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Volkswagen Golf VI Trendline, Comfortline and Highline
What we liked
>> Base engine/DSG combination
>> Refinement and cabin ambience
Not so much
>> You don't know it's the new Golf
>> Most of the 'features' of new model are optional
>> Heathrow Airport baggage services
Overall rating: 3.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 2.5/5.0 (see text)
Behind the wheel: 4.0/5.0
About our ratings
It's clichéd but it applies -- evolution not revolution. In building the "all-new" Golf VI, Volkswagen has reverse engineered the Golf V to make it... Well... The best Golf V ever built.
The new Golf VI has been built to address criticism in some circles of the outgoing model -- that it was a step backwards in terms of perceived quality and reliability of the first four generations of Golf. But VW has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. It has redesigned the car from scratch -- not so much in terms of how it looks, but how it is put together and finished.
There are styling changes but they are clearly evolutionary. Indeed, the big changes have been saved for the cabin and the factory floor. VW has trimmed a massive ten hours from the 35-hour build time of the Golf V in the changeover to the VI and poured much of the considerable savings into the quality of the materials used. The company has also boosted standard specification to include seven airbags as standard and climate control air.
The range of engines, not strangers to other models within the VW stable, include variants new to Golf.
Launched in Iceland in a three-week long shuffle that involved over 1300 journalists and a million dollar pavilion on the side of a dormant volcano, the new Golf VI hatchback will be rolled out across the world over the next six to eight months with derivatives such as the GTI, Variant (wagon) and Golf Plus to follow.
Australia is early in the roll out and will beat the USA, China and other key markets to the punch. Indeed, VW head office sources say the five-door mainstream hatchback versions will arrive Down Under in the second quarter of 2009.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
Until closer to the Golf VI's local launch we can't tell you much about pricing -- save for the fact VW Australia is fighting hard to maintain the current pricing and model line-up.
VW normally locks in market-by-market pricing early in the piece. That the numbers are still being crunched could indicate head office is looking for more dollars from Australian buyers.
At base level, in its home market, the Golf has been increased by Euros200 -- less than $A400. VW says this is a price reduction in real terms, given specification has been boosted.
We still expect the entry level Golf to arrive at under $26,000. Whether VW Oz can match the current 1.6-litre Golf Edition's $25,490 ($27,790 auto) pricing with the new turbo 1.4-litre TSI six-speed manual/seven-speed DSG combo (SEE MECHANICAL below) remains to be seen.
The new generation will also see a slight rejig of the model grades -- with Sportline and GT variants going by the wayside. Volkswagen says the global standard for the three trim and equipment grades will be Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. We'll have to wait and see whether VW Oz follows suit.
VW terms the Trendline "more than just a base car". Standard features include trip computer, 'Titanium' dash and door spears, 'Roxy' fabric seats (the rear a splitfold), body-colour door handles and a semi-auto 'Climatic' aircon systems. Other standards such as power windows, mirrors (heated) and doors are joined by antilock brakes, stability control and seven airbags including side curtains and a driver's kneebag for the first time.
The international Comfortline spec steps the wheels up from 15-inch on the Trendline to 16s (still steel) and includes trim upgrades inside and out. 'Comfort' seats are standard, as is front and rear park assist and an upgraded audio system. Leather steering wheel and gear and handbrake gaiters are included and so are floor mats. Scout/Merlin fabric covers the seats, with the rear now including a skiport and centre armrest.
The top of the range (non-GTI) Golf is the Highline, which replaces the GT Sport. Again spec is boosted with 'Porto' 17-inch alloys standard. Fog and dynamic cornering lamps are fitted. Alcantara/Dropmag-covered 'Sport' seats with lumbar adjustment are included, as are a swag of other items including different grille and taillights outside, and drivers' armrest, more chrome and a skiport inside. The Highline also gets park sensors and full climate control air.
As all of the cars displayed and driven in Iceland were hand-built, highly-specced models with lashings of leather and options, it is difficult for us to comment on the relative merits across the trim grades.
Indeed, much of the 'to do' for Golf VI centres around added equipment like adaptive cruise control (Automatic Distance Control -- ACC), the new DCC (Adaptive Chassis Control), Park Assist (from the Tiguan) and the clever reversing camera that is concealed under the recently redesigned VW logo on the tailgate. All of these features will be almost certainly be options when the car arrives Down Under.
The new Golf will follow the Tiguan's lead with a full range of 'blown' engines. Factory personnel have confirmed that the conventional 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine is dead and buried -- along with it, the conventional auto gearbox. Even the base engine of the Golf range will be turbocharged by the time the car arrives Down Under.
