NOT QUITE IN SEVENTH HEAVEN, BUT CLOSE... THE HIGHLY-EVOLVED SEVENTH-GENERATION 2016 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF SITS IN A SPECIAL PLACE AMONG SMALL HATCHBACKS.
Now a couple of years old, but still a benchmark, Volkswagen has freshened up its class-leader with new infotainment features and a tiny 2kW lift in power.
It is also still well-priced: the entry-level 92TSI, for $22,990, and middle-tier $23,990 92TSI Trendline, come with a six-speed manual as standard, or, for $2500, you can opt for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The $27,990 92TSI Comfortline, however, comes ‘auto only’ with the seven-speed dual-clutch unit.
Add on-road costs and you’re looking at a $30k small hatchback. But, for quality and appeal, this car looks and feels every dollar asked in that pricetag.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $27,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 92kW/200Nm 1.4 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.4 l/100km | tested: 6.5 l/100km
A decade ago Australians were buying fewer small cars than today and, though the segment was rapidly gaining momentum, the hatchback landscape was much easier to sort out.
Back then the Hyundai i30 and Toyota Corolla weren’t much chop, the Ford Focus and Mazda3 handled well but lacked polish, and the Golf was suave but expensive.
Today the Corolla and i30 are competitive all-rounders, the Focus and Mazda3 no longer only bank on sharp handling, and, conversely, the Golf is up there with the best dynamically while being more affordable than ever.
Back in 2006 you could have a fifth-generation Golf Trendline with a weedy 1.6-litre non-turbo engine, hubcaps and a plastic steering wheel, in automatic specification for $27,790 plus on-road costs.
Today’s up-specced Golf 92TSI Comfortline gets a 1.4-litre turbo, 16-inch alloy wheels and leather-wrapped wheel for … wait for it … just $200 more.
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Infotainment: 6.5in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto software, satellite navigation, USB/AUX input, voice control and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming
- Options fitted: None
- Cargo volume: 380 litres minimum, 1270 litres maximum
Despite the meteoric rise in standard equipment compared with previous Golf models, the Volkswagen still isn’t the most indulgently-equipped small hatchback.
Sure, for $1500 more than an automatic-equipped 92TSI Trendline, the 92TSI Comfortline adds 16-inch (replacing 15-inch) alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation and a rear-seat centre armrest.
However, for $1200 less than the 92TSI Comfortline you can buy a Mazda3 Touring that is an equipment-match and further adds foglights and leather seat trim.
For $1000 more than this particular Volkswagen, a Corolla ZR adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, leather, heated front seats, driver’s power lumbar adjustment, keyless auto-entry and bi-LED headlights.
But the seventh-generation Golf has never been about wooing buyers with a surplus of toys and trinkets. Rather, particularly in the 92TSI grades that wear $23k-$28k pricetags, they offer a quality perception inside that remains unrivalled.
From the ‘thunk’ of a closing door, to the carpeted pockets inside the front doors and the soft-touch and consistently matched dashboard plastics, the small hatchback from Wolfsburg transcends its mainstream pricetag.
Look closer and there are lovely little touches – front vanity mirror-lights, rear map reading lights and rear-seat air-vents (unavailable in Mazda3 and Corolla).
The only gripe is around the front seats that, despite being tagged as ‘comfort sports’ seats, are flat and lacking side-support around the lower-thigh area.
Volkswagen charges $5000 extra to upgrade to the $32,990 (plus orc) Golf 110TSI Highline grade that gets demonstrably grippier front seats covered in much nicer leather; as well as adding keyless auto-entry, larger 17-inch alloys, foglights and an 18kW power increase.
The rear seat, however, is the best in the class in terms of seat comfort, space and amenity. Likewise the 380 litre boot is capacious and flexible, with an adjustable split boot floor, 12-volt socket and split-fold backrest practicality.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 92kW/200Nm 1.4 turbo petrol inline four
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.9m
- Towing capacity: 620kg (unbraked), 1400kg (braked)
To drive, the 92TSI Comfortline feels like an expensive luxury car squeezed into a small hatchback. This is no exaggeration – for ride quality and road refinement in particular, the Volkswagen Golf can show up certain established prestige names.
And, exactly as the “Comfortline” part of the badging suggests, this is a vehicle that prioritises comfort over outright sportiness.
Where a Mazda3 or Corolla ZR can seem noisy and feel bumpy at times, the Golf treats badly surfaced roads with quiet ease. The suspension is outstanding and it gels beautifully with the turbo engine that delivers 200Nm of torque from just 1400rpm and holds that maximum until 4000rpm.
The result is effortless and fluent performance, while that low-down oomph and seven gears inside the dual-clutch automatic also deliver excellent economy.
Conversely, the 92kW of power that lurks between 5000rpm and 6000rpm doesn’t sound like much. However allied with the snappy seven-speed, and in a hatchback that weighs 1233kg, the result is a Golf that feels faster than its 9.2-second 0-100km/h claim indicates.
That lightness also comes through in the handling, as does the sophistication of the suspension and smoothness of the steering – in the latter case, where the wheel can be a touch vacant on the centre position, it is tightly mid-weighted outside of it.
The Golf is anything but plain to drive, its dynamics being beautifully agile and responsive. It loves to sit flat in longer corners, yet is eminently adjustable in tighter bends.
The only issue concerns the Hankook VentusPrime2 tyres fitted to the tester that lack grip even in dry conditions. Volkswagen also offers superior Bridgestone tyres in this Golf grade, so if you’re set on a 92TSI Comfortline, ensure that your dealer snares the better rubber.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.89 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Seven airbags including dual-front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee, ABS, ESC, front and rear sensors, reverse-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Ford’s Focus and Peugeot’s 308 are faster and ultimately more fun, and the Peugeot trumps the Volkswagen for interior flair if not equipment for the money. But the Golf still takes the cigar – just – for the impressive totality of the package.
Choose the Mazda3 or Corolla if you value dependability and a long feature list, but each is less impressive to drive than the Golf.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Volkswagen Golf 92TSI Comfortline is a prestige car masquerading as a mainstream hatchback.
Its high-quality dashboard, roomy rear seat, excellent refinement, flexible performance, brilliant ride quality and keen handling all speak of a consistency and appeal that vehicles twice the price struggle to match.
Choosing a competitor over the Golf will ultimately come down to how much you value features and sports accoutrements.
Again, some rivals offer a stronger warranty (five years with a Hyundai instead of three here) and more affordable servicing (pretty much anything else in the segment is cheaper)
But, at the end of the day, this Volkswagen sits in rarefied air. Now in its seventh generation, it still sets the standard for the small hatchback category.
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