IF YOU'VE BEEN keeping an eye on Volkswagen of late you’ll be aware that the mob from Wolfsburg has its sights set on becoming the world's number one car manufacturer.
The perennially popular Golf is perhaps the best indication of just how Volkswagen intends to usurp the likes of Toyota and General Motors.
Taking the successful parts of the previous-generation Golf and injecting a new level of style is just part of the story. Behind the scenes the Golf is now easier and less expensive to build, making the iconic hatch a solid proposition from Volkswagen’s point of view.
How does that translate to the new car buyer?
Pretty well actually; the 2010 Golf comes in a package that delivers generous levels of equipment and handsome looks combined with a bullet-proof name.
From roughly the middle of the Golf range, TMR took the 118 TSI Comfortline DSG and put it through the wringer to find where, if at all, the loose threads lie.
At first glance the sixth generation Golf is, well, unmistakably Golf-like. While sharing only the roof panel with its predecessor, the Golf is unashamedly evolutionary.
The headlights house dual circular elements, as do the tail-lights. There’s a low reaching C-pillar and a glasshouse silhouette that are all familiar, despite being an all new interpretation of familiar themes.
Overall, the body carries little in the way of harsh lines or sharp edges. There’s a taut control to the flow of the lines, and just enough menace to the swell of the wheel arches and the light-catching sill panels.
Most importantly, the Golf wears Volkswagen’s new corporate face. The VW roundel takes pride of place, escaping the low-rise boundaries of the wide grille.
In the lower bumper, a single section air-intake echoes the lines of the grille with minimalist lines and blacked-out detailing.
From behind, the rear bumper now carries additional body colouring to give the Golf a more integrated and modern look. Again the VW logo creates a visual centre-point, and also doubles as the tailgate release.
Simple two-colour tail-lights extend into the tailgate adding visual width, as does the slimline black-out section in the lower bumper which also houses the 118 TSI’s single outlet, twin-tipped exhaust.
If there’s one thing Volkswagen does well, it’s interiors.
Okay, so bright colours and fanciful designs aren’t exactly the order of the day, but there’s certainly something to be said for logical, efficient design.
Everything falls easily and intuitively to hand. The multi-function three-spoke steering wheel in particular, despite looking crowded, features easy-to-use controls for audio and trip-computer functions.
Chrome rings for the gauges and air-vents reinforce a premium perception. If there’s one let-down, it’s the appearance of the standard RCD310 audio control panel. Operationally it’s fine, just a little basic looking.
While black rules as the overwhelming colour scheme, the Scout/Merlin checked cloth trim looks attractive. Seats feel initially firm, but over long distances prove to be comfortable.
Front seats provide a fantastic range of adjustability with the usual (manual) slide and recline joined by height adjustment and lumbar support, available to both driver and front passenger.
Rear seat passengers fare well for headroom and leg space. Only with the front seats right back does rear legroom become tight.
Width-wise, the rear remains comfortable even with three across the rear bench. There’s a little shoulder rubbing involved, but still enough space to move, allowing long trips in relative comfort.
Boot space proves useful in most situations too. Seats up there's 350 litres of cargo capacity at hand; utilising the 60:40 split/fold function brings available capacity up to 1305 litres.
To make that space more user-friendly, there are shopping bag hooks, a 12-volt power outlet, tie-down hooks and a separate storage space in the boot lining.
Equipment and Features
Standard equipment in the 118 TSI equates to a fairly decent list. Additional available equipment rounds out every whim nicely.
Included equipment includes heat insulating glass, 16-inch ‘Cleveland’ alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, remote central locking, auto dimming internal rear view mirror and electrically adjustable, heated door mirrors.
There’s also dual-zone climate control, height adjustment and lumbar support on both front seats, and a rear centre armrest with a load-through port.
The multi-function trip computer monitors average and instant fuel economy, distance to empty, trip time and distance, average and current speed and outside temperature. The same screen in the instrument panel can also be used to display the audio system status.
Standard entertainment comes via an MP3 compatible single CD player with an aux-in input pushed through eight speakers.
Options include adaptive chassis control, front fog lights with cornering function, front and rear park sensors, an alarm system, satellite navigation, leather seat trim and a sunroof.
A sports package is also available which bundles sports suspension, tinted windows, tyre pressure monitoring, fog lights, sports seats and 17 inch alloy wheels together.
The 118 TSI’s talking point is really its engine. As the name implies, there’s a willing 118kW of power available @ 5900 rpm backed up by 240Nm of torque from 1750 to 4500 rpm.
Those figures alone may not blow you away, but consider that they come from an engine of just 1.4 litres in capacity and they start to look a lot more impressive.
