Volkswagen Golf review 2013
It arrives here in Mk7 form, a new Golf generation on a platform that carries great responsibility for the Volkswagen Group at one of the most challenging times in the industry’s history.
The immediate forecast for the European economy is gloomy, and while weight and emissions must come down, customer expectations of perceived quality will not be allowed to fall with them.
Developing cars is as difficult and expensive as it has ever been, and few car makers are able to dedicate the same resources to it that VW can. The latest Golf, therefore, doesn’t arrive like a desperate lunge from the punch-drunk; it is instead the dominator reinforcing its position of power.
Thus far our first drives and group tests have suggested as much but, here for the first time in right-hand-drive form and full UK spec, how will it fare in the toughest test in the business?
In middling diesel-powered form, the Mk7 Golf is no more a car for petrolheads than the Mk6 or Mk5 were. For a start, it’s not particularly fast. Directly comparable versions of the Volvo V40, Mercedes-Benz A-class, Honda Civic and Audi A3 have all undergone our road test treatment over the past year or so.
While damp conditions on our figuring day with the VW didn’t flatter, the Golf was slowest of the lot, taking four tenths of a second longer over a standing quarter mile than the intimately related Audi did.
Longer gearing explains that difference, and emphatically sums up the priorities that the Golf has been configured to serve. In third gear, the Golf goes more than 4mph faster than the Audi for every 1000rpm on the tacho; in top, the difference is 7.4mph per 1000rpm. The VW, then, is a long-legged cruiser of a family hatch devoted to unobtrusive ease of use.
The engine’s 236lb ft is delivered quietly and undramatically. The Golf pulls smoothly from well under 1500rpm and remains restrained and usable beyond 4500rpm. Throttle response is first rate, particularly when Sport mode is selected from the new driver profile menu that gently reprograms the throttle map and steering responses, and the light gearchange is precise and mechanical.
The entry-level diesel, the 1.6 TDI, isn't exactly fiery, either, although 0-62mph in 10.7sec is okay when you take into account its 104bhp. It runs out of breath a bit in higher gears on the motorway or when you need a bit more shove to overtake, and the gear ratios are widely spaced, especially between third and fifth, with fourth not quite enough of an in-between. There's also a clever 1.4 petrol with cylinder deactivation (badged ACT), which is quiet, refined and not all peaky although there was a slight hesistation when pulling away. It's possible this was the cylinder deactivation.
More impressive, though, is the overall mechanical refinement from all the variants we've tried, with not a hint of vibration detectable through the controls.
The car’s quietness is all the more convincing because, at a cruise, the 2.0-litre diesel is spinning more slowly than it might be. It amounts to the overriding impression of a singularly obliging and effortless car to rub along with: qualities that, as any automotive engineer will tell you, are the hardest to produce for the mass market. And qualities possessed by all the Mk7 Golfs we've driven so far.