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What - Volkswagen Golf 1.6 S
Where - Horsham, UK
Price - £14,372
Available - January 2009
Key rivals - Ford Focus, Peugeot 308, Renault Megane, Vauxhall Astra
Specced to the nines the new Golf is a convincing junior luxury car but entry level versions impress too
We like - comfort, quality feel, pleasant drive
We don't like - a touch pricey, not a lot of fun, body roll through the bends
There's probably not much you don't know about the VW Golf.Europe's best selling car is launched in its sixth incarnation in January 2009. Back in 1986 the second generation Golf was criticised for looking too much like the original. Ha! What does the media know? Buyers loved it, so even Golf MKVI still has that family likeness.Sometimes a new Golf heralds a clean sheet design but here the existing model gets a major overhaul. Rumour has it VW spent so much developing the chassis of the previous Golf it ran out of money for the interior. This new MKVI thus deals with the cabin as well as subtly changing every body panel.
There's a stonking range of engines with more on the way too. Enthusiasts will be excited by thenew 210hp Golf GTI, though diesels will dominate sales. The most affordable TDI is the 2.0 110hp model, but this will soon be replaced by an all-new 1.6 TDI, also with 110bhp but greener and leaner. There's an entry-level 1.4-litre 80hp petrol too but the 1.6 is the better choice for the cost conscious, even though the £900 premium is objectionable. It's torquey and powerful enough in most circumstances and though the 11.3-second 0-62mph time sounds feeble, on the road it feels much more able.
Ride and Handling
This performance is partly helped by the sweet manual gearchange that slickly switches one gear to the next; if you enjoy driving at least a bit, this Golf becomes quite involving. The steering is good too, not too light and very accurate, so you can have fun on winding roads.The suspension on these basic models is a compromise that does nothing especially well. It's comfortable enough for a car of this class, but there's a fair bit of body roll - the Ford Focus is better in this respect. The ride is decent enough but the Merc and BMW downsizers VW is courting might find the ride a tad pattery.
VW makes a great deal about cabin quality. So you'll be surprised it doesn't feel smarter than it does. OK, it's fine in a mid-sized-family-hatch type of way, but - chrome flourishes apart - this is a strictly solid, workmanlike interior. Unless, that is, you are unduly impressed by electric window switches that are angled towards you.Jump into the previous model, though, and it's obvious there are changes for the better. And the front seats, even in this lowest specification S derivative, are simply terrific. There's great sideways support and the usual good Golf comprise between comfortable padding and strong support in the right places.
It's a pity that in the back, though there's decent space, the seats are flat and hard. The rear seating position is high set, which ensures a decent view out. All Golfs get air con as standard and it's a fine system that gives you good levels of adjustability and control.This S lacks full climate control but the standard system is so good it's better to reap the saving. You need an £83 stereo upgrade before you can plug your MP3 player in - via a basic aux-in socket though. The SE gets USB connectivity, alloys, a better stereo, cruise control and more, and seems worth the extra £850.
Economy and Safety
The Golf has already been through the Euro NCAP test and earned the full five stars. Every model gets seven airbags including, for the first time, an airbag to protect the driver's knees. Economy on the 1.6 is a claimed 39.8mpg on the combined cycle and we readily got within 10% of that, which is a pretty good result.In comparison the 2.0 110 TDI returned 54.5mpg, against an official 57.6mpg but this needs to be balanced against the £1700 premium over the 1.6 petrol. This has a CO2 figure of 166g/km, dropping to 157g/km if you choose VW's excellent DSG gearbox. The diesel is better at 128g/km, the forthcoming BlueMotion promising just 99g/km.
MSN Cars Verdict 5/5
Volkswagen's goal of tempting buyers to downsize from expensive cars into the new Golf is an admirable one, and if a mid-sized hatchback is on the radar, the Golf is the obvious first choice. It's now nicer inside, has some fine engines and is admirably quiet and comfortable. This 1.6 S version never remotely leaves you feeling short-changed, either in terms of performance or equipment.But it's pricey. You can get the desirable new Mazda 6 1.8 S for much the same outlay, with all the advantages that a bit of extra size bring to the game. The new Golf is good, but, as ever, you'll pay for the privilege.
Rating: VW Golf 1.6 S
Ride and Handling****
MSN Cars verdict*****
Petrol - 1.4 (normally aspirated, turbo or turbo/supercharged), 1.6
Diesel - 1.6 turbo, 2.0 turbo
Power (hp)80 - 210
Torque (lb/ft)97 - 236
0-62mph (secs)13.9 - 9.3
Top speed (mph)107 - 130
Combined economy (mpg)39.8 - 57.6
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