The most popular version of the Volkswagen Golf is back, and its timing is beautiful
SINGAPORE —There’s a reason the Volkswagen Golf is consistently the best selling car in Europe, a market with demanding drivers who, unlike us, tend to buy not the biggest car they can afford but the smallest car they can get away with: it’s the best in its class.
The Golf is a more coherent and well thought out effort than rivals like the Renault Mégane or Opel Astra, and though it’s compact it can be had with many big-car features.
That’s especially so with the Golf 1.4, which has just re-entered Singapore in Comfortline and Highline trims, and with beautiful timing — COE prices tumbled this week.
The Golf 1.4 made an exit when the current, seventh-generation model was given a mild facelift last year. That shook up the supply chain some, and left Singapore with a Golf 1.0 TSI at the bottom of the range, the high performance GTI and R models at the top, and nothing in between.
Now the 1.4 is back to claim that empty spot, along with its place as the habitual best seller in the Golf range here.
To recap the facelift, the Golf received new bumpers, a restyled grille and new headlamps. In front, note how the chrome strip in the grille joins up with the lighting elements.
It also got new features (or new “content”, to use a car industry term), most of which you’ll find in the Golf Highline 1.4 TSI.
If you know what to look for, it should be easy to spot the Highline over the more basic Comfortline.
Start with the 18-inch alloys, which are an inch bigger than the Comfortline’s wheels and are a new design for the Golf.
At the back it gets the winky kind of turn signals (proper name: “dynamic” indicators), as opposed to the standard blinky kind.
Not sure what use these are, really, other than to tell someone that you have a posher Golf than they do.
Still, they’re a good example of how stuff from premium cars tends to trickle down to the Golf sooner than in other cars.
More examples of that are inside, the most obvious of which is the digital instrument panel (proper name: Active Info Display). Another nice bit of trickle-down tech (from Audi), the AID is one of those things that you don’t recognise the appeal of, until you try it out for yourself and then switch back to a car with regular dials.
The displays are bright and clear, but flexible, too: the middle bit shows whatever you find important, like entertainment info, fuel consumption data and so on, or even the map from the navigation system.
Mind you, in the Golf Highline the main navigation screen is pretty huge. 9.2 inches huge, as a matter of fact, with crisp, responsive graphics that are pretty much industry-leading, and a posh glass coating that we really should have wiped down before photographing.
Ah well. Nice as it is, that screen isn’t there for its own sake. Rather, it tidies up the Golf’s dashboard by removing buttons, and goes a long way in signalling Volkswagen’s belief that a compact car can still be a nice, plush one.
So, too, do features such as the big glass sunroof and blindspot monitors.
But at the heart of the Golf’s appeal is how it drives. The 1.4-litre engine shows how appealing a turbocharged, lean-burn engine can be, providing plenty of ready acceleration thanks to a broad spread of torque (or pulling power).
It’s noticeably more urgent and responsive than the 1.0 TSI even though it’s only 15 horsepower up on that engine, but there’s enough of a gap between this and the GTI to let you know that the Golf 1.4’s performance is meant to satisfy more than thrill.
The handling remains class-leading, however, with a fluency to the Golf that’s at the core of what makes it feel like such a well-sorted car.
The steering is nicely-weighted and easy to judge, and the body never wiggles underneath you, which lets you take aim at corners and attack with confidence.
It’s easy to feel how much grip you have in reserve, and even when you start to run out there’s stability control to save your hide, along with an interesting feature that VW calls Driver Steering Recommendation — start sliding and the steering reacts to prompt you how to correct the situation, becoming lighter in the right direction and heavier in the wrong one.
But if anything, there’s such an inherent poise to the Golf that the Highline’s sports suspension setup is completely unnecessary. It doesn’t ruin the ride quality, but it adds a firmness that doesn’t do anything to make it better to drive.
The Comfortline should be more, well, comfortable, especially since it also has smaller 17-inch wheels. It has the same torquey 1.4-litre engine (another 1.4 model, the R-Line, has a 150hp version of the engine) but does without the fancy features mentioned above.
Yet, there’s a quirk in local financing rules that might make it tough to choose between the various Golfs.
Assuming a seven-year loan and the current interest rate of 2.48 percent, the Golf Comfortline costs S$1,051 a month to finance, and the Golf Highline, S$1,027.
The difference is in their downpayments — you can borrow more for the Comfortline, so the amount you need to plonk down in cash is S$32,330, versus S$48,960 for the Highline.
That means it’s roughly 16 grand upfront for the frills: the digital instruments, glass sunroof, “dynamic” taillights, huge navigation screen, 18-inch wheels, sports suspension and all.
Feel free to choose whatever suits your means and tastes, but our pick of the mainstream Golf range is the Comfortline 1.4.
It’s punchier than the 1.0 TSI and more satisfying to drive, and the numbers involved make it a no brainer — the downpayment for the 1.4 is only S$1,650 more than for the 1.0, and the monthly payment is only higher by S$54.
The Highline is nice, but to many buyers what matters is the bottomline.
NEED TO KNOW Volkswagen Golf Highline 1.4 TSI
|Engine||1,395cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||125hp at 5000-6000rpm|
|Torque||200Nm at 1400-4000rpm|
|Gearbox||7-speed twin-clutch automatic|
|Agent||Volkswagen Group Singapore|
|Price||S$122,400 with COE|
There’s a Golf for everyone! The classic sporty one is the GTI…