While the new Golf VI range currently includes a 75kW 1.6-litre naturally aspirated fuel-injected engine in its launch line-up, this will be replaced by a 77kW turbocharged 1.2-litre four cylinder powerplant before the car arrives Down Under. The only other 'atmo' Golf, the 1.4-litre 59kW base variant is considered a loss-leading Euro model only.
Until the new GTI is unveiled, the top performing petrol Golf powerplant will be a version of the Twincharger 1.4-litre TSI. With 118kW and 240Nm from 1500-4500rpm, the turbo and supercharged engine has already been seen locally in its 125kW/240Nm Golf GT guise.
Matched to the new seven-speed DSG, VW is claiming the new 118 TSI returns a Euro combined cycle economy of just 6.0L/100km. Zero to 100km/h is a respectable 8.0sec.
It is unlikely the 1.2-litre will make its way to Australia -- at least initially. Instead the Golf will be pushed upmarket and a new turbo-only version of the 1.4-litre TSI powerplant will be the 'bread and butter' engine of the Golf range in Australia.
New for Golf VI, the turbo 1.4 is rated at 90kW and produces 200Nm across a relatively wide torque band (1500-4000rpm). Matched to the new DSG, this engine is rated at 6.0L/100km also. With a six-speed manual gearbox it's actually 0.2L/100km thirstier, say VW's boffins.
Punching above its 'weight' the DSG-equipped 1.4-litre turbo (not Twincharger!) accelerates the Golf VI from zero to 100km/h in 9.5sec -- no rocketship but a reasonable number just the same. By way of comparison, the current 110kW/200Nm auto 2.0 FSI Golf takes the same time. It returns an ADR combined fuel number of 8.6L/100km, however.
The TSI engines that underpin the new Golf VI range Down Under have been designed from scratch to be mated to the company's new seven-speed DSG gearbox. DSG will be the only 'auto' offered in the Golf range going forward.
The seven-speed DSG is the Volkswagen Audi Group's lastest generation gearbox and is noticeably smoother than the original six-speeder. Alas its application is limited to petrol engines of up to 1.8-litre (approx) in capacity.
VW says its prices for the optional DSG will match those of rivals' conventional autos. For this to take place, the company will need to trim the current option price for the gearbox. The standard Golf transmission is a carry-over six-speed manual.
On the diesel side of the fence, the choice of 1.9 and 2.0-litre diesels currently offered in the Golf will not continue. The 1.9 exits the range, and the 2.0-litre, is now the Volkswagen Audi Group's new common rail engine -- as fitted to the Tiguan -- in 103kW guise (a 125kW will follow eventually). It will be matched to both six-speed DSG and conventional gearboxes.
A new common rail 1.6-litre turbodiesel is due to hit Europe in the second quarter of 2009. With 77kW, the new generation diesel will deliver a cost-effective replacement for the 1.9 entry-level Golf diesel it already matches in output.
Aside from the muscular and efficient new TSI engines, arguably the most important mechanical change inside the new Golf VI is the use of adaptive dampers. VW calls the system Adaptive Chassis Control but label it, confusingly, DCC. The system incorporates alternate steering maps for the Golf's new electromechanical steering but most of the trickery is in the electronically-controlled dampers.
DCC-equipped Golf models ride 10mm lower than the conventional cars and feature a Monroe-sourced damper system that uses an Ohlins-supplied magnetic valve block to automatically control pitch and roll when cornering, accelerating and braking. To do so the system interrogates a range of sensors across the car including steering, engine, DSG transmission, braking and other systems, including stability control et al.
Three settings are offered -- Normal, the default setting; Comfort and Sport -- and changed via a simple console mounted switch. The last setting used is 'saved' and automatically reactivated at start.
In Sport mode, the Golf's steering is also firmed up.
The iconic GTI performance variant of the Golf due to be displayed at next month's Paris Show will offer a unique Sport DCC system.
The Golf VI is built on the same floorpan as the older car, yet the way it has been put together is substantially different. It shares the same windscreen rake and A-pillar configuration (the screen itself is a new acoustically laminated design) and the roof panel is carried over unchanged from the old car, but virtually every other part of the car has been updated.
The new VI's wheelbase is identical (2578mm) to Golf V and the track front and rear (1540/1513mm) are varied only by wheel-style offsets. At 4199mm the new car is just a few millimetres shorter. The new bodywork has trimmed the front overhang and increased the rear, VW's design reps say.
The suspension, though now equipped with adaptive dampers, is essentially carried over as are the base floorpan structure, axles, wiring looms, four-wheel disc brake system and fuel tank assembly.
The styling of the car is evolutionary. VW's team has added some 'drama' to the car's flanks, and a Sirocco like shoulder line to the car. While the new VW coupe was debuted at Geneva show earlier this year, it's the Golf that was finished first and set the theme.
