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Thursday, September 11, 2008

All new redesigned 2009 VW Golf

The new sixth-generation 2009 Volkswagen Golf has been designed to meet much higher standards of quality than any of its predecessors, so it's appropriate that it will get its first public display at the 2008 Paris Auto Show. Given the wholesale shift in buyer preferences across Europe toward premium brands, it is hardly a surprise to find Volkswagen making every effort to ensure the Golf is perceived as a cut above the hatchback competition.

No car manages to attract a wider cross-section of buyers than Volkswagen's best seller (whether as the Golf in Europe or the Rabbit in the U.S.), and by providing it with a dash of upmarket cachet, the appeal is only likely to grow. After testing the new Golf in Iceland, there's every reason to expect it to succeed — especially if you take into account the downsizing trend brought about by rising fuel prices in most major markets of late.

Maybe the 2009 Volkswagen Golf will even finally revive VW's fortunes in the U.S.

Less Complication, More Quality
Development of the sixth-generation Golf kicked off in 2005 under former Volkswagen brand boss Wolfgang Bernhard. His aim was to simplify production and make the new Golf more profitable than the outgoing fifth-generation model, whose complex construction might have endowed it with class-leading levels of quality but saw it lag behind its hatchback rivals (Ford Focus and Opel Astra) in terms of corporate profit margins. This sixth-gen model features an entirely different assembly process that improves efficiency by 20 percent.

Walter de'Silva has given the Golf a far less extravagant appearance as well. "From early on we decided on a clean, simple and recognizable design," he says. See it in the metal for the first time and you can't help but notice obvious hints of the Giugiaro-designed first-generation Golf of 1974 in the simple horizontal grille, and there is more than a dash of the fourth-generation model at the rear. Unusually for a modern-day hatchback, there is no dramatic swage line detailing along the flanks. Instead, it is all very restrained, with taut and unadorned surfaces.

A Better Place To Drive
Dimensionally, there's not much separating new from old. At 165.3 inches in length and 70 inches in width, the 2009 Volkswagen Golf is 0.2 inch longer and 0.8 inch wider, while height remains the same at 58.2 inches.

As tradition dictates, customers will be able to choose between three- and five-door versions of the Golf from the start of European sales in October. They will be followed by a more dramatically styled Golf GTI, and there will be updated versions of the high-roof Golf Plus and Golf wagon as well as a return of the Golf Cabriolet with a traditional cloth top — all planned for launch in 2009. The updated appearance is also set to find its way onto the Jetta, although don't expect it to appear until 2010.

It is inside where the Golf scores most of its points. As with the exterior, there are no real surprises, but while the design is predictably conservative with echoes of the fourth-generation model, it is well laid out, with conveniently placed controls that are straightforward to use. The quality of the plastics and switchgear is a class above the hatchback competition, providing an impressively solid and well-damped feel.

An exemplary driving position with generous longitudinal and height adjustment of the seat also contributes to the feeling of well-being, providing excellent all-around vision. There is none of the feeling of sitting over the steering wheel like you get in some modern-day hatchbacks.

The large hatch opens to reveal a generous and evenly shaped cargo bay whose capacity is put at 12.4 cubic feet. Once you stow the split-folding rear seat, cargo capacity expands to 46.1 cubic feet.

Diesel for the U.S.
Volkswagen predicts the majority of North American sales will once again come from its 170-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-5 gasoline engine. But all the cars at the introduction of the new Golf in Iceland came with European specification engines, so our attention for now is turned to a turbocharged 1.4-liter gasoline inline-4, a turbocharged and supercharged 1.4-liter inline-4 and a 2.0-liter diesel inline-4.

The Twincharged (supercharged and turbocharged), direct-injection 1.4-liter gas engine is dependable, although it doesn't have a lot of personality. With 122 hp and 148 pound-feet of torque, it does everything it's asked without distinguishing itself in any great way. When it's matched with VW's new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 1,390cc inline-4 gets the Golf to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds and finally runs out of steam at 120 mph. With turbocharging to further bolster performance, there's no need to even work the 16-valve inline-4 particularly hard.

As impressive as this gasoline engine is, it loses out to the gutsier TDI diesel in everyday driving appeal. The turbocharged 1,968cc unit with common-rail injection and twin balance shafts is not particularly new, as it's been featured in the current Golf for almost a year now. But it's incorporated here as part of Volkswagen's Clean Diesel initiative, which means it's coming to America. With 140 hp, it might not seem to offer much in the way of performance, but it has plenty of punch between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm, where 236 lb-ft of torque is available. Volkswagen claims zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 9.3 seconds and a top speed of 122 mph.

New Poise on the Road
Underneath, the new 2009 Volkswagen Golf shares the same basic front-wheel-drive platform as its successful predecessor, including MacPherson strut suspension in the front and multilink suspension in the rear, although much has been altered. On the road, the new car feels very mature, more like a car from the class above than your typical hatchback. As Volkswagen's development boss Ulrich Hackenburg explains, a lot of detailed work has been focused on making it more refined and relaxing to drive. "We conducted a detailed analysis of every potential source of noise. The result is a thoroughly redesigned front bulkhead and new engine mounting points," he says.

Meanwhile the electromechanical steering system is brought over with only detail changes. Aside from the usual change in steering assist as speed increases, it is clever enough to add a touch of countersteering when it senses a sudden change in road camber or when the car is confronted by crosswinds.

The Icelandic roads on which we drove provided spectacular scenery but often presented large potholes. Still, the Golf coped remarkably well. As before, the overall ride quality has been tuned for comfort and not outright sportiness, but adaptive damping is now an option, and it offers three levels of control. In Comfort mode, the Golf soaks up road irregularities with impressive control. Switch to Sport mode and you immediately notice the added tautness. For a combination of the two, the standard mode seems perfectly judged.

All Grown Up at Last
Volkswagen may have played it safe, but the new 2009 Volkswagen Golf has redefined our expectations of the affordable hatchback.

It is beautifully built, possesses the sort of cabin quality that shames many so-called luxury cars, offers up all the very latest safety equipment, has a wide range of frugal gasoline and diesel engines as well as the very latest in gearbox technology, is remarkably quiet and is, above all, enjoyable to drive.

In short, the new Golf is a very complete, grown-up car that looks certain to retain its position at the top of Europe's new car sales charts. In all, more than 26 million Golfs have been sold over the past 34 years — a figure that speaks volumes for its overall popularity. The question is, will it reach the top of the charts in the U.S., as just 41,884 Golfs went onto the street in 2007?