blooded Mk 5 Golf
is... a class act!
FORGET MAN LANDING ON THE MOON. Something far more earth-shattering took place in 1974 that affected the lives of millions. Volkswagen launched the Golf.
Fast forward thirty years and the evergreen and amazingly egalitarian Golf, now in its fifth generation, is alive and well. But is the new car the premium hatchback most drivers aspire to?
First impressions count, and the new Golf certainly does make an impression with its smoothly harmonised wedge-shaped styling emphasised by the muscle line just above the door handles along the top of the Golf's shapely flanks, becoming most pronounced as
it reaches the trademark Golf extra-wide C-pillar. Before you jump inside it's worth walking around the larger and more accommodating body and casting your eye over the neat styling touches that mark
out the new car.
As usual Volkswagen has provided the new Mk 5 Golf with a range of engines that will ensure there's a powerplant to suit most drivers, whoever they are. And with UK sales of diesel-powered Golfs now running at more than 50 per cent, it is likely to be the TDIs that will prove to be the most popular models.
Underscored by slim over-rider strips at each corner of the front bumper, bold headlamp units with smart twin circular lights and neatly integrated indicator and side lights define the purposeful nose. Their shape is subtly echoed at the rear by the dominant tail lamp units, prominent bumper and small roof spoiler. You'll admire the optimum panel fit and the elegant indicator light repeater strip seamlessly incorporated into the door mirrors. There is, of course, also a safety benefit here because the driver can see them working without being distracted from what's happening up ahead. Another clever design touch is the large, circular 'VW' logo badge that doubles as a tailgate handle. And Volkswagen has even taken the trouble to damp the open/close action, too.
But it's inside the slick new Golf that you really begin to appreciate the benefits of the wider track and longer wheelbase. The first thing you're aware of is the space. Above your head, around your feet, knees and shoulders. Even when you know that this Golf is wider, longer and taller than all its predecessors, the extra room is still surprising.
One of the most spacious in its class, the cabin will accommodate four six-footers in comfort. The interior continues Volkswagen's reputation for quality and style, with good quality soft-touch plastics and fabrics that would be very much at home in a 5 Series BMW. The doors shut with a solid, expensive thunk that spells 'quality' and there's a palpable freshness to the layout that's truly inviting. The driving position is exemplary. The switchgear, upmarket chrome-rimmed instrumentation with crisp typefaces, and controls are all laid out with irrefutable logic and work with a satisfying precision.
Nice details abound, such as the delayed lighting switch that keeps the lights on for a short time after you exit the car at night, rain sensing wipers, auto-on lights, an ingenious bottle opener which fits cleverly into the small gap between the cupholders, and the ultra-neat 6-disc CD autochanger integrated into the central front armrest. At night the dashboard glows a soothing blue with amber highlights. And there's a drop down sunglasses holder above the self-dimming rear view mirror. Like a future love traditionally glimpsed across a crowded room, you are just as sure from the moment that you climb aboard that this is a car you can live with.
Both front seats are well-bolstered, supportive and comfortably upholstered in smart velour material, have adjustable lumbar support with easy and extensive height adjustment. Our test car was fitted with optional five-stage seat heaters that work superbly. The driver gets generous height and reach adjustment of the comfortable-to-hold, four-spoke steering wheel, along with a well-
sited left footrest.
But it's the rear passengers who benefit most, with excellent access through the big, wide-opening rear doors to comfortable and supportive seats that will happily accommodate either two six-foot adults or
three children. They also benefit from large independent reading lights enhanced by chrome surrounds. Of equal importance to passengers
is their luggage the Golf's easily-accessed, intrusion-free boot takes a generous 350 litres of baggage. There's a large load-through ski-hatch and the rear backrest splits and folds, extending luggage capacity to 1,305 litres. A number of cubbies, all lined to prevent rattles, take care of oddments in the cabin, while the rigid front door pockets are usefully sculpted to take a 1-litre bottle.
In SE trim standard equipment includes heat insulating tinted glass, Climatic semi-auto air-conditioning, front electric windows (both one-shot up/down), 10-speaker CD/Radio, auto-dimming interior mirror, automatic headlights and wipers, electrically-heated and adjustable doors mirrors with integrated indicators, speed-sensitive power steering, remote central locking, cruise control and smart 9-spoke
15-inch 'Misano' alloy wheels. Optional equipment is extensive and includes a full leather interior, rear parking sensor, SatNav with a
6.5-inch colour screen, hands-free phone set-up, electric glass sunroof, automatic dual-zone climate control, Xenon lights and sports suspension.