Volkswagen's design team has reduced the 'wedge' of the new car, in the process lowering the rear beltline to give rear passengers (especially children) better sight lines. Though the more horizontal orientation of the car makes it look lower, it is essentially the same height as the Golf V.
At the front end, new pedestrian safety standards have been met without giving the car the exaggerated front overhang or bluff high-bonneted look of some hatches.
The new car introduces the new mass market 'face' of Volkswagen. Key elements are more horizontal than the previous generation. In the mainstream models chrome is used sparingly to define the front elements. The grille features piano black polished bars, thought to be a first for external brightwork on a production vehicle.
The Golf VI will be available as a five-door hatch only Down Under. Only GTI buyers will have the choice of a three-door. Luggage and passenger space is essentially unaltered from the Golf V, though we got the impression the rear seat cushion's length has been trimmed a touch. There's plenty of space for four adults.
The front seats are new but the basics such as H-point appear unaltered. It's easy to get your driving position just so, once you realise the reach and tilt adjustment of the wheel has moved.
Much of the development focus of the new car has been spent on refining the tactile aspects of the interior and also reducing noise vibration and harshness.
There was been a significant upgrade in perceived quality of the interior and overall the Golf VI presents as a car from a class above the traditional C-segment hatch. In our view it looks at least on a par with Audi's new benchmark A4.
VW says the new Golf cabin incorporated lessons learned in VW's Phaeton flagship limo. In the two-tone leather lined cabins of some of the launch cars it was easy to forget you were in a traditional Small Car segment hatch.
The new Golf's interior door skins feature soft-touch scalloped panels and 'attention to detail' standouts include the flock-style lining of the door pockets, glovebox lid and other nooks and crannies.
A new dash greets the driver with deeply recessed instruments and a new more sculptured multi-function steering wheel 'borrowed' from the upcoming Passat CC. Meantime, the new centre console is less 'formal' than the Golf V's and features VW's latest generation satnav/audio integration.
Even at Trendline level there's a smattering of brightwork on the dash -- such as the chrome ringed instruments and face-level centre vents. Power window controls have been moved forward on the doors to a more natural position. The newly designed external mirrors include turn telltales visible to the driver like the Golf's A4 cousin.
Under the skin much effort has been expended on making the car quieter. VW claims a 5dBA reduction in sound level in the new car and we'd believe it.
Measures include thicker side glass, an acoustic windscreen (as used by Peugeot and Renault in their Golf-sized cars) and the use of new lightweight sound attenuation materials that surround the main cabin. The latter material essentially replaces the traditional heavy bitumenised sheets. VW's acoustic experts say the sort of materials developed for the Golf VI have helped shape a new 'philosophy' for addressing acoustic issues in vehicles.
As much attention or more has been expended on controlling the mechanical components of NVH at their sources. The front guards feature foam inserts that trap rather than channel tyre and road noise -- another Phaeton feature.
Under the heavily insulated bonnet, the new TSI engines get sound reducing covers and new acoustically optimised sumps. New engine mounts isolate the vibes and even the aerodynamic undertray features sound-attenuating profiles -- think of the wall of a recording studio.
Golf V had a reputation as one of the safest hatches on the market with strong crash test performance and good active safety. Standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and side curtain airbags contribute to the real world safety of the car.
The VI builds on this, adding a pedestrian-friendly front structure, a driver's knee bag for the first time and the option of rear side airbags -- taking to potential total bag count to nine. Seven are standard.
The new Golf is also fitted with the latest crash sensor systems to manage airbag deployment. VW claims the prize-wining system 'hears' and 'feels' a collision more quickly and can optimise airbag deployment as well as seatbelt tensioners, et al.
Also fitted to the front seats are anti-whiplash active headrests. A rear-seat seatbelt reminder system is fitted, but only when the rear side airbags are specified. This could be a boon for parents.
Expect top marks from Euro NCAP, even though the requirements for a five-star rating have been toughened up.
Given the Golf essentially defines its class, everybody is gunning for it. Inexorably edging up in price, the hatch remains VW's mainstay nonetheless.
Corolla, Focus, Mazda3, Hyundai i30, Renault Megane (look for a new one around the corner) and the (even less mainstream) Fiat Ritmo are among those likely to be shopped against the Golf. However, as the quality of the Golf improves, concurrent with buyers downsizing, the latest Golf could even start to steal sales from the likes of BMW's 3 Series and its classmates.
The latest Golf's quality delivery and the wider range of 'luxury' equipment now available is also set to make the lives of A3 and 1 Series salespersons a misery.
ON THE ROAD
VW insiders keep using the word 'cocooning' when they talk about the Golf VI's cabin. And it is a great place to spend time -- especially in the cold, blustery and oh so wet conditions we struck in Iceland.
