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Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI 105 SE review review (2013 onwards)
Model: Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI 105 SE
Price: £20,500 (£21,285 as tested)
Bodystyle: five-door hatchback
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel, 105hp @3,000-4,000rpm, 184lb ft @1,500-2,750rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive with XDS differential
Performance: 10.7 secs 0-62mph, 119mph top speed
Efficiency: 74.3mpg, 99g/km CO2
What is it?
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is now officially on sale in the UK, and this is the predicted best seller: the 1.6-litre TDI with 105hp in SE specification. We’ve now driven it on British roads, so here’s what you can expect for the rather reasonable-sounding price of £20,500.
105hp might seem modest, but remember the new “mk7” Golf is significantly lighter than the mk6 it replaces. This latest version of VW’s 1.6-litre turbodiesel also serves up a decidedly impressive 184lb ft of torque at just 1,750rpm – more than enough to get you moving.
In fact, it will go 0-62mph in a respectable 10.7 seconds, despite on-paper fuel economy of near 75mpg and tax-dodging CO2 emissions of just 99g/km. Add in the generous standard equipment of the SE trim grade and it’s quickly apparent why Volkswagen thinks it’s on to a winner.
Where does it fit?
Sub-100g/km CO2 emissions used to be the preserve of specially optimised, eco-friendly family hatchbacks – but such is the pace of change this Golf is just an ordinary model, and it joins a family hatchback sector packed with potentially attractive rivals.
The ubiquitous Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra are renowned for being strong sellers in the UK and likely to be near the top of any shopping list, while class-leading warranty offerings with few compromises make the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d seriously tempting.
The key appeal here is in the new car’s very “Golfness”
Meanwhile, Honda’s latest Civic is extraordinarily practical, if not necessarily attractive. But it’s hard to recommend the latest Toyota Auris in this company, and all of the alternatives from French manufactures are in need of serious updating.
Is it for you?
On the other hand, it’s also hard to ignore the new SEAT Leon, as it’s based on the exact same fundamental engineering as this Volkswagen, but costs a little less. Similarly, the latest Audi A3 is built on this “MQB” platform technology, but costs a little more. There’s a new Skoda Octavia coming, too. Same story.
You’d pick the Golf against those three for the same reason you’d choose it over opposition from other brands – the reassuring strength and universality of the VW image, and what is now a fine value balance between the asking price and the fitted kit.
Whether you should choose this diesel engine is slightly more complicated. You can buy a 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol Golf with 122hp for slightly less – and although that can’t match the 1.6 TDI’s economy, you might just find you prefer the petrol driving experience. We’ll outline the reasons why below.
What does it do well?
The key appeal here is in the new car’s very “Golfness”.
From the way it looks to the way it drives there are no real revelations – but there is evolution. The exterior is obviously a Golf, but it’s tauter and fitter, more purposeful than before; even the fuel filler flap is at a jaunty angle.
New production techniques mean the basic structure is not only lighter but stronger – and about 20% cheaper to produce as well. Less mass and added strength are good for ride comfort and handling, which are also improved by increasing the distance between the wheels. Lower costs have allowed VW to up the value too.
In the SE’s case this is manifest in a standard equipment list that includes a clever touchscreen infotainment system with a proximity sensor (so it only displays certain information when a finger is detected on approach), and Driver Profile Selection, with a choice of Normal, Eco, Sport and Individual settings.
there are plenty of positives about the 1.6-litre TDI engine
This changes the engine response characteristics, the steering weight and how energy-draining systems such as the air conditioning function. Such jiggery-pokery has filtered down to the Golf from Audi – it’s an appealingly premium addition.
However, more pertinent for most buyers will be the extensive amount of safety kit, which goes way beyond stability control. For example, the Golf features a “PreCrash” system, shutting windows and priming the seven airbags if an unavoidable impact is imminent; innovation from the executive car sector.
It’s activated in part by a radar sensor – hidden within that curious bubble just below the front number plate. Since this is in place, VW also has added Automatic Distance Control, incorporating automatic city centre braking and Adaptive Cruise Control – another high-end feature. As standard.
What doesn’t it do well?
Although there are plenty of positives about the 1.6-litre TDI engine, we’re not convinced it’s the perfect package in the new Golf that some may believe it to be. That’s not to say it won’t be a worthy best seller, but there are other options.
