It’s been a while since I’ve driven one of the milder versions of the Golf family, my experience of late with Volkswagen’s ubiquitous hatchback relegated to the higher performance — and very satisfying — GTI and R models.
But the regulation TSI proves to be entertaining in its own right, which I accidentally discovered when road construction forced me to take an unfamiliar exit to get to where I was heading. Instead of a straight shot on a smooth stretch of tarmac, I found myself on a series of undulating, mostly unpaved concession roads. It turned out to be the best 20 minutes I’ve spent “lost” in a long time — ending when I reconnected with the original road.
During that time, the four-door hatch, though lacking the rewarding surge of power its more enhanced siblings provide, demonstrated similar handling dynamics.
There was an intimate connection with the road surface — with crisp turn-in from the electric power-assisted steering — and just a bit of understeer on looser gravel, which could be corrected by easing up on the throttle.
Later, while checking the mechanical specs for the car, I discovered that all Golfs are equipped with the XDS Cross Differential System.
According to VW, this acts somewhat like an electronic substitute for a traditional mechanical limited-slip differential, working by actively monitoring data from each wheel sensor. So, if the suspension becomes unloaded, the system automatically applies braking to the driven inside wheel as needed to help reduce understeer — ergo, greater stability, plus improved handling and cornering performance.
While not being a sport hatch per se, the TSI certainly has a sporty vibe to it, by no means compromised by the turbocharged and direct-injection 1.8-litre four-cylinder TSI (gasoline-fuelled) engine that powers it. It’s a strong but growly motor — 170 horsepower at 3,500 r.p.m. and 199 pound-feet of torque starting at 1,600 r.p.m. and lasting until 4,400 r.p.m., when paired with the six-speed automatic — that has to move just 1,371 kilograms of car.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard issue for the TSI. The tester, in mid-trim Comfortline form (there’s also the base Trendline and the higher-end Highline), came with the six-speed Tiptronic, a $1,400 upgrade.
If left in Drive and not slotted into Sport mode, the Tiptronic shifts early so as to maximize fuel economy. Under part throttle, this can cause the engine to lag. I found the best way to avoid this was to leave it in Sport, which delays the upshifts. (If you want to self-shift, there’s only the console-mounted gear lever; steering wheel-mounted paddles are not included.)
As for fuel economy, I averaged an acceptable if undistinguished 8.6 L/100 km during my week with the Golf, spending about 60 per cent of my time on highways.
Even when not haring about on country back roads, there’s a feeling of sturdiness from the seventh-generation Golf, which debuted with the 2015 model.
Built on Volkswagen’s MQB modular platform, the chassis has two solid-mounted subframes. There’s also a strut-type front suspension and, at the back, a multi-link arrangement with coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar. The ride is definitely firm, yet not bone-jarring.
Inside, the cabin is comfy and fairly well appointed for the price ($26,655 as tested). For the Golf’s overall size, it’s roomy, too — or can be. There’s plenty of legroom and headroom up front, but if you slide those front seats all the way back on their tracks, it’s definitely at the expense of the rear-seat occupants. Plus, there’s 467 litres of cargo space up to the parcel shelf and 646 L to the roof.
Load space is enhanced by a trunk floor that can be moved up or down by 9.9 centimetres, while the 60/40-split backrest can be folded to give an almost flat cargo area. With the rear seats folded, the Golf has a very usable 1,492 L of cargo capacity.
The cabin environment is definitely a case of form follows function. The primary instrumentation is clear and bright, the controls are properly laid out and well-marked, and the surrounding aluminum-look plastic trim is a step up from the cheaper hard stuff that downgrades certain competitive models. The 6.5-inch touch screen is on the small side, though, and there’s a limited menu of functions for it. The Comfortline trim brings with it the usual modern conveniences, including power windows with one-touch up/down, power door locks and exterior mirrors, dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel, partial power and heated front seats.
On the safety side, blind-spot detection with rear-traffic alert is part of a $1,310 Convenience package, which also includes a panoramic power sunroof.
Any accolades this newest Golf has earned — including 2015’s Best Small Car (over $21,000) by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada — have been well-deserved. Though it’s designed and priced to be daily functional transportation, it’s very much a driver’s car.
That said, the competition isn’t slacking off. Honda is returning the hatchback to the Civic fold and Mazda has revamped its Mazda3 — another estimable sporty hatchback — for 2017. Chevrolet has added a very stylish hatchback model to its popular Cruze lineup. And those are just a few examples.
In other words, the Golf TSI is good and fun, but it’s far from being the only athlete in the game.
— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016