All the benefits of a hybrid . . . from a Golf

 

Volkswagen’s Bluemotion Golf feels solid and offers über frugal economy without sacrificing any creature comfort. It makes you wonder: why bother with hybrid?

A COUPLE OF weeks ago on the Motorspages we drove the Honda Insight, the Japanese firm’s latest hybrid car, and our motoring editor was distinctly underwhelmed.

The Insight was underpowered, oddly styled and it’s little 1.3-litre petrol engine revved its way up to 6,000rpm before the CVT auto transmission eventually wheezed into life. It wasn’t quite a poster car for the hybrid movement.

The Prius is better, but only marginally. Yes, we like to tip our hat to the clever technology and when Toyota give us a plug-version of the Prius in the not-too-distant future, hybrid cars might have their day again.

For the moment, these cars are having their backsides soundly spanked by the advances in diesel technology.

In 2010, new car buyers have been obsessed by two things; price and CO2 emissions.

Volkswagen’s Golf has become a benchmark in terms of quality, desirability and packaging. There are better looking cars in its class and others that have better handling but as an all-rounder, the Golf has few equals, apart from perhaps the Ford Focus.

Volkswagen is yet to offer a hybrid in Europe, although it is putting the finishing touches to one for the US market. Instead, its European efforts have focused on Bluemotion.

Volkswagen has already introduced cars featuring Bluemotion technology, with fuel-saving features like stop/start technology, regenerative braking and frugal diesel engines. But they also do full-blooded Bluemotion versions that take the fuel-sipping measures one step further. Now, these full Bluemotion models are available in Ireland in Polo, Passat and Golf guises.

Unlike some other eco-friendly cars, the Golf Bluemotion doesn’t give too much away to the outside world about its intentions.

Yes, there are Bluemotion badges, but the other clues are more subtle. There is a modified radiator grille with chrome trim, bumpers and side skirt extensions in R-line styling, 15-inch alloy wheels with low rolling-resistance tyres, and a roof edge spoiler.

Under the bonnet is a four-cylinder, 16-valve 1.6-litre TDi engine, tuned and tinkered with economy in mind. Internal engine friction has been reduced as much as possible and this has resulted in a diesel engine that puts out 105bhp and 250Nm of torque.

It isn’t a rocket but it serves a purpose: it is incredibly mean with its fuel. The Golf Bluemotion also recovers braking energy (regenerative braking) and includes a stop/start system which knocks off the engine when stopped in traffic, low rolling-resistance tyres and lowered suspension – all combining to give emissions of 99g/km and fuel economy of 3.4 l/100km.

In Ireland, for now, there isn’t any major incentive to have a car with emissions of less than 100g/km. But if the Government is serious about using its tax policies as social influence rather than simply a revenue stream, as most suspect, this will change. In the UK, for instance, motorists don’t pay motor tax on cars with less than 100g/km.

This is not a quick car by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still a second-and-a-half quicker to 100km/h than the 90bhp 1.6-litre diesel version of the Golf, and offers much superior fuel economy.

It must be stressed just how impressive the economy is in this car. So few cars perform to their brochure’s claims in this area but the Golf does so without too much hypermiling from the driver. We spent 10 days living with this car and despite several lengthy motorway journeys we returned the vehicle with three-quarters of a tank untouched. This is as good a display of what proper aerodynamics and engineering can do when it comes to keeping down emissions.

Leaving fuel-saving aside, the Golf is, well, typically Golf-like. Nothing is remarkable. It looks like the old model, which isn’t that exciting. The interior is fairly plain; the handling is good but never sporty. But it’s impeccably competent in every area.

It feels solid, both inside and out. The doors thud properly; the seats, steering wheel, gearbox and brakes all feel great; and when you sign your cheque for this car, you know there are few models that will give you back as much of your hard-earned money when you trade it in again.

There is one big “but” to the Bluemotion’s success. While the asking price of €23,180 is lower than some other eco-warriors, such as the Toyota Prius, it’s slightly more expensive than the several big-name rivals in its class.

It’s long-term foe remains the Ford and in this instance the Bluemotion’s biggest challenger is the Focus 1.6-litre diesel Style that comes with Bluetooth, alloy wheels, air conditioning and front fog lights, and costs €1,545 less than the Golf.

You won’t pay any more in road tax in the Focus because it, too, is Band A (€104). However, the Focus has less horsepower, is slower to 100km/h and won’t match this Golfs fuel economy. Car’s like Hyundai’s i30 must be in with a shout too.

This cars true nemesis comes from Skoda. For €23,820 will get you a Skoda Octavia with the same frugal engine with the same horsepower, yet you could add the superb DSG transmission and equal equipment levels from the Ambiente version in what is a larger car. The Octavia might not match the Golf’s residual value in the future, but it wil run it close.

The Bluemotion version succeeds because it doesn’t demand many sacrifices in terms of comfort while encouraging you to drive frugally without too much fuss. We’re all eager to save the planet, but prefer to do so in ways that don’t demand us to give up our creature comforts.

The Bluemotion fits the bill. And if the Government is really serious about cutting the carbon footprint from transport, it will reward the motorists – and engineers – who are doing the heavy-lifting on this effort to reduce emissions and not just pontificating from political pulpits.

As for hybrids, they need to become more frugal – and more electric – if they hope to fend off a growing challenge from fuel-sipping regular engines.

Factfile

Engine:1598cc turbo-charged four-cylinder diesel with five-speed manual transmission putting out 105bhp @4,400rpm and 250Nm @1,500-2,500rpm 0-100km/h: 11.3 seconds

L/100km (mpg):urban 4.7 (60.1); extra-urban 3.4 (83); combined 3.8 (74.3)

CO2 emissions:99 g/km

Tax:band A - €104

Specifications:15” Wellington Alloy Wheels, Bluemotion Specific ‘Scout’ Upholstery, Sports Suspension, Start/Stop System with recuperation, front and rear bumpers in sports style, unique Bluemotion Badging, body coloured rear spoiler, ESP

Options fitted to test car:Safety Pack, ‘Premium’ Bluetooth Phone Prep, multi-function steering wheel, multi-function display ‘Plus’, Park Assist including PDC front and rear. Metallic deep black. (Price: €1,528).

Price:€23,180


The Rivals:

BMW 116D
Power: 116bhp; 0-100km/h: 10.2 secs; L/100km (mpg): 4.4 (64.2); CO2: 118g/km; Tax: band A (€104); Price: €24,995

Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDi Ambiente
Power: 105bhp; 0-100km/h: 11.8 secs; L/100km (mpg): 4.5 (62.7); CO2: 119g/km; Tax: band A (€104); Price: €20,940

Ford Focus 1.6D Style 5-door
Power: 90bhp; 0-100km/h: 12.6 secs; L/100km (mpg): 4.5 (62.7); CO2: 118g/km; Tax: band F (€104); Price: €21,635

Honda Insight
Power: 102bhp; 0-100km/h: 12.4 secs; L/100km (mpg): 4.4 (64.2); CO2: 101g/km; Tax: band A (€104) Price: €22,378