Wealthy hatchback fans, here’s your car


test-report0120161115Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a sucker for hatchbacks. It’s my favorite vehicle body type of all time, with the small SUV coming in a close second. Show me a hatchback and I’ll show you 10 different reasons it is better than your boring sedan.

I’m saying this so you won’t be surprised over why I’m genuinely attracted to the Volkswagen Golf, its prohibitive price tag notwithstanding. The current Golf was officially launched by Volkswagen Philippines only last April, but already the global office has announced a revised version. The changes in the model revealed just last week are minimal, in my opinion, so don’t go holding off if you really like this baby.

The Golf is sized as a compact car, which means it is still a little larger than the Honda Jazz, in case you need some dimensional reference. Next to the popular Japanese hatch, the Golf is longer and wider but also a tad lower. This gives you the feeling of sitting closer to the ground than if you’re inside a typical Asian hatchback.

Powering the Golf in our market is Volkswagen’s 1.4-liter in-line-four TSI gasoline engine, so you need not worry about whether this particular model might be affected by that infamous diesel emissions scandal. Thanks to turbocharging, this small motor produces 148hp and 250Nm. If you just drive around the city, let me tell you this kind of propulsion is so much more than you will ever need. Trust me, I drive an 80hp hatchback and I’m happy with it.

The Golf is available in our market in two trims: the top-of-the-line Highline and the basic Comfortline. Volkswagen lent me the former. Of course, the Highline is equipped with better features than the Comfortline—like bi-xenon headlamps, front fog lamps, leather seats and a dual-zone air-conditioning system—but I’m not sure if there are many willing buyers out there who will pony up the substantial P149,000 price difference. Fortunately, for those on a budget, the safety and infotainment features are virtually the same on the two trims.

The first thing I noticed about the Golf was how so much better-built it is compared to its Asian counterparts. Fit and finish are nearly impeccable, and the materials just feel that much more premium. Close a door and hear that thick, sturdy thud that is sorely missing in cheaper models. Run your fingers along the dashboard and the interior panels, and you’ll know where the money went building the Golf. The exercise makes the pricing seem more palatable.

But seriously, all the pesos apparently went into all the tech toys this car has. And it has a lot. Normally, I frown upon the overabundance of unnecessary (for me) electronic features. For instance, I’ve never been a fan of the automatic start-stop feature, which instantly kills the engine the moment you screech to a halt in the name of fuel economy. But in bumper-to-bumper Metro Manila traffic, this can be unbelievably irritating. I wanted to switch the feature off but couldn’t do it, although I was told by VW’s driver that this could be done.

Amazingly, other than this tech gripe, I’m okay with all the other features. With some cars, you get the sense that the manufacturer merely threw everything in just to make the vehicle fancier (and justify the SRP). With the Golf, however, everything just seems to have a thoughtful reason for why it’s there. Like the adjustable car settings, or the Blue Score fuel-efficiency guide, or the distance-to-the-next-service reminder, or the easy-to-use Bluetooth connectivity…and many others. Even the vehicle identification number can be summoned on the touchscreen display with a few button touches. This is like a solid, intelligent hatchback that was spruced up by Apple engineers.

I can’t say I have glowing remarks about the Golf’s engine-and-gearbox combo. It’s nothing to write home about, to be honest, although the top-end power delivery of that mill is pretty impressive. What I was most in awe of was the car’s overall demeanor. It was sharp. It was sporty. It was precise. It was…very German.

At this price point, Volkswagen Philippines certainly has its work cut out trying to sell the Golf to a market accustomed to discounts. It just needs to communicate the car’s real strengths to its true target buyers. No point aiming this at folks whose budget and sensibilities are only good for tinny Japanese compacts.


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