THE 2009 GOLF VI RANGE was let loose on the Australian market in February this year. It quickly stole its way into the limelight with a fresh new face and an almost all-new design on the not-so-new Golf V platform.
Don't let that little fact deceive you though: it may not be all-new, but it's damn well new enough.
Volkswagen isn't pretending otherwise either. The German manufacturer would like us to look at the new Golf as a case of evolution rather than revolution, and it's confident that a sit and a drive in its new hatch will do all the talking.
That's all well and good, but what's it like? How much better is it? And while it looks 'tougher', is it a sheep in wolf's clothing? (Not on your life.)
While the Golf VI is built on the same platform as its predecessor (in a way, it's almost more of a Golf 5.5), that's a fact that must have meant nothing to designer Frank Brüse and his team when they were told to whip up a new Golf.
"It won't be all-new," the instruction from above may have said, "but impress us."
With just about every panel and exterior component revised or refined (only the roof remains as it was before), it's safe to say that Frank and his design department have outdone themselves.
The pedigreed Golf styling remains - especially in the case of that trademark roof-to-road C-pillar (although the tail light biting into its side is very 'un-Golf-like') - and the wide, slim black grille running across its face. In fact, while that C-pillar didn't show up until the Golf II, that slim black grille is a design trait that goes right back to the great great great grandfather (that's the Golf I, by the way) of the new Golf.
The new headlights in the new model are slimmer, with a more aggressive demeanour. A new, razor-sharp character line - really the standout feature to the new Golf's profile - runs fore to aft, beginning above the front guards and terminating right up against the new, longer tail lights.
The real achievement in the design of the Golf VI, though, is in its lower and wider look. It simply looks faster. Tougher, even. This was no lucky accident; it's courtesy of those wider tail-lights and the lower belt line. Combined, these elements give the new hatch a hunkered down, squat style.
In the case of the the Golf 118 TSI, stylish five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels sporting a polished split-spoke design prop up each corner, and a twin-tip exhaust lurking at the back adds an air of aggressiveness to the turbo- and super-charged Golf.
It's the sort of small touch that can leave an impression ("that's right, check out those pipes, pal") when showing the heels in a blast away from the lights.
The dash of the Golf 118 TSI has brought a major overhaul to that of the previous model Golf and, unexpectedly, it's exactly the revitalising treatment you didn't know it needed - until you spend some time in the new model.
The restyled tiller, with its chrome-edged steering-mounted controls, contoured centre and split bottom-spoke, is a big improvement over the old.
The centre stack has copped a re-imagining as well, with a more defined and sharply-bordered unit replacing the curved-over design of the previous model. And for a little extra pizazz, Volkswagen has borrowed the climate control module from the all-new Passat CC (keep an eye out for our review of that one, too).
One downside to the new dash however, is the loss of the storage compartment that sat atop the centre stack of the previous model.
The stylish navigation system, chrome-ringed vents and a black hazard light button add to the premium image that Australians have built around the Volkswagen brand, and in the Golf 118 TSI's interior, it's a well-deserved image.
While the regular Golf gets silver highlight panels along the dash and door trims, the TSI offers sporty, glossy black highlights with a triangular pattern running through each (presumably to evoke a carbon-fibre look).
A revised instrument-cluster moves the temperature and fuel gauges to the restyled speedometer and tachometer, allowing for a larger multi-function display to dominate the centre of the cluster - bringing with it a slick blue-on-black display.
Overall space is little changed from the previous model in any practical sense, and the leather front seats are well bolstered and well-suited to a bit of spirited driving. The back seats - leather as well of course - are a little more bench-like than the cosy front seats would have you expect, but comfortable regardless.
The Golf 118 TSI is powered by a 1.4 litre inline four, and while that might sound like a piddly little engine, this one's both turbocharged and supercharged.
Delivering 118kW (the name makes sense now, right?) at 5800rpm, the Golf also boasts 240Nm of torque coming online at a remarkably low 1750rpm. It's worth mentioning here that those 118 kilowatts break down to 84.3kW per litre of displacement.
That low-end torque is thanks to the 118 TSI's supercharger, which, mechanically belt-driven and geared to enable higher performance at low engine speeds, delivers torque lower in the rev range.
At higher engine speeds, the turbocharger kicks in, leading to the two systems working in tandem until 3500rpm, where the turbocharger takes over.
Volkswagen claims the Golf 118 TSI will return a fuel consumption figure of 6.2 l/100km in the manual version, and 6.5 l/100km in the seven-speed DSG-equipped model - which is the very model we tested.
The seven-speed DSG transmission at first seemed to verge on overkill, considering the torque spread. But the point here is to aid fuel economy at cruising speeds. With well-spaced ratios though, the DSG ensures power is never out of reach.
