The Volkswagen Golf 6 1.6 TDi BlueMotion test car arrived at exactly the right time for a trip I’d been planning from Pretoria to Somerset West.
Suddenly here was an opportunity to drive down in a car tailor-made for a long-distance journey. VW claims its new common-rail, 77kW 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine will return 3.9l/100km, giving a range of more than 1300km on a tankful, making it possible to run from Pretoria to Somerset West with just a single top-up en route.
In fact, everything about the new BlueMotion Golf 6 has been geared towards low fuel consumption. The frontal area has been streamlined, the suspension lowered and the side sills extended under the body for maximum aerodynamic efficiency.
The gear ratios in the five-speed manual box have been chosen to enhance economy and it even has a gear indicator arrow in the instrument cluster that suggests the optimal gear-changing moment.
Then there’s the Stop-Start system that switches off the engine at standstill, and the battery is charged by regenerated energy from braking or taking your foot off the accelerator. It even has low rolling-resistance tyres, designed to reduce friction, thus further reducing fuel consumption.
So, the perfect vehicle for a long-distance journey, then. Just one problem.
The BlueMotion comes with no spare tyre. Nada. Nothing. Not even a space saver. Or a jack. There’s just a wheel spanner and a bottle of sealant. And the fitted tyres aren’t runflats, either.
The glass-half-full side of me said: “You’ve driven to Cape Town about 15 times in the past 20 years without any tyre problems, why worry now?” The glass-half-empty side said: “You’re 100km outside Laingsburg, you hit a pothole that buckles the rim and pops the tyre. Wotcha gonna do now, big guy?”
Fortunately, Athol, the super-efficient VW media guy in Joburg, shared my concern and hunted down a spare (complete with jack) which he hand-delivered to our offices. Actually, I can see why VW doesn’t fit a full-sized spare. The tyre, which is a 195/55 R15 Michelin Energy Saver, took up almost two-thirds of the boot space. Fitting a full-size tyre would eat into the 55-litre fuel tank, negating the whole concept of long-distance fuel-efficiency.
So, suitably relieved, I set off for the Cape and the more I drove the Golf the more impressed I became. There’s 250Nm of torque, available from as little as 1200rpm, which makes overtaking a breeze.
The gearshift is supersmooth, the brakes brilliant and the ride, despite the slightly lowered suspension, superbly comfortable. And how nice it was to breeze through the Karoo in air-conditioned comfort while the temperature gauge was reading a sweltering 39 degrees outside.
Heavy traffic and too many cops meant that the drive to Cape Town was done at a cruise with fuel consumption averaging out at an impressive 4.9 litres/100km. But then nobody in the office had thought 3.9 was ever going to be realistic.
A gentle 2000rpm gives you a relaxed 120km/h while 4000rpm sees an indicated 200km/h on the clock. I never got anywhere near the 5000rpm redline, however.
For the record, the BlueMotion Golf returned a respectable 0-100km/h time of 11.1 seconds at our test venue at Gerotek and a quarter-mile time of 17.7secs- and that torquey little engine even had the cheek to chirp the tyres in second gear.
Holiday over and it’s time to pack the car for the journey home when, to my horror, I discover the left rear tyre is flat. I couldn’t believe it. And it’s not just flat but Kate Moss flat. In fact the rim was on the ground and the tyre underneath it completely buckled under.
Even if I had used the sealent to close the puncture, which turned out to be a nasty little hole in the crown of the tyre, I wouldn’t have been able to drive it to the nearest tyre centre without damaging the casing.
So, on went Athol’s life-saving spare and off I went to Hi-Q in Somerset West where the guys managed to reflate the tyre and plugged the hole. But there was no way I was putting that tyre back on for the return trip.
Because of the tyre delay I had to push the car a little harder on the way back but even then I managed a highly-respectable 5.1litres/100km. Hybrids? You can keep ‘em; give me a decent turbodiesel anyday.
Time was when a Golf was a neighbourhood runabout. These days it’s a scaled-down luxury car, capable of swallowing a Johannesburg-Cape Town run without breaking a sweat. It has every safety feature known to man and the drive, roadholding and handling are world class.
It’s comfortable, quiet and relaxing to drive. I’ll reserve judgement on the potential longevity of the Stop-Start system but it does work and I guess anything that helps save fuel is worth it.
But, Volkswagen SA, say I’m Joe Schmoe, and not some privileged motoring journalist, and I’m about to set off for home and I discover a completely, utterly flat tyre.
What do I do then? This is Africa, guys. The roads are falling apart and there are often huge distances between towns.
You need to make a plan.Or at the very least offer free AA membership (or roadside assistance) as part of the R265 600 price.