Golf V – Preview and First Impressions

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Volkswagen introduced the fourth generation Golf, but the reality is six years have passed us by since it was first shown in Frankfurt of 1998. Back then it was lauded for its fit and finish, detailing, materials and standard features – it brought luxury features down into the compact class and forever changed the expectations of consumers as a result.

Now Volkswagen has launched the fifth generation A-platform (A5) Golf. Like the Golf IV before it, the new Golf V has moved forward – or laterally anyway – with the progression of the now familiar Golf shape. As happened when the Golf IV was first introduced, initial opinions are split on the overall look of the new Golf V. Change never comes easy to VW enthusiasts and while some really like the new design, others aren’t so enthusiastic about it. We should point out that most enthusiasts here in North America have not seen the new Golf V in person yet, relying instead on photos which don’t always convey what the car really looks like in the metal – so the final verdict for most on this side of the pond will have to wait.

We recently had a chance to drive a German-market Golf V four-door in Highline (think GLS/GLX) trimlevel equipped with a 1.9l 100hp PD-TDI with Volkswagen’s new DSG transmission. Simply opening a door gives the immediate impression that this new Golf is yet another level above the outgoing model. It feels considerably bigger on the inside with plenty of room for my six foot frame to fit in the rear seats with another six footer in front – in fact my knees don’t even touch the front seats. Overall the interior has an even more upscale feel than the outgoing Golf IV with loads of detailing. Materials inside are a mix of good and better with a few things feeling a little cheaper than the Golf IV. The leathers on the seats are a huge improvement with a beautiful nap and softness, but the rings around the HVAC controls are loose and a little “cheap” feeling for instance. The new HVAC controls are easy to adjust though and work perfectly, with dual-zone Climatronic giving the driver and passenger their own separate temperature controls. In the end the new Golf V imparts a strong sense of fine detailing and is still ahead of its competitors in the “dash-stroking” game and should make any current VW owner more than happy with their surroundings.

As far as we’re concerned, Volkswagen can skimp a little on the interior though for the chassis is an unbelievable improvement. As soon as you pull away and drive down the street you notice a huge difference. First the Golf V is unbelievably tight and rigid. The car is eerily quiet on the Autobahn with virtually no wind noise, plus the structure is amazingly stiff and solid – Volkswagen claims chassis rigidity is up 80% over the outgoing model which was no slouch to start with. The car feels “German” again – little to no dive and squat and roll is very controlled, especially compared to the Golf IV. The ride is firm, but not harsh and is very compliant over bumps and dips. The first offramp we attacked would have had any current Golf IV owner diving for something to grab on to, yet the Golf V had us smiling as it simply turned-in with no fuss, very little roll and with nice feedback through the steering wheel – no theatrics and very controlled. The new revised front strut and all-new four-link fully independent rear suspension are to be credited for the new-found athleticism. If a “standard” Golf such as the one we drove goes this well, we’ll be VERY curious to see how the GTI model handles.

The DSG (direct shift gearbox) is simply revolutionary and we like it more and more every time we drive it. In the TDI it works especially well optimizing performance and economy. The latest programming is impressive, giving the car some forward creep when you let off the brakes, almost as if it has a torque converter. Shifts are blazingly fast and downshifts make you sound like Michael Shumacher – this is the new yardstick for how all of these auto/manual slush boxes should be. The 100hp 1.9l PD TDI engine, particularly when equipped with the DSG transmission is an impressive performer with seamless and abundant torque – this is a fun car to drive.

Talking to Volkswagen executives and engineers reveals a bit of nervousness around Wolfsburg these days – rumor has it Dr. Pischetsrieder will put someone’s head on a platter if the quality of this new Golf V isn’t damned near perfect. From top to bottom all new quality assurance programs have been put in place that now include suppliers brought directly into the development process, a board member now in charge of Quality Control, a whole slew of new people hired both in Germany and here in America who’s sole responsibility is to track and fix problems immediately. Even the new diagnostic tools now in dealers as part of the Phaeton and Touareg launch tie back to a central database that can now track problems on a world-wide level very quickly. Overall good signs that VW is serious about improving their recent woes.

Here in North America, we’ll see the new Jetta V and Golf V GTI introduced first at the beginning of 2005 with the 4-door Golf following in late 2005. The base engine in our cars will be an all-new 150hp 2.5l inline-5 cylinder. The uprated engine that will be standard in the GTI and GLI and other upper trim levels will be a 200hp 16v 2.0l 4-cylinder turbo. Six-speed manual and six-speed Tiptronic will be available in the Golf and Jetta. DSG will be offered as a second choice to the six-speed manual in the GTI and GLI models.

Overall we like the Golf V. The car looks far better in person and has an upscale look to it that just can’t seem to be captured well in photos. It also has a tendency to make the Golf IV look a bit dated, especially when you see them on the street together. We’ll have to hold off on complete impressions till we have an opportunity to drive the U.S.-spec version in another year, but what we’ve seen so far is very good.

Second Opinion – Brad Beardow,

There’s simply no denying that the release of a new generation of the VW Golf is an exciting proposition, at least for anyone with the title of VWvortex staff member attached to his name.

