Volkswagen Golf (2008)

Published: 30 July 2007

The next Volkswagen Golf: everything you need to know

One car defines the success of the Volkswagen group: the Golf. It’s the bedrock of the range and when the Golf sells, VW makes lots of money. In many ways, it’s a barometer measuring the financial health, and wealth, of Wolfsburg. Today’s Mk5 Golf is a strong seller, but it’s also a complicated, expensive car to build. That’s why VW is going back to the drawing board for the sixth generation, caught here testing in California at the weekend. It’s wearing only light disguise, as befits a car that will be seen at a motor show in 2008, with sales slated for winter ’08-’09.

It looks just like the last Golf!

True, but then radical and Golf aren’t exactly comfortable bedfellows, are they? The sober styling of VW’s small family hatch has gently evolved over the years and maintained its kinked C-pillar and solid substance, in preference for the wacky excesses of the Ford Focus and Honda Civic. Unsurprisingly, Volkswagen is repeating the formula for the Mk6. CAR Online’s photos reveal a similar outline as today’s Golf, but with VW’s new family face grafted on the nose. You can make out a new grille and Eos-style wedge-shaped headlights under the front disguise. To save money, the roofline and glasshouse will be carried over, but fatter door frames, an integrated roof lip spoiler and more sculptured side panels give the car a tauter look. Evolution is the name of the stylists’ game.

So how will they make the new Golf cheaper to build?

Do you ever pick up a car brochure and find your eyes glazing over when faced with multiple combinations of engine and trim? The Golf has offered a proliferation of choice in the past (VW currently offers around 100 versions of the Golf GTI worldwide!) and bosses plan to simplify production massively next time round. So instead of 13 engine choices, Mk6 buyers will be able to pick from 10 units, and trims will be simplified too. End result? The new Golf will be quicker and easier to build, cutting the time required to build each model dramatically. It takes 37 hours to assemble a Golf today – about twice as long as a Focus or Astra… Less time in the factory equals lower bills for Volkswagen. The company’s former president Wolfgang Bernhard, ousted in a boardroom coup in January, reckoned the Mk6 would cost £1650 less to build. Per car. Not that Volkswagen is exactly poor. Last week it announced results that were ahead of expectations – predicting a pre-tax profit of €5.1 billion (£3.4bn) in 2007.

But I like choice! What Golfs will I be able to choose from?

Don’t fret. There will still be a Golf for every pocket. All engines are direct-injection, apart from the entry 80bhp 1.4 and 102bhp 1.6. There’s also a new 1.4 turbo, a 150bhp TSI twincharger, and a 197bhp GTI and 246bhp R32, although that will be replaced by a deeper-chested 300bhp R36 by the end of the decade. Diesel choice stretches from a 89bhp 1.6 TDI all the way up to a 168bhp 2.0 TDI. Most engines will be available with VW’s twin-clutch DSG transmission, and we hear the paddle-shift option will be available with seven forward ratios this time. To begin with, today’s Jetta, Golf Estate and Golf Plus will continue unchanged, although they will in time fall into line with the new hatchback.

Won’t all this cost-cutting damage the Golf’s middle-class aspirations?

This is the tricky balancing act VW must resolve. It’s trying to remove the convoluted range structure and complicated construction that make the Golf expensive to build – but it knows the Mk6 mustn’t lose its quality lustre. Some argue that today’s Golf doesn’t repeat the premium quality of the Mk4, and it would be disastrous if the Mk6 suffers noticeably from penny-pinching. We’re assured there will be classy cabin materials and the latest multi-media gadgets aplenty, and build quality will be improved from tighter processes at the Wolfsburg plant. The Golf is easily the biggest-selling car at Volkswagen, the 25 millionth model rolling off the line in March. Even the iconic original Beetle managed just 21 million and bosses hope this latest version will keep the Golf at the top of middle-class buyers’ wish lists.

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet