dates : 25th July 2004
29th July 2004
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
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
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
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
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
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
The Golf also features a full-sized spare wheel.
Car Torque is