Like most recent visitors of this website, I’d seen many pictures of the fifth generation of Volkswagen Golf, and also like many, I had my doubts. Not enough traditional Golf cues, a radically raked bumper-hood-windshield combo was but one of my more immediate concerns. Still, it only seemed fair to hold any strong opinions till I’d seen the car in the flesh.

My first glimpse of the new Golf V came as we prepared to attend Audi’s Le Mans quattro presentation the night before the Frankfurt Auto Show was to start. In a dark gravel parking lot, I got a quick look at the black four-door that happened to be carrying to the event none other than Herr Bernd Pischetsreider. With an endless number of Phaetons and A8s from which to choose, VAG’s highest-ranking member made the new Golf V his limousine of choice.

Monday night’s dark parking lot and solitary black Golf gave way to Tuesday morning’s Halle 3 at the Frankfurt Auto Show and multiple numbers of new Golfs in just about every conceivable configuration, including a single new GTi “concept.” My initial conclusion is that the car most definitely looks better in the flesh, and goes a fair length towards allaying some of my original concerns. Though more revolutionary than evolutionary in design, it most definitely does not look like a Honda Civic of any generation, and though it shares similar cues with many other cars, it is most obviously a Volkswagen.

I’ll admit there are still some exterior features for which I’m less than enthusiastic. First and foremost, I am not fond of the overly raked headlights, hood, and windshield. To me, a proper Golf should have a fairly vertical, stubby nose, and only a mildly raked hood. The new Golf has a sort of mini-van, one-box look to its profile, and I do not think that is a good thing, and somewhat anti-Golf as a result. At the rear, I think the taillights are a clever design, and possess styling cues which link the new Golf to other recent VW models, such as the Phaeton and the Touareg. But in my opinion, the overall shape of the lights is too round and nondescript. I think if they’d made the inner section more trapezoidal in shape, they’d be more cohesive and distinctive at the same time. As a matter of fact, I wish VW had worked in a few more hard lines and creases to the exterior design, as I worry that the new car is still a bit too round and “blobby,” and might not age very gracefully. I have mixed feelings about the new headlight design. On the one hand, I like the aggressive countenance they lend to the new “face,” yet on the other hand, they’re less pretty and jewel-like than those found on the Mk IV. And though the signal strip below the high and low beams is not exactly graceful in its design, current lighting regulations pretty much dictate their existence, and will certainly pave the way for a North American-spec Golf with HID lighting.

I very much like the way the rear quarter panel has a character line that emphasizes how the rear quarter windows taper in toward the center-line of the vehicle (though I wish they’d made said windows more rectangular in shape). This also makes the car appear much less slab-sided than the Mk IV Golf. The C-pillar is a bit smaller than in years past, but it’s very thick, and therefore still a traditional Golf shape, and in the case of the 5-door, very much so in the way the lower portion flows in synch with the rear door shut line. A particular disappointment for me is that the fender flares on the Golf V seem less pronounced than those found on the Mk IV.

I must admit I’m a bit perplexed by the rub strips that appear on the front and sides, yet not on the rear. On cars where these are left black, it’s even more strange-looking. The GTi is worse still, in that the fronts are even smaller, and most of the expanse is taken up by the cover for the headlight squirters. And it also looks like none of the styles for front strips is long enough to support the US-mandated front side marker lights, meaning we’ll likely see them simply added to the side of the front bumper. Pity, that.

I like the honeycomb grilles on the GTi, as they tie in well to what’s been seen on the Polo and Lupo GTis of the past. One thing that most certainly needs to go away is the black mask that ties the upper and lower grilles together. I’m thinking this may be the one thing that makes this GTi a concept vehicle, so there’s good reason to believe it won’t make it to production. Good thing, too, because it’s rather hideous. And while we’re discussing the GTi, I need to point out that conspicuous in their absence are any badges on the car that say “Golf.” Could it be that Germany is looking to follow North America in declaring that the GTi is no longer a Golf? Hmm… let’s not go there.

For me, things definitely look up when viewing the new Golf from the driver’s seat. The dash is very contemporary, and made with quality materials. There’s a center trim strip that runs the entire length of the dash, and can be finished in either grey plastic, real aluminum, or wood material – I like this touch, and I think it lends a very upscale touch to the interior. The HVAC controls are now operated by three separate knobs, and to me, this is a huge improvement. I’ll always prefer twisting a knob to pushing some button. The armrest is adjustable in length, and houses the optional 6-disc changer underneath. Legroom, front and rear, is also improved over the last generation of Golfs, and headroom seems beyond what anyone might actually require. All in all, the interior is quite nice, and though some plastic pieces seem to be less touchy-feely than the Mk IV (shift console), it’s quite possible they will wear better, and last longer.

In summary, I’d just like to say that I have some very mixed feelings about the new Golf. I like it for what it is, but I’m disappointed by what it’s not – it’s an attractive, contemporary-looking vehicle, that unfortunately, just doesn’t happen to look like a Golf. Or at least, my definition of what a Golf ought to look like. But then again, if it’s a brilliant driver, I seriously doubt any definition of “Golfness” will get in the way of me buying one. I’ll just have to wait till I get some seat time in one myself.

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