For all its strengths, it’s fair to say that the outgoing Mk IV Golf was not an inspiring car to drive. Point it at a corner with any degree of aggression and it would lift the nearside rear wheel, scrubbing angrily away from the apex in a noisy struggle to regain grip and composure.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s January 2004 issue
So it’s a pleasant surprise to discover, after just a few corners, that its Golf V replacement is not that way inclined at all. Handling is benign and predictable as always, but the fifth generation Golf has learned to act in a spontaneous and precise fashion – balanced and poised instead of detached and boring.
Despite the suppleness of its suspension, body movements are well controlled and grip tenacious. Not only is this car more forgiving, but also a lot more entertaining than of old.
The Mk V is as unmistakably a Golf as its forerunners. All the classic cues have been preserved, including the wide C-pillars. Classy, familiar, neatly proportioned and timeless, this car leaves you in no doubt about its identity.
Golf comparison: Mk IV GTI v Mk VI GTI
Inside, the new Golf comes across like a downscaled Phaeton. Perceived quality is first class, and upmarket details include four chrome-rimmed round instruments, an optional satnav with large-format colour monitor and dual-zone air conditioning.
Dimensions are more grown up, too. A 67mm longer wheelbase means quantifiably more rear leg room, while width is up 24mm and height 39mm.
A much stiffer chassis and heavily reworked suspension are matched by new electro-mechanical power steering with a subtle self-centring mode known as Active Return and an automatic stability enhancement device that compensates for crosswinds and camber changes.
The most powerful model available at launch is the 103kW 2.0 TDI. A diesel flagship? You bet. With 320Nm on tap, the 2.0 TDI has ample GTI genes in its blood. A 0-100km/h time of 9.3sec and a 205km/h top whack are no more than adequate, but its prime strength is its irresistible mid-range oomph.
It isn’t yet confirmed for Oz, but we will be getting the 77kW 1.9 TDI, 75kW 1.6 petrol and 110kW 2.0 FSI from the third quarter of 2004. VW Oz hopes to add the 2.0 TDI and 85kW 1.6 FSI as well, followed in 2005 by a 150kW turbocharged 2.0 GTI and the all-wheel-drive R36, it’s uprated 3.6-litre V6 reportedly good for 205kW.
Classic MOTOR: Golf Mk III VR6 review
An excellent all-rounder, Golf V has lost none of its core qualities and is now a much better car in so many respects. This is without a doubt the most complete Volkswagen yet.