Firstly, power. We took the Golf 118 TSI for a weekend jaunt out to the sleepy little gold mining town of Walhalla in Victoria's eastern highlands, and it was clearly evident that this surprisingly hot hatch offered a phenomenal amount of performance for an engine of such minute displacement.
With the help of turbo and supercharger power, the 118 TSI - with or without the DSG - bolts to 100km/h in a considerably shiny 8.0 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 220km/h.
While the DSG in the Golf 118 TSI takes some getting used to - perhaps due to the absence of paddles behind the steering wheel and the hesitation off the line as the transmission figures out what you're asking for - Sport mode improves the experience, keeping things high in the rev range and ready to turn on the power at command.
And we did command it.
Entering the twisty bits, the 118 TSI held its own thanks to the already excellent chassis carried over from the Golf V and the Michelin tyres wrapped around each of the 17s - a step up from the Hankooks on the 90 TSI.
Understeer occasionally lurked in the shadows, but attentive driving, a conscious effort to not overcook things too dramatically and the good tyre choice kept the car on track. It is a remarkably well-balanced steer and capable of very quick point-to-point driving.
We must note that our tester came fitted with the optional Sport Pack, which brings with it a quartet of sophisticated adaptive dampers as well as the aforementioned 17-inch wheels. Handling was appreciably taut as a result, but as we found out on the Golf VI press preview, the non-sport pack equipped model isn't exactly a sloppy steerer either.
The traction control lit up a few times, but we'll put that down to the roads being a little damp in places, with some light surface water in a couple of the corners.
Ride quality, to put it simply, is excellent. There are a few secondary road options for the trip to Walhalla, but if there's a car I'd be happy to make the trip in again, it's this one. The Golf VI eats bumps like they're marshmallows, absorbing broken shoulders and potholes like they're not there.
It's quiet too. Volkswagen has thrown a lot of euros at improving the Golf's NVH characteristics, and it shows. Gone are the squeaks and rattles that plagued the Golf V’s dashboard, and thanks to 10 percent thicker windows, more aerodynamic wing mirrors and a special sound-deadening layer on the windscreen, all traces of wind noise have gone with them.
Sadly, as beautifully quiet as it is inside, it's just too damn quiet outside. Looking at it from the rear, you'd assume those twin exhaust tips were hinting at some noise, but, unlike the luscious burble of the GTi, the TSI is a tad flat. (Nothing much going on in the aural excitement department.)
But it should be remembered that the target market for this car, despite its turbo and supercharger assisted engine, is not the enthusiast sporting driver. No, the reality is that this car is aimed at 'the masses' - commuters, younger buyers, young families - and priced accordingly.
As such, perhaps it shouldn't be looked at as anything more than a very, very nice way to get from A to B (with the occasional detour through C... and D; with this Golf, you go looking for the long way round).
With the Golf 118 TSI, Volkswagen has given us a non-GTI Golf that is fun to drive, has a hot-hatch turn of speed, offers sharp handling, and, thanks to that robust and efficient little engine, combines all three behind a miserly fuel economy.
It is also beautifully equipped and presented. With packages like this, 'the masses' are getting awfully spoiled.
Equipment and Features
Our test car was fitted with Volkswagen's RNS510 satellite navigation and media control unit, which we found to be almost faultless. It seemed to wander off into the forest on the road to Walhalla, but we've yet to find a GPS system that didn't manage that feat.
Volkswagen's rear view camera was integrated with our test car, as well.
Also featured - and this was a favourite of ours - was Volkswagen's "Park Assist" system, which flawlessly parallel parked our test car between two other vehicles. A hairy experience, to be sure, but you get used to trusting it. The robot revolution is on the way…
For safety, the new Golf features driver and front passenger airbags, driver's knee airbag, driver and front passenger side airbags, as well as curtain airbags front and rear, across the entire range.
The 2009 Volkswagen Golf features ABS, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution and, with the DSG model, Hill Start Assist.
Traction control is standard on all models, with Anti-Slip Regulation, Electronic Differential Lock, and ESP.
It's an early bet, and mine is just one voice, but if the new Golf 118 TSI doesn't figure well in the 2009 TMR Best Value Best Drive Awards, I'll… well, I'll have to eat my hat.
Thanks to turbo and supercharger assistance, the 1.4 litre petrol engine has been turned into a micro-powerhouse. It's no GTI, but until the hero Golf arrives later this year, the 118 TSI will hold the fort. For those that don't need or can't stretch the budget for the GTI, this is the mini-hot hatch for them.
- Amazing power for a 1.4 litre
- Stunning, upmarket interior redesign
- Brilliant handling
- Not a DSG convert just yet
- Underwhelming, almost non-existent exhaust note