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VW Golf: Still the hot hatch benchmark

By Roger St. Pierre

Though they have produced one or two duds down the years, Volkswagen have shown themselves to be consistent masters of the hot hatch idiom.

It’s the German company’s iconic Golf GTi and the GTD diesel version that have consistently set the benchmark – for performance, for handling and for practicality too.

The first Golf – designed in an inspired partnership between Italian styling maestro Giorgio Giugiaro and the manufacturer’s in-house team – rolled off the Wolfsburg production line on March 29, 1974 and GT versions were quick to follow.

Unlike so many other cars that share nothing more than the name with their progenitors, 40 years and 30-million sales later, the latest Golf – winner of the 2013 ‘Car of the Year’ award – has a direct stylistic link back to the Mark I version. Inside and under the bonnet, though, it’s a very different beast, boasting, as an estate agent would put it “all mod cons”.

A whole raft of standard features in the £27,635 five-door, six-speed, 2.0-litre I drove for a week of blissful motoring included a comprehensive and highly effective electronic stabilisation programme; ABS braking with hydraulic brake assist; automatic distance and cruise control; a driver alert system; stop/start function; automatic lighting; parking sensors and a composition media system relaying information via a commendably clear 5.8-inch colour touch screen.

Now, I have never been a fan of small engine/automatic gearbox combinations but in the Golf TDi the format works well and, in any case, there’s an easy action flappy-paddle over-ride. Changes proved to be slick and perfectly spaced while the zesty 1968-cc, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine is gutsy enough to cover the 0-62-mph sprint in 7.5-seconds, with a posted 141-mph top speed, yet a frugal 62.8-mpg is attainable in the combined cycle and emissions are a low 119-g per kilometre.

Easy to park and with a tight turning circle, the latest Golf is as happy around town as it is blitzing through the countryside or coping with the motorway maelstrom.

It might be a relatively small car but there’s a spacious interior with lots of legroom for rear seat passengers and a very commodious boot that’s easy to access. There’s a three-year 60,000-miles warranty.

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