Tee shot in the bunker
Golf owners got away to a good start. Then came gearbox woes
Volkswagen launched a large range of Golf variants here, with a car for everyone, from basic transport to sizzling sportsters such as the GTi and R models. We’ll focus on the most popular versions, the regular hatchbacks.
The sixth-generation Golf arrived in 2009 as more of an update than a new model. The previous generation was expensive to build, the maker said, so producing Mk VI aimed to make the Golf more profitable while adding refinement and reliability.
There was much to like about the Mk VI five-door: pleasant styling, a roomy, functional cabin and good road manners.
Buyers flocking to the company’s showrooms chose from three main models, the 90TSI Trendline and the 118TSI Comfortline petrol models, and the 103TDI Comfortline diesel.
The designations identified the respective power outputs of the four-cylinder engines.
In the base 90TSI, the 1.4litre turbo delivered 90kW/200Nm, the 118TSI range-topper with 1.4-litre (118kW/240Nm) was supercharged and turbocharged for flexile performance. The 103TDI with a 2.0-litre turbo diesel (103kW/320Nm) aimed for fuel economy.
Transmission options were a six-speed manual and DSG auto, preferred by most buyers — seven-speeders backed the petrol engines and the diesels got a six-speed version.
Apart from the prestige of owning a Euro brand the Golf ’s main appeal was its on-road dynamics. It handled beautifully, cornered as if on rails and was generally a great driving car.
The test of a car is not how it stacks up in the showroom but in terms of ownership. Golf Mk VI has been less than satisfactory on most counts on that front.
Feedback from owners mainly comprises tales of woe. Dodgy electrics, unreliable electronics and problematic DSGs have tarnished VW’s image for them.
The automatic gearbox ailments have led to failure of the clutch packs and in many cases entire transmissions had to be replaced.
(Buyers of Mk VII Golfs have experienced little trouble, suggesting either VW has fixed the issues plaguing the earlier model or that the later cars haven’t been on the road long enough to develop problems.)
Anyone eyeing a Golf with the DSG should have it checked by a VW specialist to try to identify any problems. It may be prudent to go for a manual.
VW voluntarily recalled cars with the DSG gearbox, so take a potential purchase to a dealer and check whether it had the recall work done.
VW engines are also known to use oil, some more than others. Check with the seller as to the oil consumption.
Owners know it’s wise to check the oil regularly and top it up as needed. It’s better to do that than have the engine run dry and seize.
Virginia T: I bought a 90TSI in 2011. It was going to be my forever car but I sold it three weeks ago and I’m no longer a VW fan. It started acting funny in 2013. The EC and engine lights came on, I had no turbo and it put itself into limp mode. A dealer did a software update but could not guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. It did, twice. I rang VW and was told I would have to pay $160 an hour to do a diagnostic test as it was out of warranty. There was no guarantee the fault would be found. I was concerned about being run over by a large truck while limping along the freeway. It had done 29,000km.
Andreas Mol: For an engineer who migrated from Germany, owning not one but two Golfs was a truly humbling experience. I knew that on average every fourth Golf will spend its life being fixed but I hoped for the best. First major defect: gearbox kaput! Both my Golfs used huge amounts of oil, suffered from dodgy electrics and misguided electronics. I bought the second Golf, a diesel, for fuel economy and envirofriendliness — both claims revealed as blatant lies. Golf does not live up to the myth of a “good, durable, well puttogether German machine”.
Chris Lawrence: I bought my Golf with 13,000km on the clock and I have just had the 60,000km service. It is the best car I’ve ever owned. I’m a boomer and not rusted on brand wise. The diesel and DSG combo is brilliant, unlike those rubber-band CVTs. It sticks to the road and has torque to spare. I’ll buy another for sure.
Michael Cemm: I count myself as a car nut. When seeking an economical diesel with some load space and bit of “difference” back in 2011 for my 100km daily commute, I bought a 2.0-litre TDI Comfortline with six-speed DSG and Sportspack. After four years and 115,000km, I’d put the car high on my “best cars owned” list. It’s comfortable, handles well and is economical. Downsides are it’s expensive to service, the headlights are lousy and the paint seems prone to chipping.
David Cole: For the first six months my 2009 TSI auto was brilliant but the following six years have been a nightmare. It’s had two engines, two clutches and a gearbox, plus other ongoing issues, like the engine pausing occasionally, a ticking noise on acceleration followed by black exhaust. In my view it’s a lemon. Worse still is VW’s attitude, which I believe is shameful and lacking responsibility and empathy.
Driving a European car is appealing but be aware of the troubles affecting the Golf.