Golf on a shoestring

New Volkswagen hatch has fewer frills and less power, but is more affordable

In a sophisticated market such as Singapore, few people go for dumbed-down products.

But because the car industry here is so special (it is managed by no fewer than four government ministries), the opposite sometimes applies.

Take, for instance, the car on this page, the Volkswagen Golf 1.2TSI.

The 105bhp hatch is not here because of its superior fuel economy. It consumes 5 litres of petrol for every 100km - exactly the same amount as the 122bhp Golf 1.4TSI under the optimistic European test cycle (combined).

It is not here because of its significantly cleaner tailpipe either. The Golf 1.2TSI emits just 1g/km less carbon dioxide than the beefier Golf 1.4TSI. Which means after one year of driving, you save the world what a cow produces in two afternoons.

It is here simply because its openmarket value (OMV) is likely to be under $20,000, which means it is likely to be around $7,000 less expensive than the Golf 1.4TSI.

More importantly, buyers need only to fork out a 40 per cent down payment, instead of 50 per cent for cars with OMVs above $20,000 under rules on car loans introduced last year.

That translates to a down payment of $49,000, instead of around $65,000 for the 1.4TSI.

Of course, the 1.2TSI attracts less annual road tax than the bigger-engined Golf - $508 instead of $624. But the difference of $9.67 per month is hardly worth the 1.2TSI's performance deficit.

We are talking about a 10.2-second dash to 100kmh, instead of 9.3 for the 1.4. The difference in top speed - 192kmh versus 203kmh - is academic here, but on the road, the 1.2TSI is still clearly outclassed.

While the car can hardly be described as anaemic, it feels like it is permanently in Eco mode. It moves off with the efficiency of a Japanese hybrid, but seems to plateau fairly quickly.

To get it across that invisible barrier, you need to either stomp on the accelerator or flick the gear lever to Sport shift.

The good thing is that the car responds when prodded. Its new engine is a 16-valve DOHC, compared with the previous 1.2's 8-valve SOHC. This allows the new unit to peak at lower revs and the car to shave 0.4 of a second off its 0-100kmh sprint.

Like all current Mk7 Golfs, the 1.2TSI is very refined. Its seven-speed DSG gearbox swops cogs without you knowing it half the time, especially when you are not in a hurry.

When idling, you cannot hear or feel the engine.

On the go, it cocoons occupants as well as an executive sedan, keeping out external noises and absorbing all but the nastiest of tarmac blemishes.

Yet, like all Golfs, it believes one good turn deserves another. The hatch takes on corners with enthusiasm, confidence and accuracy.

Cabin space is decent enough for three teenagers to endure a 25km journey in the second row in relative peace.

And you get the excellent fit and finish you experience in the other Mk7 Golfs, even if the equipment level is lower.

Unlike in the 1.4, there is no dual-zone climate control, drive-profile selection, multi-function steering wheel, illuminated vanity mirrors, front under-seat drawers, stainless-steel door scuff plates or a flap that allows you to stow extra-long items in the boot.

It has 16-inch wheels, compared with 17-inchers for the 1.4; and a single exhaust pipe.

But it is not dumbed down in the safety department. The car still has electronic stability control, seven airbags and an automatic post-crash braking system.

And you still get automatic folding mirrors and electronic parking brake with self-release.

If COE prices continue to decrease (which is likely the case), the 1.2TSI will be the first Golf to fall below $100,000. Then, you can bet that it will sell like the proverbial hotcakes.

If, however, you have a bigger budget, there is a new Golf variant for you: the 1.4TSI EQP.

The car comes with all the high-end features you find in the Golf Sport, including navigation, cruise control and automatic parking.

But because of its 122bhp engine, it still belongs to Category A COE, allowing it to be priced at $139,300, $7,000 less than the 140bhp Golf Sport.

christan@sph.com.sg

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