The engine is a development of that fitted to the previous Golf GT. Its impressive figures are generated by the tandem use of a supercharger to bolster low rpm response and a turbocharger to keep power strong higher in the rev range.
Delivering that power to the front wheels is a standard six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed DSG automatic (as fitted to our test car).
The twin-clutch DSG box delivers lightning-fast gear changes without any interruption to the engine’s power delivery. In most situations it behaves flawlessly, matching engine revs to the correct gear for the correct situation, time after time.
Stop-start crawls and parking manoeuvres show up its weak point though with some shudder and lurching clutch hesitation.
Front and rear suspension is fully independent, with MacPherson struts up front and a four-link rear axle. Turning "go" into "whoa" are four-wheel disc brakes, vented at the front and coupled to Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD).
On the road the real strength of the powertrain combination is apparent.
I was expecting some kind of hiccup from where the turbo takes over, but none exists. Instead there’s just a strong, torquey push from idle right up to the redline.
The flat torque curve spanning 1750 rpm to 4500 rpm is the key. Need more oomf? A quick prod of the accelerator is all it takes to bring the full 240 Newton metres online.
That figure alone might also not be world beating, especially alongside the Golf’s diesel offerings, but it is more than capable of spiriting along the 1330 kg 118 TSI.
The DSG is as good as you'll find in a small auto. There’s a moment of adjustment required to get used to the power feed in first gear and reverse, but beyond that the box works seamlessly with the engine.
By 60 km/h the DSG will slot itself into sixth gear, keeping revs low and holding fuel usage down. Slot the lever into sports mode and the box is awakened, holding gears higher into the rev range, but still pulling tall ratios once the demand for performance trails off.
With 118kW on tap, the Golf 118 TSI isn’t going to be breathing down the neck of the GTI, but it sure puts in a solid effort when called to perform.
Better still, around town where most Golfs will likely spend their days, performance is perky and just right for keeping up with the traffic-light sprint.
Suspension feels firm initially and can get a little confused over cut-and-shut tarmac. On the open road however, that initial resistance and firm suspension control translates to excellent poise.
Over winding roads, the 118 TSI is quite astonishingly nimble. It turns in like a terrier; and, holding a flat cornering attitude, simply clings through the curves.
The 16-inch wheels wrapped in 205/55 tyres might look like a conservative specification, but there’s plenty of grip on hand with minimal protest.
Whether with just the driver on board or weighed down with passengers, the Golf stays balanced and controlled with just a whiff of understeer pushing through at the limit.
For the most part, ESP stays in the background. Only when you attempt something truly ham-fisted does the electronic safety-net step in. Even then its intrusion is minimal, bringing things back into line without drama.
Steering borders on firm in tight parking situations, but never heavy. At highway speeds though it strikes a reassuring balance between easy control and 'connectedness'.
And while it keeps mid-corner corruptions in the road surface at bay, feedback is communicative enough to give you a good idea of what’s going on beneath the treads.
The four-wheel disc brakes pulled up strong time and time again - even after multiple hard stops brake fade and was non-existent and the pedal remained firm. Initial bite can be a little touchy, but settling into the Golf’s braking style is easy to adapt to.
Despite all this on-road ability ‘on the hunt’, the Golf does its best work at a relaxed clip. The commute to work or weekly supermarket jaunt can be completed with ease and comfort.
Visibility from all angles is good with slim A pillars allowing easy forward vision and large mirrors helping see behind. Even the reasonably-broad C pillar creates a minimal impediment to over-the shoulder vision.
Less enjoyable is the constant tyre rumble and hint of engine noise that seeps into the cabin at all times. A flat and droning tone from the exhaust may not be intrusively loud, but it is constant from 60km/h right up to highway speeds, even with the engine barely turning 2000 rpm in top (seventh) gear.
While official fuel consumption is rated at 6.2 l/100km our testing returned a not unpalatable 6.7 l/100km over a course leaning more to city driving. Hardly a figure to be displeased with and one that could be bettered with more prudent driving.
This probably isn’t surprising to hear, but the Golf 118 TSI is a damn good car. At TMR, we liked it enough to award it runner up in our ‘Best Drive, Best Value’ awards.
While it is good, its one let down is quite simply the value equation. Yes it’s a great drive, yes it appears exceptionally well-built and yes, it offers a generous level of equipment.
However, $30,490 for the six-speed manual plus on-road costs; (add another $2,500 for the DSG) isn’t an insignificant amount to spend on a 'small-car-class' vehicle.
That said, once behind the wheel, the Golf does such a good job of getting things right that the robust sticker price fades just a little.
- Class-leading interior
- Flexible and powerful 1.4 litre engine
- Sharp, confident handling
- Flat engine note
- Excessive tyre noise
- The price tag