Through no fault of her own, Alicia Howard at Volkswagen Australia kept A Wheel Thing on its toes, with apologies to say a certain car previously booked was unavailable for one reason or another and would it be a problem if we booked car XYZ. Naturally, it was never an issue and I thank Alicia deeply for her courtesy and politeness. One of the changes was from the 110TDI Highline to the 103 TSI Highline which cannot, in any way, be seen as a bad decision regardless of the cause (unfortunately the 110 booked had been “injured”). A Wheel Thing had just swapped out of the GTi Golf a day or two earlier when Wheels magazine announced their Car Of The Year Award, which went to the Golf range, the magazine even has a picture of the car A Wheel Thing was given.
The Driven Heart
It’s hard to believe, after driving it, that the 103 Highline has “just” a 1.4L BlueMotion engine, attached to a seven speed DSG (direct shift gearbox http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-Shift_Gearbox) transmission. Maximum poke is 103kW from 4500 to 6000 rpm and there’s 250 immensely usable torques on tap at 1500 to 3500rpm. The gearbox takes advantage of the spread of gears by almost instantly launching the 103 Highline into rapid forward motion when the loud pedal is pressed. Under most driving circumstances it’s smooth, quick changing, hardly noticeable and rarely found wanting for the right gear. The engine itself is quiet, revvy and features VW’s BlueMotion tech (http://volkswagenaustralia.com.au/thinkblue/golf-bluemotion.html) in order to improve fuel economy. The TSI engine is also twin charged, being both turbo and supercharged, explaining the spread of torque available. There’s been a weight saving measure undertaken by Volkswagen, with up to 100 kilograms pared off (depending on model) with light weight steel in the body and a change from iron to alloy for the engine.
It’s a subtle evolution, the series 7 Golf. A Wheel Thing’s test car was coated in silver, a colour seemingly favoured by manufacturers for their review cars yet it suits the overall shape. There’s a crease line from the front guards to just under the rear door handle on all models, the traditional thick C pillar, subtle revisions to the front and rear light clusters (sharper and tighter)and daytime running lights pushed to the bottom corners of the front bumper. As mentioned in the GTi review, the family lineage is clearly evident going back to the original model in the mid 1970s, with each iteration different than the preceding yet obviously related. Entry and exit via the wide opening doors is a doddle and the rear hatch is popped from lifting the large VW badge in the tin. Stylish 17 inch ten spoke alloys on 225/25 rubber add to the visual allure. Drag has been reduced by dropping the bonnet height compared to the Mark 6
The Office Space
Compared to the GTi it’s a much quieter place with padded sports style seats in black, a look somewhat reminiscent of mid 1970s supercar styling; a few less buttons including no option for suspension setting changes, glossy black highlights and the classically simple dials (brushed chrome rings against black and white) on the dash. The roof trim balances that out with an off white colour scheme. Ergonomically it’s almost ideal, with clear vision all around, the touch screen infotainment system with a pinch/pull map system and proximity sensing (somehwat unusual to watch), the almost 1980s like line draw graphics in the centre dash screen adds a touch of nostalgia (for those old enough to remember them…) with a semi “lowlight” being the placement of the door handle grip. It’s a slanted one but forward of where a natural reach would be to put a hand and somewhat awkward to pull the wide opening door closed. There’s the usual assortment of steering controls like cruise, radio, Bluetooth, again all clearly laid out to the point of being fastidious. Rear seats are 60/40 split and ski ported and with a 2620mm wheelbase, rear leg room could be a touch tight for adults on a reasonable distance trip. Cargo room is a usable 380L with the seats folded up, more than enough to hold a week’s shop and increases to 1270L with seats down. Again, though, the fuel gauge refused to move off full until somewhere between 150-180 kilometres had been covered.
Safety is not an issue either, airbags abound including curtain and knee, plus there’s parking distance sensors, a “multi collision brake” system, which automatically applies the stoppers if the front sensors feel the car ahead has suddenly got too close.
On The Road
With just 1265kg to move, the 250 Nm’s do a good job of getting the 103 up to freeway speeds in a reasonably decent haste, with the spread of torque across the rev range keeping the Golf motorvating before peak power kicks in. The seven speed transmission is almost imperceptible in its movements, with the dash display sometimes the only way of knowing what’s happening under the bonnet. Although a revvy engine, it’s also quiet, with noise insulation well on top in the battle between engine bay and driver’s ears. On a hill, there’s an Auto Hold feature, which locks the brakes momentarily when the foot brake is released, allowing time for the go pedal to be pushed before any potential rollback.
It’s a fluid, supple, absorbent ride on the road, with minimal road noise except on rougher tarmac, however the MacPherson strut front and four link rear isolate all but the most intrusive bumps from the driver. Thrown hard into corners there’s no feeling of indecisiveness or lack of traction, with the suspension working hand in hand with with the grippy rubber, (which chirps on occasion from launch) to provide an excellent and high quality driving experience. The electronically assisted steering is well weighted, adapting to speed and steering input to feedback to the driver exactly what’s happening at the front. Even when pressed, the 103 Highline was unflustered, composed and returned an average fuel use of 5.3L/100km.
It’s rare that A Wheel Thing finds something that’s a such a complete package; a battleship sized supreme pizza/drink/garlic bread combination delivered by a supermodel with a guaranteed winning Lotto ticket would be the closest thing to the Golf’s overall presentation. Sheer driving ability, roadholding, useability of features, the unobtrusive yet handsome look and stunning price leave very little out. From a dab under $32K driveaway, it’s a screaming bargain and for those that understand how it works, a well and worthy winner of the Wheels magazine car of the year. If you’re a single person or currently in the DINK fraternity, the Golf 103 Highline is just right for your driveway. For info and including the capped priced servicing, go here: