Every Coke has its Pepsi, every iPad, its Galaxy Tab (cue flame war). But only one name has the qualities that make it 'The Real Thing'. When it comes to hatchbacks, the Golf is that name.
Volkswagen rolled out its 30 millionth Golf last month. 30 million! If every car in Singapore AND Australia was a Golf, there would still be 15 million left for the rest of the world. It's mind boggling.
Yet it's no wonder. Dubbed the 'Rolls Royce of hatchbacks' by a local advertising firm (which I worked for) many years ago (it was the Mk4 back then), the Golf has always been the ultimate hatchback. Volkswagen has somehow been able to ensure that the Golf excels in every area, be it comfort, equipment level, practicality or performance, the Golf is always up there.
We were very impressed with the latest seventh-generation Golf when we tested it both abroad in Italy and on home ground. Back then though, the car we managed to get a drive in was the 140 bhp Sport model. We find out this time, how the base model 1.4 TSI with 122 bhp fares.
OK, if you've read the intro, you probably already know the results. But humour me a little please. I won't go into much detail on the exterior, as you probably would have seen many new Golfs on the road by now. But I will say one thing, the new Golf really looks (and is) bigger than most hatchbacks, it is almost sedan-like from the front. Thanks to the tapered side flanks of the bonnet which slope outwards (from top to bottom) instead of inwards, the Golf now has a 'big car' stance. Overall, the Golf remains a handsome and sporty-looking car, albeit a little too safe.
The interior of the Golf is a nice place to be. It now has better legroom and a bigger boot than the model it replaces. Even in this base model, the equipment level is high and the build quality all round is impressive. Materials used on the dashboard and doors panels feel robust without being hard and tacky. You also get a sexy flat-bottomed multifunction steering wheel, a 5-inch touch-screen display, DSG gearbox with paddle-shifters, and even driving mode selection. Seriously? All that in a base model hatchback? What more could you want?
Things get better when you turn the key. The 122 bhp Golf drives really well too. With 200 Nm of torque to get it going, the spirited hatchback never feels like it's lacking in power. Which makes me wonder if there's any point in the 140 bhp Sport model?
Needless to say, the Golf is more than able around town. Comfortable, roomy and punchy enough to fulfill most, if not all, everyday needs. It's when you want to have some real fun, that's when the car starts to come alive. Just imagine your foot is made out of lead, and the car will oblige by hurling itself forward with enthusiasm. Sure, it's not GTI-fast, but you still get a turbocharged kick-in-the-butt sensation that is both fun and addictive.
Get on your favorite road (I'm assuming it is not a drag strip and consists of some corners) and the Golf's handling will shine. Even on these humble 16-inch wheels and tyres, the Golf performed remarkably well through a series of bends and sweepers that we put it through, being both grippy and composed across the test route.
Without a doubt, the Golf 1.4 TSI is everything we expected, and more. It not only does the job well, it seals its place once again as the benchmark for others to follow. There may be other hatchbacks out there that come close, but for me, it's the Real Thing, or nothing.