Volkswagen Golf: Is it still the gold standard?

If an extraterrestrial life form needed to learn what is a car, try this.

If you ever needed to show a newly-arrived Martian what is a car, you wouldn’t go wrong with a flashcard carrying the silhouette of a Volkswagen Golf. Just like how Mercedes-Benz never misses the mark with the S-Class and BMW always manages to keep the 3-Series’ nose ahead of the pack, you can bet all your bitcoins on Volkswagen to get things right with the Golf.

Maybe I’m selling the Golf a bit short, this is an institution of a car. Since it first surfaced in the 70s, the VW hatchback been the benchmark others aspired to beat. The competitors have come close, perhaps even eclipsing it in some areas, but rarely as a whole, if ever. So, despite Dieselgate, mechanical recalls, the rise of SUVs, the Golf has remained the staple of Volkswagen.

Still handsome six years after its debut; doesn’t really need those faux exhaust tips, however…
A striking balance

It’s hard to imagine that the current generation Golf is already six years old (the new one is due late 2019). Our test unit, a 1.4TSI fitted with the sporty R-Line adornments looks as fresh and crisp as when the Mk7 debuted at the Paris Motor Show in 2012. The design of the Golf has never been about setting trends or vowing crowds, yet every iteration bears a timeless factor which makes them age unusually tastefully. It’s no different with the facelifted Mk7.5, and it’ll likely be the same with the upcoming Mk8.

Golf cabin doesn’t wow at first sight but impresses immensely over time.

Volkswagen seems to have perfected the art of striking that fine balance in all areas. Nothing jumps out at you in a Golf, instead you’ll find correct portions of everything. Take for instance the interior, you get just the right amount of digitalisation (because screens sell cars these days) mixed with analogue controls for a tactile, easy-to-use interface, then there’s the right quotient of rear legroom, the requisite level of build quality to worry luxury branded hatchbacks, supportive and comfortable if plain-looking seats, even a boot that’s useful in size and shape when you need it to be. If the Golf ‘sounds’ unspectacular, it is by design.

Dear Volkswagen, please keep some controls analogue in the next gen Golf, the mix is just nice in the Mk7.5.
Getting into the swing of things

Since the MQB platform came about in 2012, the Volkswagen Group probably has the best building blocks for cars with transversely mounted engines. The attention-hogging GTi and Golf R wouldn’t be this capable if they weren’t sitting on well-sorted underpinnings. So even if the 1.4TSI doesn’t have the clever adaptive dampers and power output of its more illustrious siblings, its unflappable chassis composure does make it subjectively as pleasing to steer in corners and certainly more comfortable over varied road conditions.

It is not to say you shouldn’t consider the hot hatches if your purse strings are elastic, but the 1.4TSI with its punchy 150hp/250Nm turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, you are not compromising much in terms of overall fun (idle to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds is fast enough as far as family cars go), and to top it all off, the wholesome package happens to also yield solid real-world fuel efficiency even when driven predominantly in the city.

The 1.4TSI R-Line looks the part, drives just as satisfyingly as its fire-breathing siblings.
The final putt

We can’t possibly sign the scorecard by leaving the gorilla in the room unattended because the topic of owning a Volkswagen in Malaysia remains a hotly-debated one whenever an unhappy owner seeks validation on social media. To its credit, official distributor Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia and its dealers have steadily improved on the level of customer satisfaction (based on JD Power’s Customer Service Index Study) from having been awarded the wooden spoon in 2014 to being placed joint third in 2018, even besting brands such as Honda and Toyota.

Not the longest of wheelbases, but overall seating comfort is hard to beat despite raised centre tunnel.

Good scores are never a definitive indication that all is well, but the VW brand is quietly headed in the right direction as far as making customers happy. Of course, those with sour experiences in the past may never return to the fold and that’s understandable, but even they can’t deny that some of their sweetest driving experiences have been in a Volkswagen, most probably a Golf.

Volkswagen Golf R-Line 1.4TSI
: RM173,390  Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, FWD  Output: 150hp / 250Nm  Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto  Performance: 0-100km/h in 8.2s; top speed 215km/h  Wheels/tyres: 225/45 R17  Safety: 7 airbags, Electronic Stability Control  Warranty: 5-year/unlimited (w/ 3-yrs maintenance)