It’s reached its sixth generation, which in itself is an achievement, but at first glance the new Golf doesn’t look all that different from its predecessor.
The obvious differences on the exterior are the slanted headlights which mirror the styling of the Scirocco. The rear lights have also been influenced by the Tiguan SUV.
VW insists it’s what’s on the inside that counts, putting the emphasis on matching quality with larger luxury cars.
So much so that it’s not only expecting to keep its existing customers happy, but wants to attract sales from BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class drivers looking to downsize to save money.
VW highlighted an unlikely competitor in Vauxhall’s Insignia which could also attract downsizers.
While 3 Series customers won’t be happy moving into an S or SE trim on the Golf, which are fine but not exactly exciting, the top-of-the-range GT does meet VW’s goal of matching luxury quality.
Video: A review of the sixth generation Volkswagen Golf by Tom Seymour of UK auto industry magazine AM.
Emphasising the large luxury features are optional extras like park assist, touch screen DVD satellite nav-igation, adaptive cruise control, rear reversing camera and, for the first time on a Golf, seven-speed double clutch DSG automatic transmission and adaptive chassis control which alters the suspension, steering and accelerator response settings.
Included as standard are a seventh airbag for the driver’s knees, an anti-whiplash head restraint system and a revised electronic stabilisation programme.
As always with VW products there’s a great selection of engines to choose from.
There are two diesels available from launch, a new2.0-litre TDI 108bhp and a higher-powered 138bhp version. Other diesel variants to follow include a 1.6-litre with 88bhp and a 2.0-litre with 168bhp.
Petrol engines comprise a 1.4-litre 78bhp, 1.6-litre 100bhp and two 1.4-litre TSI units with 120bhp or 158bhp.
Bookending the range will be the ultra low emission Bluemotion Golf and teeth-rattling performance in GTI or diesel GTD guises from the summer.
With those extra options, customers trading down can still get those big car features while tightening budgets. This strategy should help VW through what will be a tough year.
The Golf sold 65,029 units in 2008 and VW is expecting sales to drop to around 55,000 in 2009 (excluding Bluemotion and GTI sales).
The mid-range 2.0-litre 108bhp TDI SE is expected to take the biggest chunk of sales at 38%, helped by the fact it will hit 57.6mpg while emitting 128g/km of CO2.
As always with the Golf, fleet sales will be extremely important with a 65/35 split on fleet and retail.
Behind the wheel
VW has stiffened up the suspension on the sixth generation Golf which means the magic formula that’s kept it so popular across Europe has been altered.
Instead of sharpening up the handling, the result is a safe driving experience which feels soft around the edges.
There’s plenty of grip around the corners but old customers will notice the closer step towards quiet and refined rather than fun and nimble.
The 120bhp 1.4-litre TSI version offered plenty of low and mid-range torque despite its relatively small capacity.
The 108bhp 2.0-litre diesel will go down well with fleets and offers the right mix of overtaking performance, low emissions and refinement.
VW engineers have succeeded in reducing the noise from the engine.