Earlier this year, Volkswagen's Golf hatchback overtook the Beetle as the company's biggest selling model, ever. With over 21.5 million cars built since it first appeared in its Mark I guise in 1974, the car is one of the world's biggest selling nameplates, finding 865,000 buyers worldwide last year.
With such vast numbers on the roads, you have got to be thinking that the company is doing something right, and it is. For many people, particularly in Europe, the Golf is the car that defines the small hatchback - affordable, economical, practical, and with enough driving character and comfort to satisfy most average Fredriks and Helgas.
It's a formula that the company has stuck to with slight degrees of variation and with the present Mark IV now on sale, the Golf still offers the same sort of predictable traits as its predecessors, delivered with the quality stamp of solid German engineering. In short, the Golf is to the European car-buyer, what Corolla means to the Aussie masses. Trusted transport.
In Australia, the company offers a lineup of five models from the entry level 75kW/148Nm 1.6-litre S and SE, through the mid-spec 85kW/170Nm 2.0-litre S and SE to the range topping 110kW/210Nm 1.8-litre turbo GTi. Nothing out of the ordinary there when you compare it to the Japanese fare on offer, but something wobbly happens by the time the cars roll off the boat.
Being a European import, the affordability factor suffers significantly with exchange rates, and locally, the Golf range is priced between $25,990 and $38,500. It's still well shy of the small hatchbacks from the likes of Audi, BMW and Benz, but VW doesn't have the badge cache either, try as it might to change that. In product terms, the Golf still competes directly, as it does in Europe on all counts, with other European sourced imports such as the Holden Astra and the recently launched Ford Focus, but on price it is only Peugeot's 307 that covers the same ground on a model for model basis.
Our test car, the 2.0-litre SE retails for $31,900 or about the same price as a base Commodore, so its not cheap and cheerful transport. Nor does VW pitch it as such but the bottom line is that the Golf is still a small hatchback. It may be a step up in the driving stakes compared to most small Japanese hatches but it doesn't offer anything more than the Astra or Focus, other than a genuine Euro badge.
But that is not to say the car is wanting, because it is not. It is, as it says on the box, a competent, quality, practical hatch that offers a good drive.
The 2.0-litre engine is a very smooth and refined unit and with its peak torque arriving at 2400rpm, it is a flexible and tractable powerplant suited to a range of driving styles. It is however, recommended to take premium fuel, which can mean a bigger spend at the bowser. The five speed gearshift is a little notchy but it doesn't take much practice to achieve smooth transitions to shift cogs up or down.
Being of European design, the ride and handling compromise is biased towards the latter with the car cornering flat and feeling very stable with plenty of grip from the 15-inch alloys shod with 195/65 tyres. Turn it into a corner and unless you are pushing particularly hard, it follows your desired line while pulling up is well catered for by anti-lock equipped discs all round.
The ride quality is reasonably good, with the suspension's compliance soaking up most rough roads, although the sports seats are on the firm side and do tend to transmit harsher potholes.
Inside, the Golf retains a fairly standard and inoffensive layout with quality materials and finish and all controls where you expect to find them. From a design perspective it is functional rather than funky although the dash does come to life at night with its cool electric blue instrumentation lights and red needles.
Accommodation for four adults is good with a fairly large boot space that can be expanded to swallow 1184 litres with the split fold rear seat down. As you would expect for the price, equipment levels are generous with the standard kit list running to dual front airbags, remote locking and alarm, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, and an eight speaker single CD audio system.
The Golf is a good solid dependable small hatch that is a worth a drive if you're budget isn't too restrictive, but there are other, equally competent European hatches that won't put such a dent in the bank balance.
To comment on this article click here