The big one

By Guilherme Marques

Here it is. The big one. The Golf. The car that defined a generation and its genre for the past 39 years. There is a lot to say about it and not enough space, but your favourite newspaper will drive different versions and tell you some interesting facts throughout various road tests.

The first Golf was designed by a man who many consider to be the greatest car designer of all time, Signore Giorgetto Giugiaro. At the age of 17 – yes, 17 – he got his first job at Fiat’s Centro Stile. Although his father was a painter, Giugiaro wanted a better paid job and developed his immense drawing skills from a tender age. Less than three years after entering Fiat, he was snapped up by Nuccio Bertone to head his design department and from there, he went to Ghia, another famous Italian coachbuilder. It took him 12 years to feel he was ready to open his own design studio, and in 1967, ItalDesign was born, and since then has designed some of the most significant cars of the 20th and 21st century. Today, it is owned by Volkswagen.

In the early Seventies, VW wanted to create a new segment and clearly move away from the Beetle, a rear-engined, water-cooled old timer by then. Giugiaro created a classical shape, with compact dimensions but a lot of space inside. The Golf MK I was modern, agile, fun to drive and the car the old continent had been dreaming about since the end of the Second World War. It became an instant success, selling around 2000 units per day in the next 39 years and becoming the biggest-selling European car of all time. Last month, number 30 million rolled out of the production line in Wolfsburg, while up at the offices, CEO Martin Winterkorn accepted the award for European Car of the Year, the Golf winning by 212 points, the biggest margin ever in the history of the award.

Our Golf was the national best-seller, a 1.6 TDI with 105 horse power. I was expecting a lot from it, this new Golf MK VII being a whole new car on a whole new platform and not an evolution from its predecessor, like the MK VI was from the MK V. Volkswagen says that, technologically, it is years ahead of its rivals and it even beats most cars from the segment above. It is 100kg lighter than the previous model and fuel efficiency is improved by up to 23%.

On the road, the Golf feels like a Golf should. Materials are excellent, as is build quality, and although the interior layout is not the most exciting, ergonomics are faultless and everything makes sense. The seats are great, the driving position is beyond criticism, there is lots of space for the kids in the back and a bigger boot than ever. On the road you can feel the money spent on engineering this car as it rides better than most cars, not only its direct rivals. Some cars costing twice and three times as much can only dream about riding like the Golf. Performance is good and this small diesel engine will easily average five litres in real-world driving, or even less if you want it to. All in all, the Golf is right up there with the 1-Series, the A3 and the A-Class, but when you are looking at the affordable models within the range – this 1.6 starting at €25,000 – I am not sure the Golf is not the best choice. It rides better than the A-Class, it is more practical than the 1-Series and cheaper than its cousin, the A3.

Last week I said the BMW M135i was the best small family car in the world. It definitely is, but I also said this was true “if you had €57,000 to spare” on a three-litre petrol-engined car. Otherwise, it is probably not worth it to go looking for a Golf rival – just get the original instead.