Evolution. The process whereby a species improves itself through eliminating its weaknesses and reinforcing its strengths generation-by-generation.
Volkswagen describes the newly-minted Golf VI as being a case of evolution rather than revolution, but has the German automaker truly improved upon the already excellent fifth-gen Golf, or is it nothing more than a fancy facelift?
Volkswagen Australia is supremely confident the former is the case, and to prove it they invited us to the sleepy beachside town of Byron Bay to test out the new MkVI Golf range. Here’s our verdict.
The MkVI is built around the same platform as the outgoing Golf, and shares the exact same suspension arms and geometry – but there the resemblance ends.
Virtually everything else is new, revised or refined. Every body panel bar the roof is entirely new, and boy does the finished product look fresh.
While the well-rounded styling of the MkV was attractive in an innocuous, inoffensive way, the Golf VI goes the other direction – it flaunts its heritage loudly and proudly.
Its lineage is evident in that trademark C-pillar, those distinctive wheelarches and the horizontally-slatted grille. Modern touches include a much sharper character line that starts in the headlamps, bisects the door handles and then terminates in the tail lamp cluster; as well as a lower front bumper aperture that almost appears to stretch from wheelwell to wheelwell.
Frank Brüse is the man responsible for designing the new Golf, and to hear him speak so glowingly about the finer details of the Golf illustrates just how much thought went into the new car’s shape.
Brüse gushed about how the rear window aperture is now larger thanks to a lower shoulder line, and how the exterior changes make the car look lower and wider than its predecessor. He’s a proud man, and the Golf MkVI is his newborn child.
The interior has also come in for a major revamp, and the cabin looks far more refined because of it. The radio, steering wheel and window controls are all located high and at the same level, meaning adjustments to controls can be made on-the-fly without having either hand stray from the wheel for too long.
The new car’s dash also eliminates the high top of the outgoing model’s center stack, and features a neat asymmetrical feature line to help break up that expanse of black plastic. Instrument lighting has been changed from VW’s familiar blue to a more contrasty white, and the dials ‘jump’ out a lot more as a result. An added touch of class comes from the revamped climate control module - which has been pinched straight from the all-new Passat CC.
The standard front seats are well bolstered and do a great job of hugging the body during cornering. The rear bench is a little flat, but certainly not uncomfortable.
Aside from all the aesthetic niceties, the new Golf also heralds a number of significant mechanical changes. The engine range has been completely revised for the 2009 model, and both power and fuel economy have benefited as a result.
The base engine is now a 90kW/200Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged four-pot, which bests the current lower-spec 1.6 litre motor by some 15kW. It drinks just 6.4 litres per 100km when fitted with the standard six-speed manual and 6.2 l/100km when optioned with the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox – 15 and 25 percent less than the current model.
It’s a similar story with the more powerful 118TSI Golf, which also utilises a 1.4 litre inline four – albeit supercharged as well as turbocharged. More boost pressure yields a healthy 118kW and 240Nm, while fuel consumption is a claimed 6.2 l/100km with the manual and 6.5 l/100km with the twin-clutch DSG.
Like the 90TSI, the 118TSI donk delivers substantially more economy and power than its current-day equivalent.
Lastly, there’s the 103TDI. A turbocharged common-rail diesel, the 103TDI’s engine cranks out 103kW and a tyre-chirping 320Nm from its 2.0 litre capacity. The new engine uses 5.3 l/100km when coupled to a six-speed manual, and 5.6 l/100km with a six-cog DSG. Pitch it against the current 2.0 litre VW diesel, and that’s a saving of seven and eight percent respectively.
But never mind all the technical guff, what’s it like to drive? Volkswagen gave us our pick of the three models and a route map that would take us through some of Northern NSW’s finest most varied roads. I hopped in a base model 90TSI with DSG, reset the odometer and let ‘er rip.
The first impression was a powerful one, and it was entirely to do with something that wasn’t there. The Golf VI is an impeccably quiet car.
Volkswagen invested a great deal of money in improving the Golf’s NVH characteristics, and it shows. Gone are the squeaks and rattles that plagued the Golf V’s dashboard, and so too has any semblance of wind noise been banished.
