With the launch of the Mark Five Golf, there is no such need for triumphalism or headline-grabbing promises. It's a Golf, and it's new – enough said.
There are few surprises with the Golf and as it has been an iconic car for the past 26 years and 22 million sales, the continuation of the family bloodline is a good thing. Volkswagen doesn't need gimmicks to make this car a success. It just has to be a Golf.
That's not to say that Volkswagen has sat on its laurels, wallowing in the Golf's good name, because to create a car this good is not easy.
This car is an improvement over its predecessor in virtually every area and sets a number of standards that rivals launched in the next year, such as the new Astra and Focus, will have to meet.
The new Golf retains the chunky persona of the previous model, and as with every incarnation, is that little bit larger. In this case, it is 57mm longer, 24mm wider and 39mm higher while the wheelbase has increased by a substantial 67mm. From most angles your eye becomes accustomed to the lines of the Golf very quickly. The distinctive thick C-pillar has been retained, the nose has more squinty lights than before while the rear has been smoothed and tidied up with the boot handle smartly incorporated into the VW badge.
There is nothing to really surprise or delight here, but nothing that clashes or looks awkward. It looks like a Golf should and there can be no greater accolade than that.
Inside, the Golf takes a big step forward. It drips with class and quality and the good old door slamming test reveals a beefy thud and no rattles.
For the driver, the seating and steering wheel adjustments have been increased in all directions to admit an even wider range of frames.
The seats have been redesigned for more comfort and are superb, and there is lots of extra legroom, particularly in the rear, without compromising the boot space.
The only slight negative on the left-hand drive models I drove would be the off-set pedals which put the accelerator very near to the centre console, although what happens in a right-hand drive translation is yet to be seen.
Otherwise, everything is clear and simple. All the dials work with precision and use thick plastics. The centre console is draped over the top of the dashboard and curves elegantly, with all functions falling neatly to hand.
As for safety features, all Golfs will come with an electronic stability programme, ABS with brake assist, active head restraints, full length curtain airbags and front seat side airbags.
At launch the Golf will be available with five engines. Two will be Euro IV-compliant TDI diesel motors: a 140bhp 2.0-litre and a 105bhp 1.9-litre. The three petrol motors will be a 75bhp 1.4-litre, a 90bhp 1.4-litre FSI and a 115bhp 1.6-litre FSI. Later in 2004 there will be a 140bhp 2.0-litre FSI, a 200bhp 2.0-litre FSI turbo and, in 2005, a replacement for the range-topping R32.
UK prices have yet to be announced, but in Germany the car will start at the same price as the out-going model.
Volkswagen UK is anticipating the range to start at about £12,000, with top-of-the-range models hitting £20,000, representing an increase over the current range with similarly sized engines.
As specifications haven't yet been inked in, it's too early to make any comment about value, but they will be badged as S, SE and GT.
One thing is certain, the residual value forecasters shouldn't have any problems with the Golf, as there is no doubt it will retain the classless appeal of the other models that already sets it as a winner on the second-hand market.
Volkswagen expects to sell 55,000 models in the UK in 2004, of which about half should be fleet registrations, with half of those being diesel-engined models.
Behind the wheel
The solidity of the Golf is transferred to the driving experience. The rather insipid handling of the old car was one of the few areas of criticism, and the repeated praise heaped on the Focus has no doubt irked Volkswagen.
Hence a new suspension system all round, with Focus-like multilink rear axle. It works. With or without stiffened sports suspension the Golf rides over ridges with a hefty thump, indicating a good stiff chassis. The steering is accurate and precise and the ride quality is very good.
Where it really excels is on motorways. Fast lane changes can be completed with minimal body roll and the steering needs only small inputs to get a reaction. At motorway speeds, the electro-mechanic system, which was first used on the Touran, will compensate for cambers and crosswinds to a certain extent.
Don't try this at home kids, but if you took your hands off the wheel, the Golf just ploughs on dead ahead regardless, indicating excellent straight line stability.
In corners, the Mark Five is again a big leap forward over the old model, with little body roll, and a nice gentle tendency to understeer if a driver makes a mess of it. It feels safe, grippy and predictable, with strong, progressive brakes.
When it comes to the engines, the 140bhp 2.0-litre TDI is the star performer, with a burly shove of 236lb-ft of torque from 1,750rpm and a rather sporting parp from the exhaust as the power peak kicks at 4,000rpm.
The six-speed manual gearbox has a direct positive action to it, although it is smoother in the lower-powered models and in five-ratio guise.
The biggest-selling car will be the 1.9 TDI, and although it has less power and torque than the 2.0-litre, it is more than adequate. Both diesels will cruise in sixth gear at motorway speeds with the revs barely more than ticking over.
The petrol motor line-up is less strong. The 2.0 FSI is a good engine, although on the mountain roads the cars were launched on, its lack of mid-range grunt against the diesels was more noticeable. The 113bhp 1.6-litre unit felt underpowered though, with little punch.
In fact the 1.4 FSI's performance felt barely different to its larger FSI brother, which suggests that if economy motoring is the chosen route the 1.4-litre is the choice, while the sporting one is the 2.0-litre, leaving the 1.6 neither here nor there.
Volkswagen really does manage expectations with its volume products extremely well, and the Golf is the best of a good bunch.
This car is everything fleets should expect it be, and possibly slightly more. There is absolutely no reason to doubt that it will continue to be the storming success it has always been.
|Golf fact file|
|Model: Golf||1.4||1.4FSI||1.6||1.6 FSI||2.0 FSI||2.0 SDI||1.9 TDI||2.0 TDI|
|Engine (cc):||1,390||1,390||1,595||1,598||1,984||1,968||1,896||1,968 TDI||Max power (bhp/rpm):||75/5,000||90/5,200||102/5,600||115/6,000||150/6,000||75/4,200||105/4,000||140/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||93/3,800||96/3,750||109/3,800||114/4,000||148/5,500||103/2,200||184/1,900||236/1,750|
|Top speed (mph):||102||108||114||119||128||101||116||126|
|Comb economy (mpg):||41.5||45.6||39.2||44.2||39.2||52.3||56.5||52.3|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)::||163||149||173||154||173||146||135||146|
|Fuel tank capacity (l):||55|
|Transmission:||5-sp man/||6-sp man/||6-sp auto|
|On sale:||Jan 2004||2.0 SDI and||FSI March 2004|
|Prices (OTR):||£12,000||- £20,000|