For once the hype is right -- there is a palpable difference in quality in the new Golf. We'd go so far as to say that no other car in this size class presents as well as the VI. Suggestions of Phaeton-like levels of materials and finish that would normally be laughed off are at the very least entertainable. We know -- it seems like the world's population of unsold Phaetons was in Reykjavik to shuttle the media to and from the Icelandic capital's Ikea-escapee airport.
The car is very quiet -- isolating both mechanical and dynamic noise sources. My drive partner had to check twice to see if the 90kW turbo 1.4 TSI was actually running before we departed on the first drive program. Later, on the open road at speeds well above Iceland's 90km/h limit, the hush was still there.
Some of our number complained about tyre noise on the very coarse chip roads to one launch location, but we did not experience the same. Like many aspects of this test drive we'll have to reserve judgement until we sample Australian specification cars on the right rubber, on our own roads.
We drove just two of the three Golf VI variants on hand -- the new turbo 1.4 TSI petrol and the common-rail 2.0 TDI. Both were optioned up to the hilt with leather, DSG gearboxes and DCC adaptive dampers. No manual, non-DCC cars were available at the launch.
The 2.0 TDI is more 'undiesel'-like than ever. The engine revs like a petrol four and at times even sounds like one. That this is a significantly more refined engine than the old pumpe duse was obvious when we drove it in the Tiguan, but the latest installation has taken it to another level.
Matched to six-speed DSG, the diesel performs dual duties. Around town it's a torquey auto and a relaxed performer. In the twisties -- and Iceland has some doozies -- you can exercise the engine a little more, pick your own gears and enjoy the balanced and benign chassis set up of the new car.
Our drives were on wet unfamiliar roads so it was impossible to draw final conclusions on the car's abilities. But good natural balance and fine levels of traction were obvious. Steering is evenly weighted but the feel rather artificial. Again we'll reserve judgement until we can push the car harder on some dry grippy stuff.
We can vouch for the refined stability and traction control programs. The latter allows just enough slip to keep the car on boost and driving out of corners or away from a standing start during a quick left-hand turn. Whereas the old system would simple kill progress, this is a subtler intervention. The polish of these systems reflect the overall refinement of the car.
While we didn't get a chance to sample the 118kW Twincharged 1.4, previous experience with the 125kW Golf V GT suggests the engine will more than satisfy most buyers.
We were especially impressed, however, with the 90kW turbo. If this new engine is a taste of the new world, then bring it on. The baby Golf is no rocketship from a standing start, but nor does it ever feel breathless.
On the open road, there's sufficient overtaking ability and the car will not be left behind in the cut and thrust of city traffic. There's even a touch of the GTI 'boof' when you change the DSG manually. Great stuff.
If anything the 1.4 feels a touch more nimble that the TDI. A function of the reduced engine mass, perhaps.
No manual gearbox cars were available at the launch. There's no doubt the DSG helps keep the 90kW 1.4 on the boil but don't get the impression this is an engine that must be rowed along. There's ample torque to make good progress even at relatively low revs.
This is a sprightly, willing engine that's smooth and a substantial improvement overall on the 2.0-litre atmo injected engine it will replace. And it's hard to argue with an engine that has the potential to happily cruise a generously sized hatch at 160km/h and yet returns better than 8.5L/100km after a spirited 150km drive.
By way of comparison, the 2.0 TDI diesel Golf VI registered around 6.6L/100km in the same conditions. Both stats are deeply impressive, given the sporty feel of both powerplants.
The only cloud on the turbo TSI engine's horizon is the arbitrary (and stupid!) grouping of turbo engines by some registration and insurance authorities Down Under. If you are a P-plater or have kids coming through that will drive the car best check with your local authorities.
VW's DCC system seems to work well on both the TSI and TDI cars we drove, offering appreciable levels of difference across the spectrum of Comfort to Sport.
Unlike many adaptive drive systems, selecting Comfort doesn't leave you with a car that feels all at sea. In Normal the car copes with pretty much anything you throw at it.
On the Sport settings the frost ripples and overbanding that were 'invisible' on Comfort were easily felt through the wheel and seat of the pants both. In the end, we were happy to leave the cars in the 'softer' Comfort setting and enjoy the cosseting ride.
DCC is already fitted on the Sirocco and Passat CC in Europe and will find its way onto the Tiguan. At around Euro700-800, however, it's not a cheap option and is most likely to be offered on the GTI only Down Under. This makes sense as DCC can be tuned to deliver track level damping when required and a forgiving ride round town. This will suit many GTI buyers.
We came away from the Golf VI drive with a desire to spend more time in the car -- and more time in Iceland. There's every reason to believe the strong first impressions there will translate an even better report card when the range arrives Down Under.
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