As far as handling goes, it’s a wash, the 2003 handling almost like an extended GTI, and the Golf Wagon showing the impressive progress made to the Golf chassis over the years, delivering top-notch compact class road manners, but a far more comfortable ride to go along with it. However, for steering feel it is no contest—the steering feel in the 2003 is rubbery and loose if slightly heavier, while the 2013 is light, especially upon initial turn-in, but exhibits excellent accuracy and good feel for the road.
2013 VW Golf Wagon TDI. Click image to enlarge
The interior is a curious study. For 2003, the Jettas and Golfs of their day were so far ahead of the compact mainstream brands in look and feel, that it is hard to acknowledge where these cars have regressed, and where the market has simply caught up. In fact, it is the Mk IV interior, with its blue numbers and sweeping orange needles in the gauges that first caught my eye. The signature soft-touch dash was a generation ahead, but switchgear and controls were also solidly built and still the equal of many current ‘luxury’ brands. Okay, they were, when new, and a fair number of them remain solid and consistent in my ’03. Of course, there is no cure for velour seats—they were bad from almost any manufacturer in any decade, but these ones have held up surprisingly well (aside from a couple of burn marks where the seat heaters shorted out and burnt through the fabric), and after 10 years and almost 200,000 km, not surprising that some of the finish is peeling off on various touch points, but there are still spots where you can see the original low-gloss, high-grip rubber surface.
The 2013 still features a soft-touch dash top, and the switchgear also seems well secured, and it should be noted that this model is assembled in Mexico, so it seems there is little difference in quality relative to German-built Golfs. However, as you go lower, you find progressively cheaper plastics in the centre console and other areas. It’s not a deal breaker for me. And obviously the level of equipment, with navigation, touchscreen interface, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, seat heaters that work, and other modern amenities put the Jetta’s AM/FM/CD stereo to shame. Oh, and my Jetta has a tape deck, too.
Sadly, the cupholders are in a much more conventional position between the seats, and as much as I loathe to admit it, are much more functional. As awful as the cupholders are in my old Jetta—any cup taller than a Tim Horton’s
Medium Small is precariously balanced and only a suggestion of a bump will likely send it into your passenger’s lap (any owner knows you never put an open container on the driver’s side in this contraption), and forget about changing the radio station if a drink is in place—it is still a goofy thrill every time I press in the cover panel and watch the arms swing out and bottom drop down. I feel like a caveman witnessing fire for the first time, every time. Make fun of over-engineered German hideaway cupholders (and a nod to Saab, too) all you want, there is something about them that I just find cool. Yes, I know I’m a dork. So be it.