It was amusing to have a Volkswagen as my “Christmas car” once more, the much loved Beetle having served in that capacity 30 years ago. The latest twin-cam sixteen-valve Golf was used properly in this capacity, with a run from Wales to Hampshire, on to Surrey, then back to Wales the next day. If there was any regret it was exchanging it temporarily for the Sierra 4×4, just as the ice and snow arrived. VW have their own 4WD system on its way, however.
When I first drove a Golf some ten years ago, it was clearly apparent that this was the cheeky small hatch most of us wanted. It set a fashion for others to crib. The Golfing theme has kept pace with the times, and now the latest advance keeps it there most effectively.
Instead of simply resorting to turbo-charging, which is everyone’s way of burning petrol, work commenced late in 1981 on the new multi-valve head for the existing 1,781cc engine with a larger oil pump, sodium filled exhaust valves and oil jets playing on the underside of the piston crowns.
As a variation on the twin-cam theme, the belt-driven exhaust camshaft is connected to the inlet camshaft by a short chain at the back of the engine, as on a Porsche and there are hydraulic tappets for the vertical exhaust valves and 25 degree-inclined inlet valves. The same Bosch KA-Jetronic fuel injection is used for the eight-valve GTi engine, feeding into a big plenum chamber above the new cylinder head. Compression ratio remains 10:1, but power output has increased by 27 bhp. It is now quoted as 139 bhp at 6,100rpm.
This has greatly improved performance, especially at the top end. VW claim 11 mph more pace and 0-60 mph acceleration quicker by 0.4 sec. This may not sound impressive on paper but it has put the new Golf GTi up with its rivals and made it a very quick little car, especially if the notably good five-speed gearbox is stirred enthusiastically. How nice, incidentally, that the humour of a golf ball as the gear-lever knob has been retained! Top speed is within the maker’s compass, or a few mph below, depending on circumstances. You can get 0-60 mph in 7.6 sec, and there is useful pick-up (such as 50-70mph in 4.9 sec) all at around 30mpg.
The engine is not quiet, but is never objectionably obtrusive. The suspension has been well planned to give comfort allied to secure fast cornering; only truly bad ridges cause bump-thump, and strong understeer never intrudes. And only the little 16V badges give a hint of the exciting performance of the car.
The rest of this Golf is very much the mixture as before – a car which is enjoyable to drive from the start, has effective controls and instrumentation, very comfortable, fully adjustable seats, and brakes which have the sponginess of those on the interim model. The 16V comes with alloy wheels shod with 185/60 VR14 tyres (Continental Super Contact tubeless), but I disliked the space-saver spare under the floor of the box-like boot. Suspension is 20mm lower than on other Golfs, and 10mm lower than on a normal GTi, but the weight increase is quoted as a mere 88lb.
I can refrain from listing all the convenient items of equipment which manufacturers put in their glossy catalogues, but which are now common to most top-market cars. Suffice it to say that the Golfs blended heating system was appreciated, even if we did not have occasion to open the sun-roof, that there are servo disc brakes all round, and that the special roof-aerial is said to enhance reception from the Blaupunkt Vancouver 45 radio.
I never fail to marvel at the flexibility of modern high-output power units — this 130 bhp Golf sixteen-valve pulled away from around 2,000 rpm in fifth gear if asked to do so, with the smoothness of a turbine. Geared at nearly four turns lock-to-lock, the steering doesn’t merit power assistance at £499, unless one is unduly weak-wristed.
Perhaps foot-room in the back of the two-door body is only just adequate, I could have done with automatic adjustment of the nearside mirror, and the rear wiper wash could only be operated permanently by holding down the stalk control. Otherwise, this Golf is as entrancing as its forebears -compact, quick, sure-handling and above all, fun. The one-window computer, operated by a pip on the end of the offside stalk control, made me almost keen on such equipment, and this latest 16V Golf GTi proved a most acceptable car over a period of two and a half weeks and 1,460 miles.
The price of £10,894 is on the high side, but quality has to be paid for, and the VW comes with a year’s unlimited-mileage warranty, six years anti-body-rust guarantee, three years’ insurance against paint defects, and a year’s free recovery service. Major servicing intervals occur every 20,000 miles. Overall fuel consumption came out at 31.9 mpg, and the tank holds 12 gallons.
The conclusion must be that the Volkswagen Golf has retained its once unique position among the many cars which have imitated it.