a long time, but this “sixth-generation” model seems to have done just that.
It’s only a little bit newer and better, but that’s more than enough to be one of the most significant debutantes of this year.
2009 Volkswagen Golf 1.4 (A)
Type Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged and supercharged
Bore x stroke 76.5mm x 75.6mm
Compression ratio 10:1
Max power 160bhp at 5800rpm
Max torque 240Nm at 2000rpm
Power to weight 124.4bhp per tonne
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
Driven wheels Front
0-100km/h 8 seconds
Top speed 220km/h
Consumption 16.7km/L (combined)
Front MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Front / Rear Ventilated discs / Discs
Type Bridgestone Turanza ER300
Size 205/65 R16
Traction aids ABS, ESP
Kerb weight 1286kg
Turning circle 10.9m
Price incl. COE $87,800
Warranty 3 years/100,000km
+ Better quality than the Golf V, the DSG’s efficiency, uncannily effortless
– Not quite all-new as claimed, not as Sport(y) as claimed, DSG lurches at low speed