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VW Golf 5

Broadcast dates : 25th July 2004
29th July 2004

The all-new Golf is possibly the most important car launched by Volkswagen in recent years. The competition for the archetypal hatchback has never been more fierce, with excellent products from Renault, Opel and Peugeot challenging the supremacy of the Volkswagen, once taken for granted.

The Golf 5 was launched in South Africa just two weeks ago, although the Volkswagen factory at Uitenhage has been building the new car since early this year for the right-hand-drive export market, in countries like Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Longer, wider, taller. That has been the story of the Golf's evolution ever since it changed the very concept of small car motoring back in the mid-1970s.
The Golf 1 was launched here in 1978, four years after it had gone into production in Germany. It had a massive task to fulfill in South Africa, as it replaced the Beetle, which was the country's best-selling car for many years. Early Golf 1s were noted for their innovative hatchback styling, brisk performance and sharp handling. But the image was tarnished somewhat by an engine cooling system that was not up to hot South African conditions in early models.
The Golf 2 arrived in South Africa in late 1984 and this was the model that saw Volkswagen become a major player, once again in the new car market. The Golf 2 was offered in GTi form and this became the darling of the Yuppie generation. Every young ad exec at O&M was honour-bound to drive a Golf 2 GTi, not least because this Cape Town-based agency played a large part in Volkswagen's revival. 
Enthusiast drivers were somewhat miffed at the turn that the Golf 3 took in 1993. This was the car that really took a big step in the longer, wider, taller department and this of course meant lots of extra weight. The Golf 3 also dropped its high-revving 16-Valve GTi engine in favour of more economy and more safety. Side-impact bars became more important than speed and the Golf was on its way to a middle-aged spread.
Of course that was always the plan with Golf, as the fourth-generation car showed. Golf, said Volkswagen has grown up with its youthful adherents of the late 1970s, and more than any previous rendition, Golf 4 offered a refined ride and an interior of a quality to rival that of BMW.
The new Golf 5 follows the tried and tested Volkswagen theme of evolution, rather than revolution. And while some critics have said the new car does not go far enough to keep ahead of the current hatchback pack, it is undeniably a Golf. It features a carefully-crafted, more streamlined body that still retains the basic two-box shape of the original. Obvious changes include the new clear-lens sleeker headlights and taillights, the more aggressive grille, a slight wedge shape to the profile and a more curved roofline.

All these changes have been made in the interests of interior space, function being much more important than form for the practical VW folk

Beneath the skin there are some very important changes too.

First on the list of major innovations is an all-new four-link independent suspension. This replaces the semi-independent beam-axle design used through all four previous generations of Golf.

Another major change is a switch to electrically-assisted power steering replacing the hydraulic system used previously. And on the safety front, the Golf 5 is equipped with side-curtain airbags, one of the few cars in this class to have this feature worldwide.

The new Golf is launched here with a choice of four engines. Apart from the familiar 1,6-litre four cylinder engine used in three of the models, there is a choice of two diesel engines and the exciting new two-litre FSi engine.

This is a direct-injection petrol engine and sees the fuel injected directly into the combustion chamber, rather than into the manifold.

Volkswagen has been a pioneer of direct injection petrol engines, a technology that has until now only been common on diesel engines.

The benefits are a much more controlled combustion process, leading to better economy and power.

The new, naturally-aspirated FSi engine produces a hundred and ten kiloWatts at 6 000 rpm, a power figure that was the preserve of VW's turbocharged petrol engines just a few years ago.

Car Torque sampled the 1,6-litre petrol version during our trip to Port Elizabeth and the factory in nearby Uitenhage. As the car had less than 100 kilometres on the clock we took things nice and gently.

But the new steering impressed with its accuracy, as did the refined ride thanks to the new rear suspension.
Quality is given high priority with the new Golf and some innovative production techniques have been installed at the Uitenhage plant to ensure it is a worldwide winner. This includes a new jigging system to assemble all the major drive-line components and install them in a single process on the body.

Engine, gearbox, gearshift mechanism, exhaust and both front and rear axle components are all carefully assembled in concert before being installed on the body. This process ensures easier and more reliable assembly.

Another interesting new process is the door assembly. The doors on the new Golf feature a separate outer skin that is bonded and clipped to the already-assembled inner door, complete with glass, winding mechanisms and airbags. This not only simplifies installation but has a benefit in accident repair, when the outer skin can be replaced independently of the door frame, in the event of a minor accident.

This process has necessitated the use of very complex assembly jigs, but Volkswagen feels the result is well worth it.

Most of the spot welding process is carried out by robots, which look like something out of Jurassic Park as they go about their computer-controlled business.

But there is still a lot of human attention to detail on the Golf production line, including the fitment of bonnets, sealing of corrosion-critical areas and the mounting of the dashboard units in one efficient process.

The fitting of the curtain airbags is a delicate process that requires a human touch, as well as careful installation of all the circuitry that goes with such devices. The new Golf has a full compliment of front and side airbags as well as curtain airbags in all its variants, ranging from the 1.6 Trendline entry model to the 2.0 FSi Sport.

The interior of the new Golf may be considered a bit conservative by some, but that is a traditional Golf feature. Burr walnut wood trim is offered on more expensive models, but our car had the basic cloth trim. However the steering is height-and-reach-adjustable on all models, there is the inevitable line-up of cupholders, and the rear centre armrest offers a fold-through facility for carrying long items.

A 6-CD audio system is optional, as is a satellite navigation system, available at extra cost on all models.

The boot, which is activated by an elegant swivel mechanism on the VW badge is large for a hatchback.

It boasts 350 litres capacity with the seats in normal position and a whole lot more with the rear backrest folded flat.

The Golf also features a full-sized spare wheel

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