After spending time driving around the UK at Christmas, Mike Humble wonders if the Golf truly does lead where others merely follow.
And comes to an unsurprising conclusion.
Simply the best?
I seem to have a certain affinity with Germany if I think and look hard enough, my record collection contains nearly everything Kraftwerk ever produced, I adore those Brockwurst style sausages that come in glass jars, and for the first three years of my life – I lived there owing to my parents serving in the British Armed Forces.
Needless to say, I draw the line at genocide or invading Poland for that matter and I have never jumped in career terms from being a painter and decorator to dictator, but certainly as far as automotive matters go – Our German cousin Fritz… seldom puts a Jack Boot wrong!
When they do though, it all rather oddly gets quickly forgotten, take the Audi A2 for example – a silly looking car that was a similar size to our own CityRover, as enjoyable as a ruptured spleen and yet hideously expensive. The Golf 3 was a rusting pig of a car and certain Mercedes-Benz vehicles from a generation back rot through quicker than a beer tin in a Soviet salt mine. The last generation Passat was priced above and beyond its competition yet had the build quality akin to an ’80s Citroën – I should know, I ran one, but sadly unlike our own Rover – they learn well and fast!
Our other car is a Golf 6 TDi Match SE which recently replaced a Golf 5 TDi, ‘er indoors company hack which has covered an impressive 27,000 miles in nearly six months. To be honest, I don’t have a lot to do with the car except clean it, check the fluids and top up the washer bottle.
My missus, Jacky, is never vocal about anything (unless I forget to put the bin out) like myself, she expects things to work first time and will play the Whinge along with Jack LP* if things do not suit, but not once have I ever heard any word of complaint about the Golf. In her job it gets pounded along farm tracks, sits in endless jams and endures various high speed trips all around the South Coast– and never misses a beat!
Not a single bulb has popped, oil consumption from new has been half a pint and the only water it uses gets sprayed onto the windows – even the tyres are still inflated with 100% German air. No squeaks, rattles, its bereft of any inferior quality plastics and every switch and knob has a sublime damped feel rather than that awful loud click action you find in some cars – just an eerie quiet world of German efficiency.
The 1.6 TDi engine has loosened up to become a refined plant, and with only 105bhp under your right foot, its torquey and sweet in action even if the power does drop off akin to being thrown from a window if the rev counter dips below 1500rpm.
The fuel consumption is staggering for such a weighty car, never dipping below an average of 55mpg – and she does drive it like its stolen. But she still remains undecided as to whether she should buy one with her own money, though after driving Volkswagens for over two years and only ever having two breakdowns (one puncture and a faulty key fob on the previous model) what else is there that can pretty much guarantee flawless service.
The Mégane is simply dire, a Seat Leon is a compromise, the Octavia is a decent well made car – but she’s a badge snob and the Astra is the nearest thing on wheels to being banished to life in Kings Lynn.
The Golf (like its latest advert plays on) is still the standard other makers aspire to hit, and ever since 1974, the rest of the world plays second fiddle to the VW. Keith Adams said to me only just the other day ‘it’s the Great White Shark of the automotive world’ – I totally agree with those sentiments after spending the whole of the Christmas period behind the wheel visiting our relatives.
I’m getting old, suffer from mild arthritis and ache like crazy behind the wheel of certain cars. Her car when we first met was a Megane Cabriolet that gave me what I called “Renault Knee” owing to the awful pedal postitions, I briefly owned an Orion Ghia 1.8 which nigh on crippled me if I drove it for more than an hour while the bubble shape Rover 200 crowned me the King Of Bad Backs.
Certain cars however, I can drive for hours on end, the 406 for me, was quite possibly the most effortless place to be, all the Saabs I have owned have been the same, The later Ford Sierra had superb seats while my ex company A4 Avant S-Line had chairs that were just so, spoilt by a tooth shatteringly hard ride at low speeds.
But the Golf? Well its faultless – not a car to excite, but one that does everything just fine and nothing poorly – call it an automotive compromise if you like. Brand perception – engineering excellence – superb refinement – sublime seats – strong brakes – one of the best audio systems I have ever come across and the almost written in tablet guarantee of reliability.
Rather like older generation Volvos and Mercs, the Golf is a car that simply does everything it’s tasked with – no tricks, no fuss, no compromises and above all, with simple quiet competence. It is however crushingly dull, but there again so was the Toyota Corolla and how many of those were sold to the world.
Taking the car’s lack of thrill out of the mix, there is nothing whatsoever that annoys or frustrates the driver (or passenger) and as I have found out, you can drive it non stop… forever, knowing that you will give out long long before the car does. If the Golf were a tool it would be hammer – designed for one job, heavy and unexciting to look at, but both alarmingly effective and very satisfying in use – and perhaps, just as capable as knocking a nail into a wall.
*LP = Big black round thing with hole in the middle that emitted sound or music – for those of a younger age.