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Volkswagen Golf SE 1.6 TDI 5-dr

Click to view picture galleryThe Golf is not only Europes
  best-selling car, it
s also the best-
  selling VW in the UK. With more
  than 30 million of the previous six
  generations sold, the all-new
  seventh-gen model comes to market
  with less pounds, more inches,
  and a good stock of hi-tech features.
  So is it now as good as it gets?

the Golf is the one by which all other family cars are judged. Strip away all of the latest Golf's kudos-enhancing badging and most people would still identify it as 'a Golf'.

This new one looks familiar but at the same time crisper (note the sharp creases in its flanks and the angular back light units); and more rock solid than any previous Golf. And while it is now longer and wider, it's still got a practical footprint 1,799mm across by 4,255mm nose to tail.

These new Golf models all sit on the VW Group's new all-singing, all-dancing MQB platform (you really don't need to know any more that the fact that it's very good and will henceforth underpin all new front-driven VWs). The Golf makes use of MacPherson struts at the front and a sophisticated rear multi-link suspension set-up. Less powerful versions get an equally competent torsion beam rear suspension system don't worry, you're not being short-changed because even the torsion bar models ride and handle very well indeed.

“Setting an ideal driving
position is easy,
and takes but seconds.
From behind the
beautifully crafted, flat-
bottomed, leather-
rimmed multifunction
wheel visibility is
fine all round; placing
the Golf is a no-brainer
even in cut-and-thrust
rush hour traffic.
Golf cabins have long been quality items (a quintessential part of their appeal). The new Mark 7s provide more of the same but with a tad more panache. Sharp-eyed drivers will notice that the centre console is now angled towards them; the overall ergonomics are spot on, as too is the fit and finish. Every aspect of the interior displays a strong sense of class.

Some wag once said it was a shame that Apple doesn't design cars well, maybe not the whole thing, but they've definitely influenced the driver-car interface which today is as critical an aspect of any car as the handling and ride. In the Golf, a 5.8-inch screen defines the multimedia centre and, iPhone-style, you swipe to move seamlessly between menus.

Given the extra external millimetres, more space is part of the family-friendly seventh-gen package: 20mm additional front legroom; more room for shoulders (30mm) as well as elbows (20mm); and some extra rear legroom (15mm). And, despite losing 28mm in overall height, you can still take your head with you.

And giving you no excuse not to keep your Golf neat and tidy is a generous selection of storage solutions from large, deep bins in the front doors and lined, sliding drawers under both front seats to a large glovebox that's lit and cooled, a central armrest (it adjusts for height as well as sliding fore and aft) with a good-sized storage box below and, thanks to motorists' love affair with drive-through fast-food eateries a lifestyle trend that can be laid fairly and squarely at America's door enough cup-holders to go round.

Actually, cup-holders aren't the frivolous items some might imagine remember the woman who successfully sued McDonald's after spilling scalding coffee in her lap in a stationary car? The resulting third degree burns she suffered (the coffee was 180-degrees-hot) cost McDonald's $2.7 million in damages. Had there been cup-holders in the car she was sitting in then the incident might never have happened.

The Golf's front pair of black cloth-upholstered seats are both adjustable for height and lumbar; setting an ideal driving position is easy, and takes but seconds. From behind the beautifully crafted, flat-bottomed, leather-rimmed multifunction wheel (its soft-grain leather rim is a real pleasure to hold) visibility is fine all round and placing the Golf is a no-brainer even in cut-and-thrust rush hour traffic. An electric parking brake with auto hold is a doddle to use and makes life infinitely easier in stop-start traffic.

Standard kit on the SE (only the second rung up the Golf ladder) is agreeably comprehensive and includes hi-tech features such as Driver Profile Selection (multiple drive programs), VW's XDS (an electronic differential lock for improved traction and handling), battery regeneration (energy recovery during braking), a city emergency braking system, and adaptive cruise control.

“No arguments about the
Golf’s ‘family’ car status
— five adults can
travel in comfort, with
loads of space in all
and that’s true for long
as well as short hops.
And they can be ferried
from A to B with
meaningful amounts
of luggage.
Also standard is semi-automatic AirCon (with dust and pollen filter), electric windows, electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors, multifunction computer (with visual gear change recommendation), auto lights and wipes, auto-dimming driving mirror, and speed-sensitive power assisted steering.