The Golf's new clothes are wrapped around a completely new platform and the stiffest bodyshell in its class one that's 80 per cent stiffer than that of its predecessor. Not only has it improved refinement, ironing out lumps and bumps, but it also makes the car as safe a place to be in an uncertain world. Volkswagen also fit traction control and an electronic stabilisation programme as standard. The more safety aids the better keeping you and your Golf out of harm's way.
Front and rear passengers are protected by a curtain airbag system, while the driver and front passenger both get front and side airbags along with active head restraints to minimise whiplash injuries. In the back there are three head restraints and three 3-point seat belts. And the additional headroom is, in itself, a valuable safety feature.
So it's doubly reassuring to know that the new Golf is the safest car that has ever been tested by Euro NCAP no other passenger vehicle has so far achieved such a good overall result for the requirements in crash safety, child protection and pedestrian protection. In the latest NCAP (June 2004) crash tests, the new Golf received the maximum five stars for occupant protection in frontal and side impact tests.
And it was also the only vehicle to receive the maximum four stars for child protection as well as three stars for the protection of pedestrians. The maximum marks in child protection were awarded thanks to the child seat's Isofix anchorage points in conjunction with a supplementary upper belt (top tether). In the case of an accident with pedestrians, the flexible deformation zones at the front end of the vehicle combined with an additional cross member in the bumper of the new Golf considerably reduce the risk of injury.
The sophisticated all-new four-link rear suspension gives it a composed, well-balanced poise allied to a supple ride quality. Out on the road any road the new Golf delivers an impressive ride
with outstanding high-speed stability. In fact, whatever you do to the sure-footed new Golf it won't let you down. Its default state is to always err on the side of caution.
But don't think you can't have any fun. You most certainly can. This latest Golf is dynamically well-sorted with sharp handling, minimal roll in tight corners and good turn-in with absolutely no trace of nose-heaviness from the diesel powerplant. Better still, it's eager to perform, and the accurate speed-sensitive electro-mechanical power steering (which also helps to boost fuel economy) weights up nicely hand-in-hand with the road speed, keeping you on good terms with the road surface below. The strong brakes ABS discs all round, ventilated at the front, with Hydraulic Brake Assist are as discreetly competent as the chassis. With good feel and progressive stopping ability, they are more than up to the job.
It might have 'just' 105bhp, but the 1.9 TDI's real strength is the
184lb ft of torque it generates from 1,900rpm. Top speed is 116mph and a zero to sixty sprint done in 11.3 seconds. Of more relevance
in the real world is 70mph at a laid-back 2,300rpm in fifth. Even at 90mph (3,000rpm in top) it will still respond eagerly to the throttle without a downchange.
However, of paramount interest to TDI buyers will be the Golf's 61.4mpg extra-urban fuel consumption. And with a 12.1 gallon tank that's a very acceptable touring range of 700 miles. The urban figure
of 42.2 is unlikely to compromise many budgets, while the combined figure of 53.3mpg more than reasonable for a spacious family hatch should be easily achievable for most drivers. While in our hands for
a week, we never saw a figure lower than 48.7mpg on the trip computer.
Refinement is good. It's very easy to believe yourself in at least the next class up when travelling by Golf, with road noise and harshness all but barely discernible. Likewise, wind noise is all but non-existent
at normal ' motorway speeds, keeping up with the traffic. And yes, you can hear the TDI unit if you press-on hard through the gears, but at usual A-road speeds it's no more intrusive than a similar capacity petrol engine. So it's not a problem.
In numerology the number five represents prosperity and health. Man also has five senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. So it looks like all the omens are right for the new fifth generation Volkswagen Golf, a car in which to indulge all five of your senses. If you think that's a load of hokum and would prefer a more pragmatic reason for buying a new Golf then here it is: The new Golf is exceptionally good.
Volkswagen Golf SE 1.9 TDI 5-door | £16,180
Maximum speed: 116mph | 0-60mph: 11.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 48.7mpg | Power: 105bhp | Torque: 184lb ft