Published on Saturday 7 December 2013 22:02
Ten Second Review
The 7th Generation Volkswagen Golf might just be at its best when fitted with the 140PS petrol engine with ACT cylinder cut technology. You get the best of both worlds here; sprightly performance and handling with diesel-like economy and emissions.
Progress rarely comes in great leaps and bounds in the car industry. Instead we see incremental steps forward, with each generation of car being a little better than its predecessor. Take the Volkswagen Golf for instance. The Mk 5 was quite a step forward from the Mk 4. The MK 6 was only a little better than the Mk 5. The latest Mk 7 car just polishes everything, buffing what was already a very slick performer up to an impressive sheen. But pause to consider this. The car we're looking at here, the petrol-powered Golf 1.4 TSI ACT 140, offers better performance than a Mk 4 GTI. Yet provides 60mpg fuel economy. In fact, it returns better economy and emissions than TDI diesel Mk 4s. You want progress? You're looking at it right here.
The ACT bit of the name stands for VW's Active Cylinder Technology, which deactivates two of the cylinders to save fuel when the engine isn't under load. It's an extremely subtle piece of engineering, and it's fiendishly difficult to detect when you're running on two or four. After a while, your ear gets attuned to it, but to all intents and purposes, it's virtually undetectable. Cabin refinement has improved enormously, with very little road noise filtering back into the cabin. Tyre noise and engine sounds have also been muted to the sort of level you'd have expected from a Phaeton limousine not so long ago.
Although there was a 1.4 TSI engine in the Golf Mk 6, this is an entirely different unit, up by 5cc and making some much more impressive numbers. The 8.4sec 0-62mph time is brisk and revs smoothly to a little over 6000rpm. It doesn't thrive on high revs, making its peak 140PS power output at 5000rpm and peak 250Nm from just 1500rpm. It's nicely devoid of turbo lag and the steering is accurate if not exactly full of life. Neverthless, the front end of this car is brilliant and you'll really get something out of driving it in a spirited fashion.
Design and Build
That clever MQB modular chassis not only offers Volkswagen the scope to run different models spun off it down the same production line, it also pares weight right back, such that this Golf Mk 7 rolls back the years. In fact, it's not significantly weightier than a Mk 4, despite boasting massively improved safety features and more interior equipment. It's miles bigger inside too. The driving position is almost unfeasibly adjustable and unlike many family hatches, you can get properly hunkered down in the car if required. The sheer amount of steering wheel rake and reach means that both shorter and taller drivers will have little difficulty achieving a perfect seating position.
The cabin's a little wider than before which helps with elbow room and there's also a bit more rear leg room which is a welcome touch. The boot measures a hefty 380-litres, is well shaped and features a low loading height. What's clear is that Volkswagen could have cut costs further and offered more boot space if it had migrated to a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension - as indeed it has done on cheaper MK7 Golf models. This 140PS TSI model though, gets the expensive and effective multi link rear suspension.
Market and Model
This 140PS ACT engine is only offered in GT trim, so you do get quite a lot of standard kit. GT-specific bits include 17-inch alloys, 10mm lowered sports suspension, cherry red tail light clusters and splashes of chrome around the front end. Inside, there's sports seats, gloss black trim inserts, front and rear parking sensors and a 5.8-inch colour touch screen European sat nav system.
That's on top of seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS with ESP, XDS electronic differential lock and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats. Then there's DAB digital radio, a CD player, MDI interface (for connecting iPod or MP3 player), Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming and eight speakers. Also standard is semi-automatic air conditioning and ADC Automatic Distance Control with Front Assist and City Emergency Braking, which can even bring the vehicle to a complete halt if necessary. Prices start at just over £22,000 for a three door with the five door adding about £650 to that sum and the DSG twin-clutch gearbox (strangely only offered with the five-door car) tacking another £1,400 or so on again.
Cost of Ownership
One of Volkswagen's key priorities with this seventh-generation Golf was to reclaim its position as one of the most efficient family hatches, a position it had been struggling to maintain in the latter years of Mk 6 production. So how has it gone about achieving these efficiency gains? The big one is a weight loss plan. Then there are aerodynamic advantages, lower internal friction in the engines, and optimised gearing on not only the manual gearboxes but also the DSG twin clutch units. All new Golf models - both diesel and petrol - come with a Stop/Start system as standard, along with battery regeneration.
All well and good. What about the figures? The 1.4-litre TSI 140 PS engine with Active Cylinder Technology is capable of 60.1mpg (combined cycle) and 110g/km (when fitted with a seven-speed DSG gearbox), thanks to that ability to run on two cylinders where applicable. Go for a manual gearbox and that emissions figure creeps up marginally to 112g/km. It's still very good going for a car this rapid.
Sometimes the best technology is the most unobtrusive. That's certainly the case with the Active Cylinder Technology fitted to this VW Golf GT. By quietly switching from four cylinders to two under light load, it makes sailing along motorways extremely efficient and if you figure out how to get the best from it, you can achieve remarkable economy figures. You might even equal VW's 60.1mpg claim.
There's more to this car than cost cutting though. It's bigger and far better finished than its predecessor and in GT trim it offers plenty of goodies. Tick a few boxes on the options list and you'll have to be comfortable with paying £25,000 for a 1.4-litre Volkswagen Golf. That takes a little adjusting to. A drive in the car will make it that much easier.