There is always a risk, when you write nice things about Volkswagens, that some buffoon is going to accuse you of being putty in the hands of the Beast of Wolfsburg. To forestall this, I’m going to start off by mentioning two aspects of the Golf which do not impress me.
First, VW has never, in over forty years, been able to distance itself from the huge rear pillars which some fool thought were a good idea during the design stage of the Mk1. This is usually referred to as retaining the character of the original car, but in fact it’s a pox which should have been eliminated years ago. And, while we’re on the subject, the windscreen pillars are far too thick, as you’ll find when you’re trying to leave a T-junction.
Second, this particular Golf has very little space under the front seats, and that compromises its ability to carry rear passengers. There’s not much point in building a car intended to carry four grown-ups when the two in the rear, if they are robust fellows, have to place their feet either as if they were ballet dancers or in a manner which, if employed by a young pigeon, would make its mother tell it to walk properly.
So, can we agree that this is an independent review of which Volkswagen would not fully approve? Good.
The Golf under consideration is an R-Line. R-Lines are unique in the range in that the choice of engines is limited to a 2.0 TDI turbo diesel and, as tested here, a 1.5 TSI turbo petrol, both producing a maximum of 148bhp but by very different means.
Neither is unique to the R-Line. The 1.5 TSI is available in other Golfs, though all of them have lower trim levels, while the 2.0 TDI can be found in both cheaper and more expensive models (with higher power outputs in the latter case). The R-Line is the single Golf in which the choice is limited to these two engines and no other.
The TSI is a lovely engine, smooth and quiet even when being pressed. Pressing it is definitely required if you want the full performance, but for everyday driving duties it’s more than powerful enough. If you want more urgency from low revs, get the diesel while you’re still allowed to.
But really, this isn’t a performance car. Its delights are more subtle. All the major controls are incredibly smooth, with the possible exception of the gearchange, whose action is more positive and requires a firmer hand. As with the Mazda MX-5 (not an obvious rival, I admit), you can enjoy driving the Golf even when you’re pulling away from a parking space, and it remains a pleasure at high speeds on deserted country roads.
Paradoxically, though, the whole point of the R-Line, which is to all intents and purposes the same thing as a Golf GT, is to convey the impression that it’s a hot hatch when it actually isn’t.
For an extra £995 over the price of an equivalent GT, you get snazzier wheels, front sports seats, stainless steel pedals, chrome effect dummy exhaust tailpipe surrounds and an exterior styling pack including non-GT bumpers, a roof spoiler and side skirts.
There’s also a rear diffuser, but while this may trick some people into thinking that there’s a connection with the aerodynamic devices used on F1 cars and other exciting motorsport machines, it’s far too high off the ground to be able to diffuse anything. The same ploy is used by other manufacturers, and frankly I think it’s a bit silly, but if customers like it, fair enough.
I could do without all that stuff and would probably have a GT instead. Whichever one you buy, though, you’ll have a Golf which is rather glorious, in a modest and restrained way.
Engine size 1498cc
Top speed 134mph
0-62mph 8.3 seconds
Fuel economy 55.4mpg combined
CO2 emissions 116g/km
Towing capacity 1500kg (braked)
Euro NCAP (2012) Overall 5 stars Adult occupant 94% Child occupant 89% Pedestrian 65% Safety assist 71%
Information correct at publication date