A FAIR WAY IN FRONT

The Golf 6 should have what it takes for a course record, writes PAUL GOVER in Ice­land DRIV­ING

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

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.

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