New cars -- Volkswagen Golf

Following the sale of 12.7 million Volkswagen Golfs since 1974, the third generation of Europe’s best seller has a large audience to please, though the British market will not receive the car until the spring of 1992. Even then some high performance (notably a 143 bhp 16v GTI) and body alternatives will not be sold until 1993, including (at last) a new shape for the convertible.

In general Volkswagen has attempted the impossible by simply providing more of everything, concentrating efforts upon safety and recycling issues without a sharp eye on escalating weight.

Take the new 2-litre expression of the GTI theme, a badge that has sold Volkswagen one million high performers and founded a small industry. As on all new Golfs, higher kerb weights have been balanced by improved aerodynamics and enlarged engines.

This works for the German market, where one can simply say that top speed has increased as proof of a performance benefit in the newcomer. For the Golf GTI, VW can point to a 123 mph maximum in place of less than 120 mph. In speed-limited countries such as ours, we place a premium on acceleration and driving pleasure.

Where the old 1.8 litre, eight-valve Golf would regularly clip off 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, the newcomer is only claimed to manage 10.1 sec for the equivalent 0-62 mph. A stranger can see why: kerb weights. The previous GTI scaled 920 kg, the replacement is accorded 1035 kg. That is a 235 lb increase, and you will not find passengers outside a rugby forward who weigh that much.

The 2-litre GTI engine may develop 115 bhp where the old unit had 107 bhp (in catalytic converter trim), but it does so with plenty of noise over 5000 rpm. This could spoil the pleasure of an outstanding front-wheel-drive chassis and impinges upon the obvious high quality standards achieved.

The most effective of the new Golfers are the top (circa £19,000) and bottom (circa £7500) of the range. The cheapest Golf offered for assessment was the 60 bhp CL of 1.4 litres. It lacked the power steering that characterises the range now but the 1.4 proved peppy enough in the engine bay and competent enough in the corners to provide an authentic taste of the solid motoring worth that Golf customers expect.

Much of the renewed cornering confidence is owed to a 49mm front and 38mm rear track expansion. The company has equipped most models with alloy wheels that fill the wheel arches. In the 1.4, acceleration is limited to the point where overtaking a truck needs a lot of space on two-way going.

The range-leading VR6 utilises the slim 15-degree vee angle of the 2792cc V6 that is also a feature of German Passats and a forthcoming 190 bhp Corrado. The long stroke (81 x 90.3mm) six is rated at 174 bhp in the new Golf application and serves up exceptional performance: the 140 mph hatchback has arrived, and it is capable of stretching from rest to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds.

Installed in an 2541 lb/1155 kg package (3.0-litre Capris weighed less), the VR6 Golf comes complete with power steering, anti-lock braking and electronic sensor control of the differential. This is required as this 2.8-litre develops up to 173 lb ft of torque at 4200 rpm, likes to sing happily up to 6500 rpm and retains 147 lb ft of torque, or more, between 2000 and 6000 rpm.

The range-leading Golf handles 2.8 litres well and even kept most of its composure when pressed briskly at wet junctions. Its potential as an autobahn stormer is an obvious part of its home market appeal, but somewhat surprisingly the rounded front end of the new body — rated between 0.30 and 0.33Cd — has done nothing for the amount of wind noise generated. Volkswagen is bullish about the fuel consumption of its new models and claims mpg gains despite the “more of everything” policy. At 34.5 mpg for the newcomer this will not be a major concern, but the VR6 at a claimed 22.96 urban mpg may raise a few eyebrows in this class: the computer on the test VR6 recorded a reasonable 23.9 to 25 mpg for a trip average of 50 mph.

The new Golfs are fine cars which are likely to be widely imitated. I put the charges of excess weight to R&D board member Professor Ulrich Seiffert and he pointed out a number of rivals that lacked the Golfs enhanced crash performances, “but they weigh the same, or more, particularly the Japanese,” he twinkled. Later it was pointed out that the Beetle was not much lighter than the new Golf, and nobody complained about that! — JW