Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI review – new petrol engine improves the definitive family hatchback
It wasn’t long ago that ordering a petrol Golf represented a brave decision as far as residual values were concerned. Yet in this post-Dieselgate world, where diesel registrations were down 21 per cent in August alone, you could well argue the opposite is now true. All of which makes the arrival of a new petrol engine into the Volkswagen range worthy of a closer look.
The engine in question is a direct injection 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo that will go on to appear in a wide variety of VW Group products, including the new Polo. It uses Active Cylinder Management technology much like the 1.4-litre unit it replaces, meaning it can shut down cylinders when coasting in order to save fuel. Sounds complicated, but from behind the wheel you can’t detect it happening.
This engine is available in two states of tune, starting with a 128bhp BlueMotion that returned 58.9mpg on the EU Combined cycle and can get from 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds, although it is more notable for the fact it can switch off entirely when coasting in order to eke out every last mile per gallon.
The car tested here has the more powerful 148bhp version of the same engine, which is only available on higher-spec GT and R-Line Edition Golfs and merely cuts off two of its four cylinders when coasting. It produces its maximum power between 5,000-6,000rpm, while peak torque stands at 184lb ft between 1,500-3,500rpm. These figures along with a sub-8.5 second 0-62mph time put it at level pegging with the engine it replaces, although the combined fuel economy of 55.4mpg is a useful improvement.
For comparison purposes VW’s 2.0-litre diesel in 148bhp guise makes peak power at 3,500rpm and produces its 236lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm. On the EU Combined cycle it manages 65.7mpg, but it takes three-tenths longer to get from 0-62mph and costs about £1,500 more than the 1.5 petrol in the same specification.
All of which is a long-winded way of demonstrating that while ultimately not quite as fuel efficient as a diesel, the new 1.5 is certainly getting close. As much is confirmed on long motorway runs when it easily trickles along between 50-55mpg, while average economy on mixed roads for us worked out in the high 40s. Compared with a diesel this new engine is also supremely quiet, and while it lacks the TDI’s big surge of mid-range torque it is still plenty strong enough, as well as more flexible at low revs.
The sporty looks of the R-Line Edition (it borrows styling cues from the all-wheel-drive Golf R) and the engine’s keen performance might even fool you into thinking this 1.5 is some kind of sub-hot hatch, but actually the engine isn’t sweet enough at high revs to be worth exploring much beyond 4,500rpm.
Our car was fitted with VW’s DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox rather than the standard six-speed manual. It’s a fine combination for 95 per cent of the time, but there’s still some hesitancy when manoeuvring, which can make shuffling into parallel parking spaces unnecessarily tricky, as well as causing a nervous delay when you go to pull out of a busy junction.
While it is possible to drive around such faults, it’s a shame they blot an otherwise almost pristine copybook. Yes, the Golf really is that good. True, the latest Mk7 facelift might not have made huge gains in any particular area, but nor did it need to. This is still the best all-round family car on sale today, deftly mixing just the right amount of space with a compliant and quiet ride and confidence inspiring handling.
Of the mainstream hatchbacks the Golf also still feels like the benchmark for interior quality and design, with all models now coming with an excellent 8-inch touchscreen system and buyers also able to upgrade to an optional digital dial display. Throw in technology such as adaptive damping and radar cruise control with active lane guidance and you start to see how the Golf really does offer a lot of big car features in a relatively accessible package.
Our only reservation is that by restricting this particular engine and power output to higher trim levels Volkswagen might price a lot of potential buyers out of contention. Mind you, they could do a lot worse than settle for the company’s turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine instead, which on a price-to-performance ratio remains the sweet spot in the Golf range.
Either way, for those who still want a Golf but don’t want a diesel the news is only good.
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI EVO R-Line Edition DSG
Tested: 1,495cc turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive
Price/on sale: From £26,510/now
Power/torque: 148bhp @ 5,000-6,000rpm/184lb ft @ 1,500-3,500rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds
Top speed: 134mph
Fuel economy: 56.5mpg (EU Combined)
CO2 emissions: 114g/km
VED costs: £160 first year, then £140
Verdict: An outstanding all-rounder that provides a viable alternative to a diesel Golf, particularly for retails buyers. However, so does VW’s 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which is cheaper still and almost as impressive.
Telegraph rating: Five out of five stars