First drive: 2013 Volkswagen Golf TSI in the UAE
When shopping for a hot hatch in the UAE, the VW Golf GTI is on every potential buyer’s shopping list, usually as the only choice. But when shopping for a compact car here, the “regular” VW Golf is never on anyone’s shopping list. In fact, the GTI actually outsells the standard Golf here. The Golf is generally pricier than its rivals, but we’ll see if the extra cost is justified as much as it is in its GTI sibling.
The VW Golf underwent a complete redesign about a year ago, even though you’ll never be able to guess from its looks. Weight savings, increased cabin space and better suspension were all part of the makeover. The only bits that haven’t changed too much are the engine and transmission, although they may have been tweaked for better performance and economy.
Inside, the cabin design remains as subdued as before. Everything is reshaped but familiar. There’s some cost-cutting evident compared to the old model, with more use of hard plastics on the doors, especially the unpadded rear door upper-sills. But the soft-touch dash and front door sills as well as the cushy door inserts and armrests still retain some semblance of VW’s traditionally-premium cabin feel.
Cabin space itself is pretty good, with tons of headroom under that boxy roof. The cloth front seats are nicely bolstered and there’s enough rear legroom for most average-sized adults. The boot volume is decent, with a couple of grocery-bag hooks and an as-needed split-folding rear seat. There’s enough door pockets, padded seatback pockets and cup-holders, the latter nicely hidden when not in use. Features include a redesigned touchscreen that integrates the good CD/MP3 stereo, Bluetooth phone and other settings, but unfortunately our top-spec car did not have navigation or USB ports as standard. Neither did it have smart keyless start, HID headlights, sunroof or power-adjustable seats, so you have be content with lots of airbags, good a/c with rear vents, cruise control and remote entry.
The staid-looking top-spec version we drove is fitted with the more powerful of the two engine choices for the regular Golf. Under the bonnet is a 140 hp 1.4-litre “TSI” turbocharged 4-cylinder, mated to a 7-speed “DSG” dual-clutch automanual transmission. The front-wheel-drive platform is held up by independent suspension on all four wheels, with stopping power from all-round disc brakes, ABS and ESP. With that kind of mechanical tech, the Dhs 99,900 asking price is almost justifiable, but that has it going head-to-head with Japanese midsize sedans.
We clocked a time of 8.8 seconds in the 0-100 kph run during June, which is very impressive for a car with such a small engine. That 250 Nm of turbo torque made sure we never felt like we were driving a slow car, although we expected better fuel economy than the indicated 10.3 litres/100 km.
The DSG gearbox offers quick shifts and manual capability, but remains that tiny bit annoying in low-speed driving as it jerks between 1st and 2nd, combined with a drive-by-wire accelerator pedal that serves up delayed throttle response when moving off from idle.
Handling is excellent, especially considering the good ride quality. It is safe to throw into corners while braking to eliminate understeer, but without snapping into oversteer. It also steers and brakes well. There is no semblance of steering feel though, and the road noise is surprisingly high at 120 kph, but overall the Golf TSI drives well.
The turbocharged VW Golf is about as much car as any sane person needs, and that’s why it is as common as a Corolla in Europe. While it will never be able to compete in price around here, those who do pay the premium for one will likely not regret it.