Golf - our Car of the Year

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 09:00 01/01/2014

Rob Maetzig takes the car of the year for a spin

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Volkswagen's seventh-generation Golf is the Fairfax New Zealand Car of the Year for 2013.

It's also been voted in as New Zealand Car of the Year by the Motoring Writers' Guild, is the European Car of the Year, World Car of the Year, and even the Japan Car of the Year - the first time an imported vehicle has won that award since it was created way back in 1980.

That's an astonishing list of plaudits for this latest hatchback from Germany. But it deserved them all, and that was underlined by our own voting process.

In order to win the Fairfax title, not only did every one of a total of 20 finalists have to spend a week in the hands of the group's six award-winning automotive journalists, but the final six cars had to be driven head-to-head against each other, making the award the toughest local one to win.

The journalists involved were Rob Maetzig, Dave Moore, Kyle Cassidy, Paul Owen and Peter Louisson, with TV3's motoring man, Shaun Summerfield added to the mix, as he is every year.

After a torrid shoot-out between the six category winners over country roads in South Auckland and Waikato, the Golf topped the scoring with a 479 point total out of a possible 600, outscoring the Mazda6 by five points to take the win.

Each category finalist was assessed out of 100 points by each judge, taking into account aspects such as design, performance, safety, practicality, specification and value. The scoring was weighted so that cars in each category could be reasonably compared with those from another.

So why is the Golf7 so good?

First of all, the key objective for the new VW was to deliver a better all-round car and yet not charge a cent more for it. Volkswagen nailed this objective - the new Golf is better to drive, more economical and better specified. The car's attention to detail delights, as does its entire engineering concept which has amplified all the good bits and seemingly eliminated all the negatives. And capping it off, VW managed to cut the price across the board.

But not only that, but it is a very nice car to drive.

The judges quickly noticed that during the big drive-off which was against product that ranged from sporty little numbers such as the BMW 135i and Ford Fiesta ST, through to big full-sized product such as the latest Range Rover.

The Golf simply lapped up the challenge, impressing everyone with the way it offered a very impressive small-car drive.

Volkswagen Golf has always been like that. That explains why it is one of the all-time best-selling cars in the global market. It's also worth noting that every generation of the Golf has finished in the top three of the World Car of the Year in the last 38 years - a remarkable achievement.

At the very time the Fairfax NZ Car of the Year was announced, I was spending a week behind the wheel of a Golf. It was a 90kW 1.4-litre TSI with a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic, equipped to the Comfortline level of specification and the second- least expensive model in the Golf range at $34,750. The only Golf priced lower is the manual model which sells for $32,250.

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As I've said many times before, I enjoy driving the entry versions of any model range. It's those cars that the most easily show up the good and the bad things about a particular make of vehicle.

In the case of the Golf, this TSI is the least powerful of the range - the same engine is also in a higher-specified TSI Highline, but the turbocharger wick has been turned up so it develops 103kW of power.

And then there are two diesel versions on offer. A Comfortline model is powered by a 1.4-litre turbodiesel mated to the DSG and develops 77kW of power and 250Nm of torque, while a Highline version has a 2.0-litre 110kW/320 Nm engine under its bonnet, which is mated to a six-speed DSG. That Highline diesel was the model that we Fairfax judges drove during the big shoot-out a few weeks ago, so it was interesting to now experience the least powerful of the Golf range.

It performs very well. It might offer "only" the 90kW of power and 200Nm of torque, but that's sufficient to scoot the Golf to 100kmh in 9.3 seconds. The turbocharging also means the hatch offers nice amounts of torque from as low as 1500rpm.

The car also has Volkswagen Group's BlueMotion fuel-saving technology, and as a result the average fuel consumption is 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres. Helping all that along is the fact the car has engine stop/start technology that shuts the engine down whenever the VW is stationary at the lights or at an intersection.

This seventh-generation Golf is the biggest yet, with an overall length extended by 56mm and with a wheelbase that is up 59mm. It's an attractive vehicle that carries through plenty of Golf design cues but which looks a lot sharper.

Naturally the bigger exterior dimensions translate to more room inside, and this is particularly the case for those in the back seats, where there is now more leg, shoulder and elbow room, and in the cargo area where the capacity has grown by 30 litres to 380 litres with all seats in use. This can be increased to 1270 litres with the rear seats folded down, and a special design feature is what can be done with the tonneau cover. Usually these rigid covers have to be removed from a car entirely when larger items need to be stowed, and there's always the risk they will then become lost or misplaced.

But in the case of this Golf, the cover can either be stored under the load area's floor when the rear seats are in use, or slipped into special slots that allow it to be part of the load area itself by helping provide a flat load surface when the rear seats are folded down.

A significant feature of the new Golf is that it is a better-value buy. Much of this is to do with the fact the car is the first to be built by the Volkswagen Group using a modular vehicle platform design strategy called MQB, which involves all of the group's transverse- engined vehicles having common engine mounts.

Every other vehicle platform dimension - width, length, wheelbase and track - can be changed to suit the particular requirements of individual vehicles, but VW Group says massive savings in engineering and parts costs can be achieved by ensuring that all vehicles have their engines and transmissions installed in exactly the same place on common mounts in the fixed area between the front axle and the firewall.

The company claims that the time taken to build a car can be cut by as much as 30 per cent via this standardisation of design and the fact parts will be able to be shared by an enormous number of vehicles. The future is likely to see at least 50 Volkswagens, Audis, Skodas and Seats built on the MQB platform.

And in the case of the Golf, it means the new model offers up to $8000 more in specification and equipment for a reduced retail price - and that's why our latest Car of the Year is offered at prices the equivalent of your average Japanese hatchback.

Combine that with the fact that the seventh-generation Golf has lost nothing in terms of its sheer drivability, and it's little wonder it picked up all those plaudits for 2013.

- Taranaki Daily News

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