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Best petrol Golf — more refined and more powerful than the 1.6 — but it still can’t compete on the same level as a diesel

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Golf

Just how good is the mighty Volkswagen Golf? The seventh generation of Europe's best selling car has been facelifted to keep its nose ahead of its rivals

7 October 2003

Just like wondering why Mercedes carries on making manual 'boxes, we’re beginning to wonder why Volkswagen persists with petrol engines.

Diesel’s dominance might just start sliding with the new fifth-generation Golf though. Why? Because the mainstays of the petrol line-up are the latest-generation FSI motors, which promise to go some way to matching the economy and emissions of derv power. In view of this, buyers should at least be considering putting unleaded in their tanks.

Indeed, regular readers will know that the 115bhp 1.6-litre incarnation has already notched up a success, putting a Ford Focus and Renault Mégane to the sword in last week’s comparison test (Autocar, 30 September). This week we’ve been driving the 150bhp 2.0-litre version that goes on sale in March, two months behind the rest of the range.

It could be worth the wait for those intent on bucking the trend and buying a petrol Golf. Jumping from a 1.6 to a 2.0-litre obviously gives you performance and flexibility advantages, but the bigger motor’s greatest strength is its extra refinement.

Neither petrol has the crispest or most charismatic engine notes, but the 2.0-litre is less rough-edged when you begin to investigate the upper echelons of the rev range. It’s more sensibly geared, too; tackling police-friendly motorway speeds in the 1.6 means suffering droning even with the new six-speed box slotted in top. Do the same in the 2.0 and it’s noticeably quieter, allowing you to appreciate just how comfortable and refined the Mk5 is in every other way.

Elsewhere it’s just as we’ve found in every other new Golf. Body control and ride quality are only a whiff away from a Ford Focus’s, meaning it’s impressive indeed. Plus, it counterpunches with a classier driving environment, more space and the prospect that it will prove a sounder investment if you’re spending your own cash.

That said, the stiffest competition for the 2.0 FSI is likely to come from within its own ranks in the shape of the 2.0 TDi. Yes, you’ll probably be paying a small premium when prices are finally announced, but 39.2mpg, plays 52.3 and company car tax payers will be better off, too. And diesel buyers get a perkier, if a little noisier, experience on the move.

So yes, the 2.0 FSI does offer some hope for petrol diehards, but our favourite Golfs will be diesel-powered for a while yet.

Chas Hallett

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