For starters, it’s a fairly gruff unit in this application. The noise is easily covered by the stereo, but that won’t help the tiny tingle of vibration through the pedals, and compared to the cheaper 1.4 TSI petrol it’s a much less enjoyable engine once you’ve got a bit of open road to play with.
This leaves the Golf feeling rather flat-footed by comparison – a situation that isn’t helped by a quirk of the mk7’s specification: versions of the car with less than 122hp are fitted with “torsion beam” rear suspension, which is far less sophisticated than the “multi-link” setup found on more powerful variants.
Now, it may well be the case that your average Golf buyer really doesn’t care about this. But to us, the diesel’s less fancy back axle had a marked impact on the VW’s ride quality and general feeling of polish – to the extent that it becomes far more fidgety over the same stretch of road.
Just to check we weren’t imagining this, we compared it back to back with the 1.4 TSI – which has that magic 122hp don’t forget – and then drove another, different 1.6 TDI, just to be sure. The diesel simply isn’t as composed or as comfortable, even accounting for the extra engine weight.
And while the petrol is blessed with a six-speed gearbox, diesel buyers have to make do with just the five cogs, reducing motorway refinement.
What is it like to live with?
If anything, this lack of finesse is likely to trouble passengers even more than drivers. It probably isn’t a deal breaker, but does take some of the shine off what is an otherwise excellent bundle.
In our effort to bring you a UK drive as quickly as possible we weren’t able to spend as much time with the Golf as we’d usually like – generally a road test is based on at least a week’s experience with a car, and in this instance we were limited to a morning. So we’ll stick to the irrefutables here.
First of all, the seventh-generation Golf is more spacious than the one it replaces. Extending the wheelbase and adding a small amount of width has increased leg-, head- and shoulder-room, despite a lower roofline for improved aerodynamics.
The boot carries an additional 30 litres, too – with 380 litres now available before you resort to folding the seats. That’s still some way short of the Civic’s class-leading 477-litre luggage compartment, but enough for most eventualities (though it is worth noting the Honda has an excellent new 1.6 diesel, too).
gizmos such as stop-start and optimum gearshift indication are included
You’d expect a new VW to be extremely well put together inside, and while the Golf doesn’t exactly disappoint, some of the cars we drove on this initial launch suffered with minor rattles, and we weren’t overly impressed with the plastic metal fascias on the SE grade. The higher spec GT is noticeably nicer.
There was some wind noise around the door seals as well – but these were early cars, and any teething issues with right-hand drive production are likely to be eradicated very quickly. After all, Volkswagen has a reputation to maintain.
How green is it?
Every new Golf gets “BlueMotion Technology” as standard – which means fuel saving gizmos such as stop-start and optimum gearshift indication are included across the board. Hence this regular diesel version is down to just 99g/km CO2, previously the reserve of the full BlueMotion model.
That’s equivalent to 74.3mpg combined, according to VW’s testing; we saw over 50mpg on the trip computer with very little effort, and in a mixed range of driving that involved only a short stretch of constant cruising.
The 1.6 TDI is therefore likely to be very efficient day-to-day; far more so than the 122hp 1.4, which officially returns 54.3mpg combined with 120g/km CO2, and encourages a more spirited driving style. We were seeing an indicated 40mpg from that one over the same route.
A proper BlueMotion Golf is coming later in the year; using a 110hp development of the 1.6 TDI this is set to emit just 85g/km while returning over 88mpg. Other eco developments in the range include the 140hp 1.4-litre TSI ACT petrol with Active Cylinder Technology, which operates half of its cylinders on demand.
Would we buy it?
The new Golf 1.6-litre TDI SE is a solid all-round choice, and it isn’t tricky to see why it’s likely to attract the majority of UK buyers. That combination of tax-free 99g/km motoring, the promise of exceptional fuel economy, stacks of gadgetry and a Golf badge, all for just over £20,000 really is attractive.
But personally, this scribe would spend slightly less than £20k and buy the 122hp 1.4 TSI SE instead. All the same equipment, but a much sweeter engine, better ride comfort and a greater sense of all-round composure adds up to a mk7 Golf that truly lives up to its five-star billing.
The modest increase in running costs would (literally) be a small price to pay from this perspective. As for the new Golf verses its rivals, that’s a no brainer – if you’re shopping for a new family hatchback you’d be insane if you didn’t at least give it a try.
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