Ask most people for ideas on what car to buy and they will often reply: “just buy a Golf”. They do this not because it is the only car they think of when put on the spot, but because it does everything you ask of it so well. Recently however, certain diesel Golfs have been caught out doing a little too well at emission tests, something that has now snow-balled into an industry-wide scandal causing diesel engines to become something of a dirty word. Perhaps it is time then to take another look at petrol, which leads me on to this latest low emission Golf that is powered by a tiny 1.0 litre turbo-charged 3-cylinder engine that proudly runs on unleaded. Check out my quick road test video below for an impression of how it drives.
The current Golf is the Mark 7 which was launched back in 2013 and this latest version is called snappily: ‘Golf Match BlueMotion Edition’. This is the first petrol engine to come under Volkswagen’s ‘BlueMotion’ brand, which confusingly is applied to only the greenest models in its range, an honour previously reserved for only the diesel models. Apparently the colour ‘Blue’ better links in with the corporate colours of Volkswagen in case you wondered why the range is simply not just called ’GreenMotion’. Anyway, despite this new engine weighing in at just 89 kg it packs an almighty economical punch, offering 115 PS in the power stakes, 65 miles per gallon on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of just 99 g/km. Petrol just became en-vogue again.
For all its unbridled efficiency this new Golf BlueMotion hides its progress well, looking like any other Golf, which in turn looks like any other Golf before that. Nevertheless, there is reasoning here as the model Golf has an incredibly strong brand identity with a trademark design that people recognise, hence the evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to its handsome design. Volkswagen also understand there is certainly demand for a car that pushes efficiency to the max but not one that necessarily looks weird or out-there in design terms. There is security in familiarity and park this new BlueMotion on your drive and it may not get your neighbour’s curtains twitching but you may well get a silent nod of approval from passers-by as they spot your new car.
Inside you get an interior that again gives no clue to the alchemy lying under the bonnet and you will not find much in the way of design inspiration either, but you will find quality in spades. No matter what the world is doing on the outside there are some aspects of the world that reassure: the turning of the tide for example or the bank-vault like thunk you get from closing the door on a Golf. It all just works with a precision and quality that is rarely found on other cars and even if inside there is a bit too much one shade of grey, (not the fifty that others get apparently), it does have an understated elegance to it all.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Golf Mark 7, the interior offers a standard 5.8-inch central touchscreen which brings the interior up to date and facilitates the control of the car’s information and entertainment functions. Employing some smart phone functionality to allow you to swipe to select, it is clear and easy to operate. The only niggle is that because it is based now on 2012 technology, it is showing its age and feels a little old hat now.
Often with cars that place a high emphasis on fuel economy and low emissions it comes at the expense of driver enjoyment. When was the last time you saw a Toyota Prius driver smiling for example? But this little Golf does prove that sometimes you can not only have your cake and eat it, but return for second helpings too. It starts with the basics: Good driving position, a sweet manual gear change and precise steering. Out on the open road you may expect the 1.0 litre engine to struggle for pace and pulling power, but thanks to turbo-charging it has plenty of get up and go, to the extent that you would swear there was a much bigger engine under the bonnet. Never has a 0-60 mph statistic of 9.7 seconds been more misleading.
Out in the real world we will all mostly spend our time going between 0 – 30 mph or 50 – 70 mph and this is where the Golf is right at home offering plenty of zip. The other surprise is that you do not need to constantly stir the gear lever like you are trying to beat some eggs to make decent progress. This is all thanks to the turbo which provides real torque (pulling power) in all five of the six gears with the top sixth gear reserved predominantly for motorway driving. If you find the concept of changing your own gears terribly old fashioned, then you can specify Volkswagen’s excellent Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) which will change gears for you automatically or at the merest flick of a steering wheel paddle.
The little engine also proves that 3 really is a magic number: Turbine smooth (a characteristic rarely associated with 3-cylinder units) and always eager to rev by quickly spinning all the way around to its limiter. And it does all of this whilst singing its little heart out sounding like a very distant, probably twice-removed, charming cousin of a vintage Porsche 911. It is a rewarding engine to drive hard and because the engine is not a big heavy lump, it makes the Golf feel light on its feet which further increases the smiles but not necessarily the economy per mile as you hustle it along.
Once you curb your inner enthusiasm and drive it like Volkswagen no doubt intended you can relax, soak up the impressive ride quality and refinement as the engine smoothly sips its unleaded. Out in the roads of Northamptonshire we manged just over 50 miles per gallon in mixed driving that included some serious pedal to metal time.
This new BlueMotion Golf proves that sometimes you do not need the loudest, fastest car in the range to have fun and if you can save some fuel and emissions in doing so then going green may not actually be so mean.
A bulk of the technology with this Golf is found lurking under the bonnet but the Golf did not win European Car of the Year without offering some decent technology in the car. Standard on the car is the 5.8-inch touchscreen discussed earlier but most owners upgrade to the bigger 6.5-inch touchscreen which gives satellite navigation and in turn a choice of either the fastest route or the most economical. This useful feature is possible thanks to live traffic updates that are received as you drive along your route.
Elsewhere you can have automatic cruise control which will maintain your distance to the car in front (accelerating/braking as necessary). On top this Golf will automatically brake for you in urban areas if a collision is detected imminently, reverse parallel park for you if you fancy parking hands-free and will politely suggest when you should take a break if the on-board systems detect that you are getting too tired.
Offering more rear legroom and more shoulder room for all occupants when compared with its predecessor, this Mark 7 Golf is plenty big enough for four adults and will fulfil its duty as a family car admirably. Furthermore, since this particular Golf has stuck with conventional wisdom and still chooses to embrace combustion, the boot is not cluttered with any hybrid mechanicals offering a sizeable 380 litres of space.
Being a petrol engine it undercuts the diesel alternative by £1,600 as well as attracting a cut of 3% in the Benefit in Kind (BIK) rate for the same reason. Therefore, unless you are driving thousands of miles per year (15,000 +) then the diesel alternative will be largely irrelevant to most.
The Volkswagen Golf 1.0 litre BlueMotion is lean, keen and green. Combine this with the other attributes that have made the Golf such a success over the years – the great build quality, strong refinement, practical nature, unrivalled image and it is very easy to recommend this latest version.
Model tested: Volkswagen Golf Match BlueMotion Edition (0-60 mph in 9.7 seconds, average of 65 miles per gallon, 99 g/km of CO2 emissions for the manual gearbox and annual road tax of £0).
Priced from: £20,110 for 3-door or £20,765 for 5-door.
Motoring Writer, Road Test Reviewer & Car Consultant