Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Review: Volkswagen Golf Match

The Match models highlight the value for money angle being pushed by the latest Volkswagen Golf. Steve Walker reports.

Volkswagen Golf Match

People used to pay more for a Golf because of its quality. Now they can get that quality for the same sort of price being charged for the alternatives. The Golf Match models highlight this with their generous specifications and accessible pricing.

Value for money is a difficult thing to pin down. We tend to think of good value relating to low prices but expensive items can be good value too. It just depends whether the quality you’re getting for your cash is high enough. Volkswagen’s Golf is known for a lot of things including its inherent quality but in the context of the other family hatchbacks that compete for the same sort of buyers as the Golf, it hasn’t always been seen as a ‘value for money’ option. The good news for motorists is that things are changing. The classy Golf is no longer priced at the sort of premium over its rivals that we’ve come to expect, a fact that’s highlighted in the Golf Match range.

The Match trim level has become a common sight in Volkswagen’s various model ranges, a development that’s emblematic of the manufacturer’s push to emphasise the value for money it offers. The Match premise is a simple one. It offers lots of equipment for a small increase in price and that’s unlikely to go down badly with customers.

In a way, the mainstream of the European car market is moving in Volkswagen’s direction. There’s real concern amongst the big manufacturers that in five or ten years time, the market could be swamped by astonishingly cheap Chinese models which will further reduce the tight profit margins involved in selling simple, cheap cars. Many of the big names have apparently elected to scramble up market while they can, concentrating on improving build quality and cramming in more technology. This, of course, is what Volkswagen has been doing for years and once its rivals have reflected their increase in quality through increases in price, VW products like the Golf Match look all the more attractive.

The Golf’s most popular engines are available in Match trim. The petrol selection is limited to the 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged engine with 120bhp. It’s a smooth engine that’s surprisingly punchy for its size with a 9.5s time for the flat-out dash to 60mph. Other than that, it’s diesel all the way and Volkswagen’s TDI common-rail diesel engines with 1.6 or 2.0-litre capacities. The 1.6-litre TDI has 103bhp. It’s more raucous than the petrol and ultimately slower with an 11.3s 0-60mph time but the big torque figure gives it decent flexibility in the low to middle part of the rev range and it won’t feel that much slower in everyday driving. The 2.0-litre TDI engine has 138bhp and combines a 9.3s 0-60mph sprint with a huge whack of torque. This strong unit is adept across the full gamut of driving condition.

"The Golf’s most popular engines are available in Match trim"

The 1.6-litre diesel gets a five-speed manual gearbox but the others have six-speed units as standard. All engines are also available with Volkswagen’s seven-speed DSG automatic which is one of the latest breed of dual-clutch autos and produces super-fast and efficient shifting. The Golf drives in a predictably polished manner on its fully-independent suspension. As a mix of the sharp responses that make driving fun and the buffering that dulls the harshness of the outside world, there’s no family hatch to touch it.

Volkswagen was never about to break with tradition where this sixth generation Golf's styling was concerned. A clear design lineage can be traced back to the original Golf circa 1974 and breaking that in favour of some bold new styling direction would have been completely out of character for the German marque. Conservative but classy has long been the Golf staple and the MkVI model diligently tows that line with the wide grille first seen on the Scirocco coupe which merges with the headlamps to form a single band across the nose. At the back, the huge tail light clusters are similar in shape to the headlamps and curve round into the rear wings to visually widen the car.

It's the interior, though, that most impresses. Quality soft-touch plastics are everywhere and virtually every available button or dial gets its own chrome border. The instruments that used to illuminate in blue are now bright white but the overall shape of the dash is similar to that in the MkV Golf. There's a big step forward in terms of refinement however, thanks to a completely different design of door and window seals, a new damping film that supports the windscreen and a new engine mounting system.

The essential value proposition of the Golf match is pretty enticing. It was introduced to replace the SE trim level and it costs £300 more. The good news is that it features £1,600 worth of extra equipment. Hooray. There’s cruise control, air-conditioning, ESP stability control and seven airbags. On top of that, 16" alloy wheels are included with a leather multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, a 6 CD autochanger and Volkswagen’s impressively user-friendly touchscreen control interface.

You can get into a Golf Match for around £18,000 and the prices generally compare very favourably to those of other top family hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. The DSG gearbox comes at a premium of £1,300 over the standard manual transmissions.

Volkswagen's common-rail diesel engines will be an attractive option for those looking to reduce their car ownership costs. The 1.6-litre 103bhp unit can return a very creditable 62.8mpg with emissions of 118g/km, making it an attractive choice for company car users. Better still, both of the diesel engines are available with BlueMotion Technology for a £400 premium. This means that regenerative braking and stop-start technology are employed to lower fuel consumption. In the 105bhp diesel with BlueMotion Technology, combined cycle economy rises to 69mpg.

Car buyers once expected to pay a sizable premium for a Volkswagen Golf compared to a similarly specified family hatchback from a mainstream car brand but they were largely happy to do it. Times change, however, and the Golf has never looked more affordable alongside its mainstream rivals, a development that’s highlighted by the Golf Match models. With a big specification married to a small price and with all of the usual Golf baubles thrown in, the Match is a tempting option with value for money at its heart.

Despite significant improvements made by its competitors, the Golf still feels like the class of the family hatchback field. Its ride and handling mix is just about right for most tastes and the cabin oozes quality. There are slightly more spacious alternatives and some other cars have a more vibrant feel to their design but for a solid, high quality hatchback, now with real value on its side, Volkswagen’s effort stands out.

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