VW Golf 1.4-litre TSI ACT
Surprise, the Golf hits the fairway on every shot.
Engine capacity: 1.4-litre four cylinder petrol
Power Output (PS @ rpm): 140 @ 4,500-6,000
Top Speed (mph): 131
0-60 mph (seconds): 8.4
Fuel economy (mpg): 58.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 112
Lots of Golfs live on my street, so when the chap from VW arrived with a brand new model to test, it wasn't going to be lonely. At first glance though, it's hard to see what's so new about it. Look more closely and you'll see the styling has been subtly tweaked and the Mk 7 is wider, lower to the ground and has a longer wheelbase to the model it replaces. Add to this a host of new kit, an entirely new front-end and a nifty selection of fuel-efficient engines, and the Golf is really rather new. It's just that its designers have gone to great lengths to hide all this and make it as Golf-like and ubiquitous as ever.
Ubiquity isn't a bad thing for the Golf though. Its sales have held up in the recession and it's retained just enough desirability to go with its reputation for German quality, reliability and safety. What's the latest one like then? Good. Very good. Like the last Golf it does everything you want, but it does it that little bit better. That means the ride is smooth, the cabin quiet, the interior well-constructed, and the handling and driving dynamics relaxed but enjoyable.
If the new Golf was a South Korean car, you might slam it for its lack of imagination. That's a fair point, but what's remarkable about the Golf isn't that it's the most exciting car to look at or that it goes like a rocket. What's remarkable is that it's just so good at doing everyday tasks over and over again. Down to the smallest detail, VW hasn't taken risks. It has just taken logic and testing to create something that works. In an age when we spend hours struggling to get Wi-Fi, it's genuinely refreshing for something just to work first time.
Of course, if pushed, I'd have to say I'm a little disappointed the interior isn't as swish as some of its rivals. There is logic to this though. The cabin, for example, is nice and tidy but pretty basic to look at. Whereas in its new challengers, such as the new Volvo V40, you'll find sharp digital displays throughout. I'm sure they'll last for years but will they continue to work after 300,000 miles?
Not that the new Golf isn't hi-tech where it counts. It has some toys you'd normally expect to find on a luxury saloon, including automatic cruise control and adaptive driver profiles modes. The latter lets you pick "eco", "normal", "sport" or "individual" modes. In eco mode the car becomes a real nag, constantly reminding you to watch your revs and change gear. If you pair up your mobile to the Bluetooth it even reminds you to take your phone with you when you switch off the engine. These constant reminders become a bore until you work out how to switch them off.
What's not nannying is my test model's 1.4-litre engine and its ability to switch off two of its four cylinders to save fuel when you are pootling along. It does this seamlessly and instantly re-engages the two dormant cylinders when you need more grunt. It results in fuel economy close to that of a diesel.
The glossy car magazines love to rate their "best" cars of the year. It's not something I really go for, but I'm coming round to the idea now I've driven the Golf. It's easy and pleasing to drive, comfortable to sit in and economical to run. What more do you want? I know it's only February but I say this is probably the best car I'm going to drive all year.
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