Johannesburg - While micro-sized turbo engines have become increasingly common in baby hatchbacks, there’s still some level of customer twitchiness about using them in larger cars. The phrase ‘1-litre’ doesn’t necessarily roll off the tongue with much authority when talking about a medium-sized car like the Golf, which recently became the recipient of a three-cylinder 999cc petrol turbo - the smallest powerplant yet fitted to VW’s long-serving hatchback range.

This 1.0 TSI 6-speed manual becomes the new baseline model in the recently-updated Golf line up, replacing the previous Golf 1.2 TSI which had outputs of 81kW and 175Nm and sold for R316 000. The price has dropped to R304 200 while power’s stayed the same and torque has been raised to 200Nm.

Before driving the Golf 1.0 TSI I knew it was as powerful as the first-generation Golf GTi, and that VW claims it will scoot to 100km/h in just 9.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 196km/h.

But such factoids, as impressive as they sound, don’t really tell you what a car’s like to drive. Yes, the altitude-compensating turbocharger ensures the power and torque outputs are much the same whether you live at the coast or inland, but would this pint-sized turbo engine be a buzzy, frantic thing that needed to be revved to within an inch of its life to produce those numbers?

Thankfully the answer’s no. The little engine turns out to punch above its weight not only in performance but in refinement too. It gets going with lag-free pace and has plenty of poke around town, and is equally content on the open road where it’s a relaxed cruiser. It has reasonable overtaking punch too, aligned with a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission that doesn’t mind being hurried.

The Golf 1.0 TSI does this all with the decibel decorum befitting a premium hatchback. The car has a grown-up feel and never sounds buzzy or overworked. The three-cylinder thrum is noticeable in the background and it’s not an unpleasant sound. The downsized engine has good economy to go with the hustle, with our test car averaging 6.2 litres per 100km (VW claims 4.9 litres is possible).

It’s a solid-feeling car with a well-sorted chassis that comfortably cruises suburbia’s roads with pothole-friendly high-profile 205/55R16 tyres, and takes corners with Golf-typical agility.

Along with the new engine, the updated seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf (nicknamed Golf 7.5) was recently given a shot of technology, new infotainment, improved connectivity and revised styling.

Now standard across the range are LED rear lights, while all derivatives are offered with a new generation of larger and more sophisticated touchscreen infotainment systems. All Golfs also feature a stop-start system and a mode for storing braking energy.

The minor facelift includes new front and rear bumpers, new halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights or full LED headlights - standard on GTI and optional in other derivatives - instead of xenon headlights, and new front wings. New wheel designs and body colours complete the outside update.

Inside, fresh trim panels and materials upgrade the interior. The cabin’s the usual high-class setting we’ve come to expect from VW, with exemplary fit and finish for this market segment. The cloth seats are comfy and nicely supportive. The cabin’s roomy and the boot contans a full sized spare wheel.

The Golf 1.0 TSI is available in Trendline and the more luxurious Comfortline execution tested here, which comes with a bountiful spec sheet that includes cruise control, hill-hold, rain sensors, auto headlights, and a 16.5cm touchscreen infotainment system to which you can connect in various ways including AUX-IN, USB port, Bluetooth or SD card. Our test car was fitted with the optional Composition media system with a larger 20cm touchscreen.

The standard safety includes fatigue detection, a full complement of airbags, ABS brakes, and stability control.

Optionally available across the range are driver assist features like a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert as well as Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking System. Extra money also buys you a swivelling towbar with Trailer Assist and Park Assist which helps reverse a trailer or caravan into a parking bay. An R-Line body kit is available on Comfortline models to spice up the styling.

The Golf 1.0 TSI Comfortline’s R304 200 pricetag includes a 3-year/120 000km warranty and 5-year/90 000km service plan.

VERDICT

I’m blown away by the performance of that 1-litre engine, which is downsized in terms of cubic capacity but not in heart. This Golf is one of the torquiest cars in its class and it has great refinement and fuel economy to boot. The updated infotainment brings Golf right to the cutting edge of the segment now.

FACTS

Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI Comfortline

Engine: 1-litre, 3-cyl, turbopetrol
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Power: 81kW @ 5000-5500rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 2000-3500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):9.9 seconds
Top speed (claimed):196km/h
Price: R304 200
Warranty: 3-year/120 000km
Service plan: 5-year/90 000km

GOLF VS COMPETITORS

VW Golf 1.0 TSI Comfortline 81kW/200Nm R304 200
Ford Focus Hatch 1.0T Trend 92kW/170Nm R278 900
Hyundai i30 1.6 Premium 95kW/157Nm R339 900
Kia Cerato hatch 1.6 EX 95kW/157Nm R299 995
Mazda3 hatch 1.6 Dynamic 77kW/144Nm R290 500
Opel Astra hatch 1.0T Enjoy 77kW/170Nm R295 800
Renault Megane hatch 1.6 Dynamique 84kW/156Nm R292 900
Toyota Auris 1.6 XS 97kW/160Nm R314 900

IOL Motoring