|Volkswagen Golf V
Fine Car, But Opposition Catching Up
New Threats From Above, Below Challenge Golf Family Hegemony
Will The Same Old Formula Still Work? Lack Of Pizzazz To Cost VW
High Prices Said To Deter Buyers. Rating: *** out of 5
The new Volkswagen Golf V has a lot to live up to. This is the fifth iteration of VWs small family car, which first appeared on the streets over 30 years ago. The Golf has been the biggest seller in Germany and Europe over the last 10 years, although it lost its leadership recently to the Peugeot 206 and the Renault Megane.
Since its first appearance more than 20 million Golfs have been sold.
Even if the Golf V manages to be at least, or even slightly better than the old one, it is never going to repeat its success, simply because the competing car manufacturers have not only raised their own game, they have also developed new niche cars which drain away buyers from this small family car segment.
Cars like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic match or exceed the Golfs traditional leadership in terms of driveability, quality and space. Compact MPVs like the Opel/Vauxhall Zafira and Renault Megane offer greater flexibility and terrific value for families. Cheaper and smaller cars like the Honda Jazz and VWs own Polo, offer the comfort, performance, features and flexibility that make potential car buyers decide that they can spend less money and not miss out on much, if anything.
The Golf GTI version also launched a new niche, offering terrific performance at reasonable prices. Not only have other mass manufacturers launched similar or better models, like the Honda Civic Type R, or Ford Focus ST170, but BMW is about to move downmarket with its 1 series to provide perhaps an irresistible challenge.
When I first looked at the new Golf I was surprised by the audacity of its similarity with the old one. It does look uncannily similar. Dull and worthy are the first thoughts springing to mind. This though is likely to please the powers-that-be back in VW headquarters in Wolfsburg; the Golf didnt get to be the biggest seller in Europe by pandering to gimmicks.
The new Golf might look uncannily like its predecessor, but under the skin it is completely new. It is 55 mm longer than the Mark IV, 24 mm wider, 46 mm higher, and the wheelbase is 67 mm longer.
The bigger dimensions give more room in the back, where two six-footers would be pretty comfortable. There is plenty of room up front, as ever. Theres plenty of storage space. The boot has grown a bit too.
The suspension has been completely revised, and it has a new four-link independent rear suspension. Electro-mechanical power steering has speed-dependent assistance across the range. Handling is very bit as good as the class leading Ford Focus. On motorways the ride is comfortable and quiet. The diesels make a bit more noise, but never become intrusive.
Power plants include a 1.4 litre conventional petrol and direct injection petrol, a 1.6 litre direct injection petrol, and various 1.9 litre and 2.0 litre diesels.
Petrol Direct Injection
Direct injection petrol engines use technology borrowed from the new common rail diesel engines. By injecting fuel directly into the cylinder, like modern diesels, combustion efficiency is improved and therefore fuel economy. Ive given details in the fact-box of the 1.6 litre direct injection petrol, which is likely to be the best seller in the range.
Standard safety features include Electronic Stabilisation Programme with Brake Assist and ABS, front airbags plus full-length curtain airbags, and front seat side airbags.
There are five and six speed manual gearboxes, and a six-speed automatic. The DSG Direct Shift Gearbox is also available a true innovation, combining the comfort of an automatic gearbox with the agility and economy of a manual unit.
The six-speed, transversely mounted DSG has two clutches with hydraulic pressure regulation. One clutch controls the odd gears plus reverse, while the other operates the even gears.
Up To 30,000 Miles Before Service
Golf V servicing is controlled by computer, which will tell the driver when a visit to the dealer is required. VW says it is possible to drive up to 19,000 miles or 24 months before a service on petrol models, and up to 30,000 miles or 24 months for a diesel.
The doors offer a new idea, which might save you money.
The new module doors are an innovation, aimed at drastically reducing repair costs. No longer must the entire door be replaced in the event that it is damaged in an accident, instead the outer skin panel can easily be detached for repair. This is achieved by the use of load bearing hybrid bars which serve as the door inner panel. The outer skin panel is bonded to these bars, VW said.
The interior is typical Golf plain, clear, lacking in gimmickry but quite drab compared with the latest competition like the new Mazda3. There is no wow factor in the interior, and some of the plastics seem on the cheap side.
VW uses laser welding, as opposed to the old spot welding method, and this gives increased rigidity and therefore crash-resistance and safety to the Golf V. Also the tighter gaps between the bodywork mean a more slippery aerodynamic profile and therefore better fuel consumption.
1,000 Euro Incentives?
Early reports from Germany suggest that the new Golf is not exciting new buyers there. Prices are thought to be on the high side. Some reports suggest that VW dealers are offering up to 1,000 euros in incentives to shift the metal, even though the new car has barely finished its rollout across Europe.
The new Golf base model is being offered at a very similar price to the upcoming new Opel/Vauxhall Astra, but prospective buyers are reporting that if features are added to the Golf which are standard on the entry level Astra, the VW is in fact at least 2,000 euros more expensive. VW seems to be saying that its quality and status alone mean that it can charge higher prices. It remains to be seen whether consumers are willing to pay a Mercedes or BMW like premium for the mass market Golf.
With new competitors now also including the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Peugeot 307, Renault Megane, and Ford Focus, the new Golf faces tougher competition than ever.
Maybe relying on its traditional values and shape might not be enough. Perhaps a little more pizzazz is needed if the Golf is ever going to return to former glories.
Neil Winton February 1, 2004