Golf Mark V
The fifth generation model is pure Golf: modern, stylish and understated. There's a plethora of engine choices on offer in Australia: three diesels (a 1.9-litre and two versions of the 2.0-litre) and five petrol variants (a 1.6-litre, a 2.0-litre, a 2.0-litre turbo, a 3.2-litre V6 and our 1.4-litre Twincharger).
17-inch alloy wheels, lowered suspension and dual exhaust pipes are standard on the GT Sport. Our review vehicle was painted in Blue Graphite, which as the name suggests looks either blue or grey depending on the viewing angle and light conditions.
The GT Sport model comes with either the 1.4-litre petrol Twincharger (AU$34,990) or the high power version of the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel (AU$37,490).
Hey Twincharger! (Part I)
A 1.4-litre engine doesn't look particularly sporty, but this one has a trick up its sleeve: it's fitted with both a turbocharger and a supercharger. This is an unusual arrangement as engines usually only feature either a turbocharger or a supercharger. Both help the engine generate more power by shoving more air in, but do so in different ways.
Because turbochargers are driven by exhaust gases they require some revs to do their thing. This leads many drivers to complain about a "hole" or "lag" at low revs as they're waiting for the turbo kick in and deliver its added performance. Superchargers, on the other hand, are driven by the engine itself and work best at lower revs.
The Twincharger combines the two and is quite simply the highlight of the car. It has 125 kilowatts of power and 240 Netown-metres of torque. That's as much power and more torque than can be found in the 2.5-litre engine in the Mazda 6. Hidden beneath a shroud of anonymous plastic is an engine fully deserving of its class win at the 2008 edition of the International Engine of the Year awards.
Hey Twincharger! (Part II)
On the highway we managed 7.53L/100km, while in the city, where we a did a mix of suburban running; daily commuting and the odd spirited run or two, we consumed 11.79L/100km — the latter is an especially good figure considering the vigour with which we were normally driving.
It looks like an automatic transmission, but it's way more interesting than that. DSG stands for Direct Shift Gearbox and it combines the best parts of a normal automatic (namely, automatic gear shifting), a traditional manual (better responsiveness and fuel economy) and more (super-fast gear changes).
In the coming weeks we'll have a detailed Please Explain feature on Volkswagen's DSG and twin-clutch transmissions in general.
At first blush, combining the terms "Grand Tourer" and "Sport" together seems to be contradictory. The Golf GT Sport TSI makes a pretty good job of being both GT and Sport: the suspension isn't rock hard but corners with verve, while the Twincharger engine has plenty of urge.
The standard grey interior has a rather bunker-like feel to it. However our test car was fitted with the optional AU$2,990 beige leather for the seat and door trims, lending the car a classy, refined air. The leather trimmed steering wheel — standard throughout the Golf range — is a tactile delight and because it's not shiny and hard like many leather wheels, it's usable on even the coldest winter days.
The previous generation Golf brought us luxury-grade interiors at family hatch prices. Luxo features like the soft and squeezable dashboard, damped overhead grab-handles, slowly dimming interior lights and a lined glovebox remain, but there's now some hard, cheap-feeling plastic — some of which feature sharp mould lines — around the lower dashboard and centre console areas.
The GT Sport's standard stereo system can read MP3 files off CD, although there's no auxiliary port for connecting an MP3 player — that's another option. VW's iPod dock is an optional only on the more expensive GTI and R32.
Generally the system is easy to operate, although we did have to resort to manual to figure out what the TP, AS and MIX buttons were for. The stereo's screen glows a lovely electric blue at night, but is impossible to read with a pair of polarised sunnies on.
The GT Sport's instrument cluster is pleasing to the eye without resorting to any kitsch — boost gauge excepted. The multifunction display in the centre allows the driver to configure a number of "surprise and delight" features, such as how long the headlight stay on after you exit the car, over-speed warning, or whether press unlock on the plipper unlocks all the doors or just the driver's. It also displays the time, odometer and one of any number of things, like average fuel consumption or audio controls.
Full of xenon gas
The optional AU$1,890 high-intensity xenon lamps fitted to our Golf emits a lovely soft blue light that's not only pleasing to the driver's eye but improves night-time visibility quite markedly. The lights are self-levelling so drivers of oncoming cars aren't blinded. Also included with this option are headlight washers which operate in tandem with the windscreen washers.
The lights in the wing mirrors go flash, flash, flash
The last generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class was the first production car to put side indicators in the mirror and now many cars from the Honda Jazz up have them too. If you flash the indicators on the Golf, you can see the side indicators doing their thing from the driver's seat; an unpleasant distraction when you're driving.
A soft touch
Like the glovebox and ceiling mounted grab handles, the sunglasses cubby holder opens with a softly damped motion. The interior lighting also fades to black slowly when you exit the car too.
Ever been out on a day trip and thought to yourself, "Geez I really did wish I'd brought a bottle opener"? Well fret not, those thoughtful designers at the House of Volkswagen have included one in the Golf that doubles as the cup-holder divider.
Unless you've got Yao Ming sitting in front of you, there should be ample foot room for rear seat passengers. The rear bench is pretty flat but we didn't roll around too much; we can thank the suspension for that. If you need more storage space, the rear seats fold down with a 60/40 split; there's also a ski-hatch hidden behind the fold-down centre arm rest.