A FAIR WAY IN FRONT
The Golf 6 should have what it takes for a course record, writes PAUL GOVER in Iceland DRIVING
THE world’s largest golf club has a new member, and they’re playing off six. They’re teeing up at a time when Volkswagen is urgently cutting cost and complication from its global best-seller, the Golf, to make it more competitive against best-ball opposition led by everything from the European Ford Focus to Japan’s Toyota Corolla and other forthcoming heroes from all round Asia.
So make no mistake — Golf 6 is in a sudden-death playoff for the masters trophy in the world’s biggest showroom.
Yet the latest remake of the car that created a new class back in 1974 is not radically new or improved. It is still obviously a Golf, from the way it looks to the way it drives. And that is good news at several levels.
Customers will find a car that is no lardier, with more equipment, refinement and safety, but which should be about line-ball on price with the outgoing Golf 5. In Europe, the starter car, with seven airbags and standard airconditioning, is only about $300 more expensive.
‘‘We had two objectives with the car: to make more money and to satisfy customers,’’ VW executive vice-president Detlef Wittig says.
He is frank about Golf 6, from the number of carryover components (roof, suspension and basic body dimensions) to the vast investment in refinement, quality and reliability.
He knows Golf 5 had shortcomings but says everything has been addressed in 6.
The styling is obviously Golf, with a new face that will go across the range. The body is virtually the same size, give or take a few millimetres, but with more usable space and higher quality in everything visual.
There are some significant changes, such as the end of automatics in favour of DSG manu-matics and a turbo-only engine line-up for Australia in petrol and diesel powerplants.
The car is first in class with adaptive damping in the suspension— which probably will be optional Down Under — automatic parking, radar cruise control and a hard-drive infotainment system.
The package can be tailored to countries and customers, but for Australia the Golf 6 will come in three specifications with two turbo petrol engines and a single diesel — at least at first. And, again at first, it will be a five-door hatch only. The approach is obvious. ‘‘It’s our most important model. We are selling more Golfs today than we have in the past,’’ Wittig says.
Crucially, cost has been taken out by simplifying the car’s engineering and construction — a bonus to VW and buyers — with no obvious effect on the strengths of the 6.
You can describe the car as a major facelift, not truly new, but that annoys VW and understates the work on such things as noise supression, quality plastics and a funkier dashboard. Even so, the roof from a 5 will still drop straight on to 6.
The engines will be a surprise to many — the petrol powerplants are only 1.4 litres and rely on turbocharging, or a turbo and supercharger, to deliver 2-litre-style performance from 90kW, or 118kW with impressive economy. The turbodiesel has 103kW and an impressive 320Nm.
Volkswagen is pushing its DSG ‘‘auto’’ boxes but there will still be five and six-speed manuals, depending on engine, in Australia.
The improved efficiency is reflected in economy gains up to 28 per cent and vastly improved emissions.
Regarding safety, even the basic 6 has seven airbags, electronic stability control and anti-skid brakes. An airbag upgrade is available with side rear cushions.
But the basic Golf is much the same in looks, size and weight, and delivers much the same. Key to the improvements is concentration on detail: a cooler box for the battery and the quality of the tiny turbo engines. That’s typical of Volkswagen and its work on the Golf in the past 30 years. AT first I do not believe the engine in the diesel Golf is running. The car is Lexus-style quiet in the carpark.
The positives continue at the first set of lights, when the diesel engine
responds like a petrol motor with a solid slug of acceleration, crisp upshifts and no thumping or rattling.
It is the same later in a 1.4-litre turbo petrol Golf, which has the performance of a much bigger engine and the refinement of a much larger car. And it has a sweet turbo swoosh on upshifts from the seven-speed DSG gearbox.
I can also see and touch the improvements in cabin quality. It is very Audi-like inside the new 6, and the design of the dials is given a more modern delivery. There is plenty of equipment, though we have to wait to see how much will come here and what it will cost.
So Volkswagen has delivered on its promises.
You can criticise the number of carryover components in Golf 6, but Golf 5 was (is, because you will still be able to buy one in Australia for many months) a very good car and, as the saying goes, if something is not broken . . .
The size, too, is unchanged and that is a good decision. It feels a touch roomier in the back seat and there seems to be a little more luggage space, but the Golf is the right size for the class and its customers.
On the go, Golf 6 is right up with the class leaders in refinement and response. I was flattered by VW’s electronic suspension, which gives grip and feedback in Sport as well as a cushy ride on Comfort, but the basics are right and the car has no trouble with surprisingly nasty Icelandic turns and twists.
It is a little noise through the tyres on one coarse surface, but otherwise the noise-suppression package sets a clear class benchmark.
The 6 also stops well, has plenty of overtaking urge — whether under diesel or petrol power— and I have no reason to question VW’s claims of improved economy and emissions.
Actually, the baby 1.4 turbo engine is a petrol boomer — just the sort of thing to tempt Europeans out of their diesels and give Australians a headache at choice time in showrooms. And there will be questions. Mostly I am worried about the starting price Down Under, and what will be in the basic Golf.
Seven airbags and airconditioning are a definite, but what about satnav, infotainment, park assist, active suspension and all the rest in the fully loaded drive cars in Iceland?
And how will the quality be translated once the hand-built, presspreview cars are gone from the fleet?
Still, Golf 6 is a mighty impressive device and — based on the short preview drives in Iceland — will continue the long run by Volkswagen’s hero at the top of the compactclass leader board.
It is impossible to know if it will be handicapped in Australia by pricing, but right now it seems to be heading towards a course record.