I have said before that I think the 7th-generation Volkswagen Golf is one of the best cars currently on the market, and certainly the best in its segment. On a recent trip to Sweden, I was able to drive the Golf again, and although it is not my standard practice to review cars I have already driven a second time, this particular Golf had some of the upgrades I thought the Golf needed, and so it seemed like a good opportunity for an updated review.
By way of initial comment, let me just say that there is not much to add to what I’ve said before about the Golf’s build quality. It continues to be superb, even a benchmark. This particular Golf featured a few upgrades inside, including a lovely leather-wrapped steering wheel and dual-zone climate control, as well as a nice infotainment unit with digital radio. The cabin continues to be a very pleasant place to spend time, being both quiet and comfortable. It remains, as you would expect from Volkswagen, a solid, well-engineered car.
Moving on to the improvements with this particular Golf: Whenever I’ve driven the Golf previously, it has always been in the base model ’S’ trim, with the standard 1.6L TDI engine and 5-speed gearbox. After driving those Golfs, I have always been left thinking that the Golf needed two small improvements to make it better. The first is a 6-speed gearbox, to maximise the engine’s power curve, and the second, bigger wheels and tyres to firm up the ride a little. Arriving in Stockholm, I was handed the keys to the Golf you see above, in ‘BlueMotion’ trim, which has exactly those two features (amongst others). So do they help improve the driving experience of the Golf?
Let’s start with the ride and handling. On that front, these bigger wheels and tyres certainly do the trick. Whilst I always thought the base model Golf handles well to begin with, I have also felt that it was a bit on the soft side for me. That is why I was delighted to find that this particular BlueMotion Golf did exactly what I thought needed to be done. The bigger wheels and tires really do help to make the Golf feel that much more planted. It’s slightly firmer, which makes the handling a little sharper, and helps inspire a little more confidence going into the corners. It also adds some weight, feel, and precision to the steering. And it does all of this while retaining its wonderfully smooth and quiet ride at higher cruising speeds. If you are going to buy a Golf, you will certainly want these upgrades.
Can the same be said about the 6-speed gearbox? Although I was delighted to see that Volkswagen had fitted the 6-speed to the 1.6L TDI, that delight was short-lived. That is not to say the 6-speed is not an improvement over the 5-speed – it certainly is. More ratios are usually better. But it just didn’t add as much to the driving experience as I expected it to. Unfortunately, I could not find specifications for the ratios of the two gearboxes to compare them, but it feels as if 1st-3rd gear are the same ratios, while 4th and 5th have been altered slightly to make room for an extra ratio. This was disappointing, because it felt to me like 1st-3rd should have been tweaked instead; lowering the ratios of 2nd and 3rd in particular, in order to maximise the low-end torque, would have been a more welcome change. I could be wrong, of course, but if those ratios have actually been changed, it is not noticeable. Volkswagen’s BlueMotion technology is all about efficiency, though, and so I’m guessing they were only interested in what they could do to benefit fuel economy. I still think the 1.6L TDI is a great little engine, but as the gearbox was not as much an improvement as I’d hoped, I would still opt for the 2.0L TDI if I was looking for a diesel-engined Golf.
That being said, the Golf is still a fantastic car, and it still drives brilliantly. As Top Gear Magazine says, ‘The best done better than ever. You don’t need no other hatchback.’ Indeed. You simply cannot go wrong with Europe’s best-selling car. And I certainly look forward to being able to drive it again.
Engine: 1.6L TDI diesel, 105bhp, 184 lb.-ft.
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
MSRP: £21,435 / 221 500 kr
Mileage at pickup: 3762km
Distance driven: 600km
Photo location: 59°50’06.4″N 18°39’24.2″E