The windows glass is 10 percent thicker than the outgoing model’s, the wing mirrors are now more aerodynamically slippery and the windscreen incorporates a special sound-deadening layer. Some might call it pedantic and perhaps unnecessary on a volume-selling small car, but it’s a godsend on the highways.
That tiny turbocharged four-banger is a real breath of fresh air too. It’s certainly not the most powerful powerplant around, but it’s a grunty little thing and has more than enough pep to get the Golf moving at a brisk pace. The twin-clutch DSG gearbox is a good match for the engine as well, with well-spaced ratios ensuring you’re never far from being in the engine’s ideal powerband.
The chassis builds on the Golf V’s reputation as an excellent handler, but it’s somewhat let down by tyre choice in the 90TSI. It’s not hard to provoke understeer if you’re really ham-fisted with the car, but at least the tyres are vocal enough to let you know you’re fast approaching the limit of adhesion.
However, keep the momentum up, don’t overload those front bags and the 90TSI will impress. Our drive route took us along some exceptionally choppy roads interspersed with the occasional patch of gravel (and in this case, even a water crossing), but the Golf proved fairly unflappable. Mid-corner bumps were dispatched with ease and the ride was exceptionally smooth.
Steering wasn’t quite as communicative as I would have liked, however the upshot is torque-steer is barely noticeable. Another downside: lots of body roll.
On the return leg I hopped in a specced-up 103TDI with the six-speed DSG tranny. VW’s RNS510 navigation system replaced the basic CD/radio tuner of the 90TSI, and the steering wheel was adorned with all manner of buttons. A comfortable place to be after experiencing the relative austerity of the base model.
The diesel surprised me not for its speed – which was more than adequate – or its ride, but for its engine note. There’s the barest hint of diesel rattle from the engine bay, and the exhaust note borders on sporty.
With more power and loads more torque, it was also a far more exciting drive than the 90TSI, and the stiffer suspension (to compensate for the heavier engine) made it feel more planted.
The trip back to home base was also made up of decaying, neglected roads, but traversing the moonscape of broken tarmac that made up our route was never uncomfortable. To VW’s credit, they’ve really hit the sweet spot with a suspension that’s both compliant and sporty, and if you spring for the optional adaptive damper package, I’m told it gets even better.
And so ends our first taste of the Golf VI. Jutta Dierks, Managing Director of the Volkswagen Group Australia said that the Golf was the “bread and butter” of the Volkswagen brand, and that the automaker has big hopes for the car not only in Australia, but across the world.
Have they produced a better car with the Mk VI? Absolutely. Will they sell like hotcakes? They’d better. As an overall package the Golf VI just oozes quality, and the car-buying public would be mad to ignore it.
The Golf VI officially launches this Friday at the Melbourne International Motor Show. Prices upon launch are below:
2009 Volkswagen Golf 90TSI Trendline:
6-speed Manual: $25,990
7-speed DSG: $28,490
2009 Volkswagen Golf 118TSI Comfortline:
6-speed manual: $30,490
7-speed DSG: $32,990
2009 Volkswagen Golf 103 TDI Comfortline:
6-speed manual: $33,190
6-speed DSG: $35,690
* Metallic / Pearl Effect Paint: $700
* Electric Glass Sunroof: $1,900
* Comfort Package – Trendline: $2,200
* Sport Package* – Comfortline: $2,000
* Dynaudio Excite 300W Premium Audio System with RCD510: $1,800
* Satellite Navigation RNS510: $3,000
* Satellite Navigation RNS510 with Dynauido Excite 300W: $4,000
* Rear View Camera (RVC) (with RNS510): $500
* Media Device Interface (MDI): $270
* Leather Upholstery – Comfortline: $3,300
* Park Assist with front and rear parking sensors and Optical Parking System: $1,400
* Adaptive Chassis Control: $1,500
* Front Fog Lights with Static Cornering Lights: $400
* Anti-theft Alarm System: $600
2009 Volkswagen Golf 90 TSI Gallery
2009 Volkswagen Golf 118 TSI Gallery
2009 Volkswagen Golf 103 TDI Gallery