Updated: December 21, 2018
Over the years, I've driven many Volkswagen models, but apart from a short stint with Golf R, I never really got a chance to drive the quintessential family car. Recently though, the favors turned, providing me with a two-day opportunity to test a Golf 1.6 TDI BlueMotion.
With roughly 600 km of road surfaces under the wheels, I can now say I've finally garnered a much better impression of what Golf is all about. After all, it's consistently voted the car of the year since its inception back in 1974, and it comes with a hard-to-beat formula of good looks, reliability, practicality, and solid performance. Let's see how it fared in Dedoimedo's arms tonight.
The test car had a 1.6 TDI engine, which delivers 105 HP and 250 Nm torque, paired to a five-speed manual gearbox. In some markets, an ever weaker model is available, with only 90 HP and 230 Nm torque. With roughly 10.7 seconds for the 0-100 km/h sprint, this isn't the fastest car in the 'hood, but it's adequate for intended purposes. More importantly, it's all about how the car feels when it does drive, which is something we'll discuss later.
The base model does not have too many bells and whistles when it comes to equipment. You do get LED lights, front and rear electric windows, Start/Stop, a touch infotainment system but no navigation, and 15-inch wheels with rather chunky 195/65 R 15 tires. From my previous experience with VW models, some extras often spice up the mood, and alloy wheels and lower-profile rubber would be the first things to change. Ah well, the owner chooseth, the owner driveth. And the owner payeth about EUR21,500. Not cheap, but hey, a Golf is a Golf.
Now, the Golf 7 does come with some clever safety features. All models get proactive occupant protection, which means the car will tighten the seat belts and close the windows if it senses a crash, and should there be a collision, the car will activate the brakes automatically to prevent additional damage or secondary collisions. The car gets a five-star Euro NCAP rating, you get ABS, ESP plus seven airbags, including one for the driver's knees. The optional safety kit is also quite impressive, including collision avoidance, city emergency braking, lane assist, driver fatigue, and traffic sign recognition systems.
The Golf has what I like to call a "delayed beauty" effect. Any time a new generation is released, you look and say what. But then, a few days or weeks later, you start to appreciate the reserved yet slick looks. Mk7 blends the Audiesque sharp, angular aggressiveness with some soft, rounded decor. In other words, it's still the good old Golf, and it will hit you between the reason and emotion, between power and tranquility. Newer models do favor a more a blockier, beefier shape, and a more common face across the entire family line. Once upon a time, it was very easy telling one VW model from another. But like Audis nowadays, if you just quickly look at the front end, you can't really say which car you're looking at.
Inside, it's the familiar VW workplace. Elegant, smart. Soft, rubberized plastic, comfy seats - although more lumbar support is always welcome, but I guess this is the domain of the higher-trim models. The steering wheel has a supple grip, the pedals are offset correctly, and the brake has a typical VW family grip, slightly higher and harder than most other vehicles. There's plenty of room in the from, decent room in the back - two adults will not complain, three adults will only moderately complain, and finally, sufficient boot space for luggage and stuff.
Now, even though the car could have benefited from some extras, the level of comfort was good. With roughly six or seven hours spent driving, including a continuous three-hour stretch on a highway, I had no complains, no fatigue. The suspension is firm but cozy. It's a well-proven forty-four-year-old formula.
For me, the most important part of any car experience is the ... driving experience. After all, the car is used while in motion, and how it feels is the ultimate deciding factor. Here, I had the chance to drive the Golf in town, including nice sweeping curves and hill climbs, plus long stretches of motorway, with speed in the range of about 130 km/h.
The city driving was a non-issue. The Golf TDI has enough power for any type of maneuver you need in the urban setting, and the diesel engine is flexible enough - you always have plenty of pull no matter which gear you choose. Like any Volkswagen, you have a good spatial awareness, and the car feel precise. It sort of wraps around you, and you never need to worry about your car's dimensions. Unless you're a really bad driver.
Outside the city, the lack of power and the sixth gear become more pronounced. I knew from start there would be no performance miracles from the basic diesel, but I did occasionally get a little annoyed. You need to floor it, and then wait until the speed builds up, and there's a bit too much noise in the fifth at higher speeds. The sixth cog would be perfect. That said, the power delivery is linear, predictable, it's only that you sort of instinctively expect more, since the chassis and the vehicle's dynamics more than allow it.
Once you settle into a cruise, it's all right. The Golf has plenty of grip and confidence through corners, even when you're doing motorway velocities. Now and then, you do need to downshift to fourth to build some speed, especially if you're overtaking and/or there's a mild incline. Nothing too pronounced. In some ways, the feel is similar to what I had with Opel Insignia, although we can't really compare the engines, the gearing or the power. On the other hand, if you perhaps recall my older Jetta review, driven in the States, the 140HP and 320Nm setup offered the sweet spot between economy and performance for the family conscious consumer.
I don't know if this is the specific tuning of the BlueMotion edition, though. Smaller cars with torquey diesel can often be fun, and it's usually the gearing that makes the difference. I believe this is partially due to the badge the car carries. It's designed to be frugal and discourage fuel shenanigans.
Speaking of fuel consumption, with two adults, a bunch of stuff in the back, moderate use of the aircon, and none too gentle accelerations, with an 80:20 highway:city mix, the Golf 1.6 TDI averaged about 5.5 liters per 100 km real life driving, which is a very decent figure for this class.
Nothing came up during the test cycle.
Volkswagen Golf is pretty much what I expected - a reliable, predictable family carrier that has style, charm and decent road behavior. There's a reason why this car often comes up in polls and surveys and buying preferences. Perhaps it doesn't do everything perfectly, but it does pretty much everything rather well, and consistently so. And of course, with stronger engines and more bling-bling, the experience ought to be even more exciting. If you want a family car, this is a very good choice.
Finally, take all I've said with a pinch of salt, for I did buy a VW Group share or two back in the day. Oh well. Anyway, this car deserves about 8/10. VW Golf 1.6 TDI BlueMotion is nice, but it's a little underpowered, and a higher trim level is definitely desirable. Finally, with Mk8 around the corner, I am looking forward to some future driving opportunities. Maybe a Golf GTI. We shall see.