What is it?
The eco-car at its simplest and best: this is VW’s new Golf Bluemotion, which we’ve just sampled in right-hand drive, and in the UK, for the first time.
While the last Golf Bluemotion used VW’s noisy 1.9-litre pumpe-duse turbodiesel lump, this new one runs a cleaner and quieter 1.6 that produces 104bhp – one horsepower more than the last car – and 184lb ft of torque.
It’s the same engine that runs in the entry-level Golf diesel, except for the Bluemotion it’s got a modified crankshaft, cylinder head and oil pump, an intelligent alternator that runs faster while you’re braking or decelerating for a mild form of regenerative braking, and a starter-generator for automatic stop-start.
Elsewhere, the Golf Bluemotion has low-resistance tyres, a taller gearset for its five-speed manual gearbox, some very subtle aerodynamic modifications, and sports suspension that lowers it on its wheels and thereby reduces drag.
All of which combines for carbon emissions of just 99g/km – making this Golf free to tax – and a combined fuel economy claim of 74.3mpg.
What’s it like?
First and foremost, it’s a sixth-generation VW Golf, so it’s roomy, very impressively designed and built, appointed with precision and care and, concurrently, also about as desirable as economy cars get.
The current Golf’s excellent packaging and adjustable seats allow for loads of headroom in this car, as much legroom as four adults really need, and a first-class driving position. Like its rangemates, this Golf steers and handles with assured and polished precision too. It’s a little more stiffer-legged than you might expect - thank those sports springs – and there are occasions when its ride quality feels a little choppy. Thankfully, they’re rare.
Refinement is the one attribute this car offers that you don’t expect. That tall gearset doesn’t make it a great performer, but it does mean that, at 70mph, the engine’s turning over at just 2000rpm, and doing so quietly enough that you can hardly hear it.
The act of getting this car to 70mph isn’t going to worry the muscles in your neck, but it’s easy enough. There are times, when overtaking on the motorway or climbing gradients across country, when the combination of that tall top gear and modest torque quota means you’ll need to reach for fourth gear. Likewise, making progress in town can call for frequent trips through the ‘box; at 35mph, the car’s gearshift indicator will advise you to be in fourth, but if you want to accelerate at anything other than retirement pace, you’ll need third.
All that gear-changing makes driving this car feel strangely old-fashioned – like diesels used to feel 25 years ago. And yet driving it remains a gratifying experience, because you don’t mind working with that solid-feeling gear linkage when you reward is such excellent fuel economy.
And what we mean by ‘excellent’ is a long way north of 60mpg on a decent out-of-town run. The car we drove had fewer than 2000 miles recorded and yet still it turned in 63.1mpg on a 100-mile trip down the M1, moving with mixed traffic between 50 and 75mph. Once its engine has loosened up properly, 70mpg might be possible, provided you’re not in a rush. And in this tester’s experience, a Toyota Prius or Honda Insight couldn’t get within 10mpg of that on the same run. They wouldn’t be much more frugal in town, either.
Should I buy one?
If what you want is a frugal and cheap-to-keep family car without too many bells and whistles, absolutely. This car’s more than £2000 cheaper than a Ford Focus Econetic, costs over £1000 less than the cheapest Toyota Prius, and is just as refined and usable as the latter.
The new Golf Bluemotion is a provider of effective low-cost motoring without the frills, but with a healthy portion of quality, class, practicality and VW brand cache. It proves that a small, clever diesel internal combustion engine still beats the most sophisticated petrol-electric hybrid powertrain out there in the real world. And it succeeds in making getting around cheaply feel really rather special.