2010 Volkswagen Golf
2010 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

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Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Gerry Frechette

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2010 Volkswagen Golf

Reykjavik, Iceland – When the current generation Volkswagen Golf was introduced in Canada as the Rabbit a couple of years ago, it was three years after it had been introduced in Europe – not a situation that Volkswagen Canada was very happy with. Fortunately, the Rabbit was, and still is an appealing compact car with a lot of desirable features.

Nevertheless, in terms of the world market, the fifth-generation Golf has reached the end of its product life cycle, and the new model is to be launched here in the Fall of 2009, after having been introduced first in its home market this Fall. The current generation will have lasted only about three years in Canada, but the new model will quickly make VW fans forget it as the technology and engineering improvements will likely vault it into the top echelon of compact cars worldwide.

2010 Volkswagen Golf
2010 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

The Golf’s introduction was held in rugged and windswept Iceland, and the nearly empty roads outside the main city of Reykjavik presented a great opportunity to see what the new version is all about.

While the overall proportions and Germanic design are clearly Volkswagen, the new Golf is perhaps the biggest departure from a previous model yet. In the words of VW design chief Walter de Silva, “It is more accentuated, with precisely defined lines and edges, flared surfaces and recesses.” It does look edgier, sportier and very contemporary, the kind of changes we have seen on a few other German cars recently. We can expect future VW models to assume these design cues pioneered by the Golf.

The new Golf is only slightly shorter, by 5 mm, but wider by 20 mm. Its height and wheelbase remain the same but it appears bigger and more substantial.

2010 Volkswagen Golf
2010 Volkswagen Golf. Photo courtesy Volkswagen. Click image to enlarge

The interior, too, was crafted to give the impression that it is a mid-sized car, which will appeal to those moving down to a compact for economic reasons. Certainly, the spaciousness designed into the Golf is a major factor in this. The perception of quality is evident, with soft-touch materials and exceptional fit and finish even on the early production models I drove. Ergonomics are amongst the best in any compact, continuing one of the most compelling features of the previous generation Golf; even taller people can fit comfortably, the front seats are multi-adjustable and very supportive, and all the major controls are where one would like them to be for ease of driving.

2010 Volkswagen Golf
2010 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

Volkswagen put much effort into reducing noise in the Golf, and it has paid off with a feeling of increased refinement. To that end, there is sound-dampening film on the windshield, new seals on the doors, new outside mirror shapes, more sound deadening between the engine and passenger compartments, quieter tires, and new engine bearings.

Safety technology continues to proliferate regardless of size or segment, and the Golf has a full suite of features that not so long ago, you would see only on larger premium cars. On the passive side, besides the customary strengthening of the body shell itself, the Golf will have up to nine airbags including a driver’s knee bag, as well as VW’s version of active head restraints that it is calling “Whiplash Optimized Head Restraint System,” or WOKS.

2010 Volkswagen Golf
2010 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

Active safety in the form of ABS and Electronic Stability Program continues, of course, joined now by technology new to the Golf, if not the compact segment, called DCC Adaptive Chassis Control, which might be simply described as active dampers. The system continually reacts to road and driving conditions to provide the optimal settings for control and safety. The “automatic” setting can be overridden with “comfort” and “sport” settings, and having tried them all, it can be said that the DCC system yields noticeable results. The Golf can be as comfortable or as sporty as the driver desires.

Also new on the Golf will be ACC Automatic Distance Control, basically laser-based cruise control that maintains a set distance to the vehicle ahead, and Park Assist, which will parallel-park your Golf for you, no hands needed on the wheel, both of which I question the need for on a small vehicle. It seems technology knows no bounds these days when it comes to finding alternatives to skills a driver should already have. One new feature I do think is useful is Rear Assist, a rearview camera that will also be available.

2010 Volkswagen Golf
2010 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

The Golfs I drove in Iceland were strictly European versions, as one year in advance was certainly too soon for there to have been any Canadian versions available. The engines and drive-trains offered in the new Golfs elsewhere do not reflect those which we will get here. As with the current generation, the only engine offered at launch will be the North America-exclusive 2.5-litre inline five-cylinder, with six-speed manual or Tiptronic automatic. The GTI will again have the 2.0-litre turbo four, as well.

The two versions of the Golf I drove were equipped with two engine-transmission combinations we would love to see here – and one of them, we just might. That would be the 2.0-litre TDI diesel (with six-speed twin-clutch DSG in the one we drove), which, significantly, is of the latest common-rail design, putting it on the same technological footing as the TDI Clean Diesel in the Jetta, and therefore more likely to be able to meet the North American emission standards which are more stringent than those in Europe, although their standards are set to tighten soon. VW Canada confirms that a Golf TDI is something they would like to see happen, but it won’t be earlier than calendar year 2010, and only if they can make a business case for it – which probably means VW of America would have to be on board, too.

2010 Volkswagen Golf
2010 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

The other Golf we tried had an engine and transmission we are not likely to ever see here, but which I was very impressed with. How about a 1.4-litre gasoline four, supercharged AND turbocharged with direct injection, putting out 160 horsepower, driving through a seven-speed DSG? It’s called the 1.4 TSI, and its combination of smoothness, performance (0-100 km/h in 8 seconds), and low consumption (6.0 L/100 km) is a very appealing one. Those lucky Europeans….

VW Canada has already confirmed that the Golf will be once more actually called “Golf”; the “Rabbit” experiment is over, at least in this country. We may not see it for another year, but those looking for substance, refinement and technological sophistication in a compact car will likely consider it to have been worth the wait.

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