And there's more: a well-specced media system (5.8-inch colour touchscreen, DAB digital radio, dash-mounted CD player with eight speakers, SD card reader, music playback from MP3, WMA and AAC files, title and cover art display, Aux-in socket, and Multi Device Interface with iPod cable), heat insulating green tinted glass, drive-away auto locking, and a multifunction leather steering wheel.

And there'll be no arguments about the Golf's 'family' car status five adults can travel in comfort, with generous headroom and loads of space in all directions; and that's true for long as well as short hops. Rear passengers also enjoy a very relaxed backrest angle along with a big, comfy and wide centre armrest with twin (and cleverly adjustable) cup-holders and their own dedicated air vents. And they can be ferried from A to B accompanied by meaningful amounts of luggage.

The regular-shaped boot can swallow 380 litres and comes with a variable-height floor for extra versatility. Dropping the 60:40 split-folding rear backrests liberates more cargo space; a lot more a flat-floored 1,270 litres to be precise. And there's a large load-through hatch. Load-wise, the new Golf has all the bases covered.

Whilst 'Golf' and 'GTI' are almost inextricably linked, most Golfs aren't tearaways. The 103bhp 1.6 turbodiesel we drove is quick enough to go with the flow (0-62mph in 10.7 seconds and a top speed of 119mph) but it's no hooligan. Not does it need to be. Petrolheads can worship their GTI icons but for the majority of Golf customers, it's the 'per gallon' not the 'per hour' number that's the more interesting.

For them, the 1.6 TDI's official fuel consumption figures will generate a warm glow of satisfaction in their wallets: Urban 61.4; Extra-urban 85.6; Combined 74.3mpg. After 500 miles, our 1.6 TDI was registering an average of 57.8mpg! Commendable because (as we're fond of saying) we don't try to drive economically so that real-world owners can expect to better our results. Ensuring running costs are kept to the minimum is a smooth-operating Stop/Start system bolstered by the 1.6's road tax-avoiding 'green' 99g/km of CO2 emissions.

What makes the 1.6 so relaxing to drive is the 184lb ft of torque on tap from a low 1,500rpm. The four-pot, 16-valve TDI unit pulls smoothly from low revs; and when you need to press on you'll find the five-speed 'box comes with a slick, light and precise gearchange action.

“The 1.6 TDI’s official
fuel consumption figures
will generate a warm
glow of satisfaction
in drivers’ wallets:
61.4 urban, 85.6 extra-
urban and 74.3mpg
After 500 miles our 1.6
TDI was registering
an average of 57.8mpg!
And we don’t go
out of our way to drive
A nice feature is the new Driver Profile Selection. A practical 'toy' for the boys, Driver Select allows the driver to switch (via the touchscreen) between various driving profiles: Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual.

And within each profile you can mix and match different settings for engine, steering, and even (to aid economy) the AirCon. Our favourite, not surprisingly, was Sport not just for the keener throttle response but also for the slightly sharper turn-in and extra weighting at the helm.

The steering is precise and, combined with excellent body control, decent grip at each corner and confident road manners, the Golf is as nimble through corners as it is predictable everywhere.

Deceptively understated, even lower-power versions do point-to-point with a willing German work ethic whatever speed you want to motor along at, 45mph or 90mph, the Golf just gets on with it.

In spite of its reassuring handling qualities, the Golf rolling on 205/55 Continental rubber and 16-inch alloys serves up a supple ride underscored by refinement; big bumps are barely noticed and our memorable (as in 'memorably bad') British roads are made to feel much better than they really are. In truth, it might be cheaper for councils to hand out free Golfs instead of blowing billions bodging the blacktop!

Seven has always been considered a lucky number; it certainly works its magic with the Mark 7 Golf although luck has very little to do with this latest-generation model which retains its position as the world's Numero Uno family hatchback. — MotorBar

Volkswagen Golf SE 1.6 TDI 5-Dr | 20,710
Maximum speed: 119mph | 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds | Average Test MPG: 57.8mpg
Power: 103bhp | Torque: 184lb ft | CO2 99g/km