I recall my first test drive of the Golf, giving it the full bootful at 30 mph in 3rd gear and laughing out loud at the explosive acceleration. Moveover, after purchasing the car, I managed 58 mpg on my run home. Had I truly found the best of both worlds?
I got a Golf GT TDI 150 as my commute increased to 60 miles a day, albeit a very lovely drive over the North Yorkshire Moors. I wanted something which would be good on fuel, but enough of a hot hatch to keep me happy when I wanted to put my foot down. I didn't expect the GT TDI to be all that quick. My previous car was a Clio 182, and I can honestly say that the Golf felt as quick in-gear. A caveat to this is that 1st and 2nd aren't much use as even in the dry as the wheels will just spin under full power, so in 0-60 terms (totally irrelevant in the real world) the 150 loses out a bit. A much more telling indicator of performance on the road is the 30-70 time for a car, and the Golf weighs in at just under 7 seconds. This combined with huge thrust in every gear means effortless overtaking and a genuinely rapid car.
Of course all this is due to the torque of the diesel engine. The power figure of 150 bhp is slightly misleading. It's best to think of it as a by-product of the 235 lbft of shove on offer from just 1900 rpm. In reality, as long as the revs are over 2000 in any gear the car flies, the limiter stopping fun at 5000 rpm, though over 4000 the thrust dies off significantly so best to change up and get back in the power band.
So, the car can do fast. But it's the way that - when you are not giving it death - that the Golf becomes a nice place to collapse into at the end of the day and waft home that makes it doubley appealing. The interior is spacious and well laid out. The cabin ambiance at night is especially pleasant with the oh so cool adjustable blue back lighting for the dials. It very easy to drive in a relaxed manner with all that torque to waft you effortlessly along.
The seats are Recaros, and offer good bolstering and adjustability in every direction, though are a little too soft and squidgey for me. The stereo is also good, and there are enough goodies to at least keep you comfortable.
The car is particularly good on the motorway, with excellent sound-proofing, and reasonably good ride, although it must be said if I had intended to keep my car any longer I would have had new dampers installed. On a good run you can even manage in excess of 60 mpg.
So you say: the perfect car? Bit of a Jekyll and Hyde? Well... not really. It depends what you want from your car, for the non-petrolhead it has all the performance you could ever reasonably need, plenty of practicality, bags of refinement, and typical Germanic reliability. Not to mention the fact that a full tank (55 litres) will take you 600 miles unless you drive like a lunatic.
However... as a drivers car, the GT TDI 150 presents a very different story. Firstly, the car is fairly softly sprung, making cruising a bit nicer, but push on around a bend and the car will lean and wallow, even taking a few seconds after a turn to sort out its lateral loadings. This despite being lowered compared to a standard Mk 4. In order to get to this stage, however you will have had to first turn off the hideously clumsy traction control, which will be lighting up like a Christmas tree when pushing on as, despite the car offering a fair amount of grip, it simply cannot find the traction to deploy that massive torque loading through the front wheels. I think it's fair to say, this car does not like corners, and doesn't make going round them any fun at all.
This brings me onto another big problem - the steering. It is very light, brilliant for around town or the motorway, again, not so good if you want to enjoy the drive. It also manages to filter out any feel whatsoever at any speed, and for a car with the performance potential of the 150 that is very unnerving. In the steering's defence, it is pretty quick and accurate - but this needs to be combined with a sharp, pointy and direct front end, which the Golf totally lacks. You need to really stick the car into a bend with a confidence that it does not inspire to get it to react positively, and it can feel like a bit of a leap of faith at times given the numbness of the helm, even once highly familiar with how the car drives. The chassis really dosen't shine, a lift of the throttle mid-corner will tuck the nose in slightly, but sliding the back around is very much off the agenda. The Golf always feels a step behind you rather than right there and reacting to your inputs.
Once you figure in this lethargic and not very adjustable chassis with the poor body control, awful steering feel and lack of traction you have a car with massive potential drivability and speed, which you are never really happy or able to use. Of course, if you focus on the massive poke of the engine, the slick 6-speed box, grip, and fairly sorted ride to smooth the bumps, you can make very brisk, if dull, progress.
So, overall how do I feel about this car? As an everyday driver it is absolutely brilliant, ticking every box you could wish. I had a few running repairs to keep up with on mine, but it was 100% reliable and very satisfying to own.
As a drivers car? Well... I am a confirmed petrolhead and love driving, always have. With previous hot hatches I had owned I would get up at 4.30 in the morning for a blast on a favourite road, or take the long way home just for the fun of a B-road drive over a motorway slog. Did I do this with the Golf? No.
That just about sums it up.