The new Volkswagen Golf has evolved from the previous-generation model with various improvements; this 1.6-litre diesel version currently offers the best fuel economy and lowest emissions.
No matter what your personal views are about the Volkswagen Golf, you can’t argue with the fact that lots of people have bought the car over the years, so they presumably like it, and this has done wonders for the profits and growth of Volkswagen. The seventh iteration of the Golf is now here, and after six previous generations, you could pretty much predict what the latest version would be like: very similar to the outgoing model, but with a number of evolutionary changes.
If you’re looking for a car to shock people with its radical new design, then the Golf probably won’t be top of your shopping list. Most people won’t be able to notice that this is a new Golf at all. However some people who have noticed have actually commented that they prefer the exterior styling of the previous model. In the process of refining all elements of the latest model, including the exterior styling, any interesting design details seem to have been erased out. This is especially true of our test car, which was in entry-level S trim, so no glamorous alloys – just small 15-inch steel wheels and high profile tyres.
The interior shares the same ‘simplistic’ design approach as the exterior. Whilst the entire car industry is moving to the maximum number of soft-touch interior surfaces, the Golf has lots of hard, shiny black surfaces that seem to attract finger marks.
The Volkswagen Group obviously has to have a carefully-orchestrated hierarchy of interior quality, ranging from SEAT and Skoda to Volkswagen and finally to Audi – the brand that enjoys the privilege of the best interior design and quality in the Group.
Although the Golf’s interior is simple and functional, it still has a 5.8-inch multimedia display even in S trim. It also comes with an electronic handbrake; call us old-fashioned, but this is something that we’re still not fans of – you’re never quite sure if it’s on or off.
But it’s under the skin where there’s the big news – this Golf has the Volkswagen Group’s new ‘MQB’ platform. As well as reducing weight, the concept provides a base for other models from the Volkswagen Group brands – such as the new Audi A3 – to share components and manufacturing commonalities, so saving costs.
Even before driving this latest version of the Golf, you can expect that it is a refined and competent car – it’s unlikely that the Volkswagen engineers have created a new car that has gone backwards. However, an important note: this 1.6-litre diesel Golf – along with the 1.2-litre petrol models – comes with a less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension set-up than the other models, which get multi-link rear suspension. That means that the driving experience of this model, and the ride in particular, is not as good as most of the other cars in the Golf range.
Added to this is the fact that there is a fair amount of vibration, as well as noise, from this engine at low speed. It’s also not a particularly powerful or fast car.
However the driving experience of this model is still safe, solid and predictable. It’s fine that it’s not exciting, but just a bit more fluidity and agility would be nice.
This 1.6-litre BlueMotion Technology model has some energy-saving tech, but its not the ‘full-fat’ BlueMotion model – which is yet to come. A key factor in its low official emissions is its Stop/Start function, which seemed to work well. Perhaps surprisingly for an ‘eco-model’, it has just a 5 rather than a 6-speed gearbox.
The official NEDC combined fuel economy of this Golf 1.6-litre TDI 105 PS is 74.3 mpg. We averaged 55.3mpg during the course of our test, with 60mpg on motorway runs, which is impressive for such a solid-feeling car. So it should have low running costs and of course the official omissions of 99g/km CO2 mean that it has a company car BIK tax rate of just 13%. At the moment it’s exempt from the London Congestion Charge – although probably not for much longer.
Our test car in S trim didn’t offer much in the way of joyous equipment levels. There were no steering-wheel mounted controls – it seems unusual to get in any new car these days that doesn’t have at least a stereo volume control on the steering wheel. However it did have a DAB radio, Bluetooth and air conditioning. Our test car also had the option of metallic paint (£495), and convenience pack – automatic dimming interior rear-view mirror, automatic headlights with coming/leaving home lighting function, front footwell illumination and rain sensor (£95) – bringing the total cost of the car to £20,155.
Instead of our somewhat miserly S trim, we’d recommend the mid-level SE spec, which has better interior trim, alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control and automatic lights and wipers. Even better is the range-topping GT trim, with sportier styling and sat nav.
The 1.6-litre TDI 105 PS may be the lowest emission Golf for company car drivers, until the super-high fuel economy BlueMotion model arrives, but the 2.0-litre diesel – with more performance and better suspension – isn’t too far behind in the economy stakes.
But an even more interesting choice is the petrol Golf GT 1.4 TSI ACT DSG. This achieves 60.1mpg, and although it costs £24,375, this is going to be a much better car for balancing economy with the needs of buyers with a passion for cars and driving. The 138 bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine has Active Cylinder Technology (ACT). In other words the engine can drop from 4 to 2 cylinders between 1,000 and 4,000 rpm to save fuel. This is a very neat solution providing 4-cylinder power when you need it and decent fuel consumption when you don’t, without resorting to complicated systems.
To further maximise the efficiency gains provided by the ACT engine, you need to tick the option box for the 7-speed dry clutch DSG gearbox. It weighs 18 kg more than the manual but the instant shifts and extra ratio give it the edge. All of this tech provides 185 lb. ft. of torque between 1,500 and 3,500 rpm but maximum power arrives at a rather strangled 4,500 rpm.
The beauty of the ACT system is that it is a relatively low cost solution but if you compare the price of this model to full hybrids the numbers don’t stack up brilliantly.
The new Golf, especially in the 1.6-litre diesel S trim as tested, is ideal for people who want a sensible, economical car with low running costs – this obviously includes company car drivers. It does everything you want it to do, and doesn’t do anything badly from a rational scientific point of view. However, this model at least, doesn’t do anything exciting, and with its less sophisticated rear suspension set-up, it wouldn’t be our top choice in the new Golf range. For us, this model needs more fluidity in the driving experience. This is probably delivered by the GT 1.4 TSI ACT DSG model, along with good economy – but at a price. In the meantime the Golf in 1.6-litre diesel S trim gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 8 out of 10.