There is no existing production car really and truly so important on the planet as the Volkswagen Golf. Earlier this year I was invited to Iceland to drive the sixth generation of this legendary hatch, but I personally said nuts to that for a bag of cod.
Why would I head up to a bankrupt island for a few heavily jet-lagged hours in the car, and in the rain, when I could organize a full-on one-day deep download in the heartland of Golf/Rabbitry and talk one-on-one with all the Cherman encheneers direktly involfed viss dzeh kah? I'd miss a shot at bedding Bjrk, but I might just bump into David Hasselhoff as he searches around Wolfsburg for his next record deal.
The Damned Name
I thought all the wretched re-namings of recently launched important cars were over once I got the American Ford Taurus-no-500-no-Taurus and the equally brilliant European Toyota Auris (instead of sticking with the world's most recognized car name, Corolla) out of my pissed system. But no. Volkswagen took a good decision and turned it bad when they allowed the North American branch to revert to the Rabbit name instead of sticking with the world's second most recognizable car name (Golf). The name Rabbit will not sell more cars than Golf. A stronger marketing strategy for VW in North America will sell more of anything by any name.
This is a highly personal rant and from here out I'm calling it a Golf, since I'm in Germany doing this.
500 Miles, Kids
My decision to nix the Icelandic foray in favor of a customized Wolfsburg trip afterward paid off hugely. VW brought me a new Golf with an as yet not-for-sale sensational engine setup to the air terminal in Frankfurt and had me drive the car north 400 kilometers (249 miles) to Wolfsburg, do all my conversations the next day, and then drive the car all the way back to Frankfurt. I cannot tell you how amazing this first big driving experience was, but I'll attempt it.
Mine was a Candy White A6 Golf with a 158-hp, 1.4-liter TSI Twincharger powerplant-termed EA111-joined to the latest BorgWarner seven-speed DSG gearbox I already loved in the new Scirocco, and equipped with the really solid DCC (adaptive chassis control) I already loved in the Passat CC. This is probably the very Golf I will buy, adding only the steering wheel paddles and 18-inch wheels (16s are standard). Yes, one of the grand benefits of living in Europe is that I'll be able to actually walk down the street and buy this amazing car, but North American inhabitants can't because VW product planning and the North American offices believe Americans-I can't speak for the Canadians-aren't ready in big enough numbers to go for this cylinder dimension. There were also mumblings of homologation costs, though I doubt that has anything to do with it. A pity; the Twincharger system is genius work on small-capacity engines, and we all need to get back to smaller capacities for a shrinking planet and wallet.
The first meeting on my big day was with the design team leaders, Andreas Mindt on exterior and Joachim Hahn-Heinze on the living space. To start, the A6 Golf at first flash does not strike anyone as an all-new-looking car. In the C-pillar there's actually a return to the boxiness of the Golf IV, which in turn lessens the rake of the larger rear glass. All exterior dimensions are insignificantly larger or exactly the same. Nonetheless, all the nuances come clear during the walk-around I got from both Mindt and Hahn-Heinze. To start, only the roof panel is carried over directly from the Golf V.
Though I personally see it as a stretch, VW insists that the new face is closely tied to the original 1974 look created by Giorgetto Giugiaro, with the headlights poking out from the black grille. Well, sort of, I guess, but all I can think of is the face of the new Scirocco. No matter, since I love the new look regardless of point of origin.
When I think back to the sheer simplicity of the original Golf compact hatch at 145.9 inches long (155.3 inches for the U.S. with those attractive bumpers hung on it), 63.4 to 64.2 inches of width, a wheelbase of just 94.5 inches, and weighing between 1,750 and 2,145 pounds, it's wild how much the icon has inflated itself. The A6 Golf now stretches to 165.3 inches long in all markets, 70.0 inches wide, sporting a 101.5-inch wheelbase, and weighing in at 2,865 pounds to start fitted with the 1,968cc, 2.0-liter TDI engine and manual six.
As exterior team boss Mindt tells me while we stare at the Golf VI in profile atop the local parking structure, the somewhat forced wedge shape of the Golf V is history. The lines toward the rear all come down now, leveling out the front-to-rear design emphasis and improving driver visibility in all directions nicely.
"No line of the new design just stops randomly or exists only for itself," Mindt tells me. "They all now continue and blend into something new, creating a much purer and simpler feel." For one, the shoulder line starting from the headlights goes all the way along the side and curls around the rear corner to the new taillights. Door pull handles are straight from the Passat and decidedly more up-market than the small and cheaper handles of the Golf V.
Whereas the marks I and II Golf seem to be universally loved designs, marks III, IV and (sort of) V haven't really ignited enough passion and bloated admiration. The Golf VI really does hit all the marks at this larger C-segment format that the Golf V really should have had in the first place, so, all in all, excellent work.
Inside the Golf VI cabin, the premium quality jump is clever. Over my 500-mile drive, the new seats up front were impressively more comfortable than any other previous Golf seat I've known. They don't go soft, they just get a much more sophisticated supportive design that includes longer squabs that make a mess of difference. All upper surfaces, according to Hahn-Heinze, are now more cushioned and more substantial to the touch. In fact, all touch surfaces are now at an Audi level or beyond, so I'm a bit confused as to what Audi intends to do in the near future in response. The newly designed three-spoke steering wheel is outstanding in the hands.
Between the outside and inside, I'd have to say the key word really is simplicity. Everything makes sense and nothing bends my nose the wrong way. There aren't too many buttons and the ones that are there are exactly where they ought to be. "The new car needed to be an evolution," says Mindt, "not a revolution." All the same, put the V and VI side by side and the V comes off as unspectacular.
Aside from pure chassis components for the A6 generation (which I'll get to after this part) and that solid simplicity of an everyman car par excellence, other factors come into play in the new Golf that reinforce the car's standing as "founder of the segment." VW acoustics engineer Frank Martin-"We have over 100 acoustics engineers," he tells me-had me perform a shade-tree test that involved knocking on the windscreen of both an A5 and an A6 Golf.
They had kindly driven up to the top of the parking structure a relatively recent Golf V GTI (all Golf V building ceased last August) and the difference caused by the new glass is stunning. This key trick of installing new windscreen technology will impress the hell out of passionate Golf V owners as it changes the tinny-sounding Golf interior into a fully premium, mini-Phaeton sonic experience. Side doors and their windows have also been double-sealed and the forward side windows are 10 percent thicker than on the Golf V. The new five-layer windscreen is the same thickness-at 0.18 of an inch-as the old four-layer screen, but what has been added as a middle layer is a 0.1mm-thick PVB acoustic film.
The forward bulkhead has been re-engineered to isolate practically all engine sound during normal driving time. Hit the throttle a bit and just enough sound comes through to let you know you're having fun, but the sound deadening versus the Golf V is like sitting in a totally different car. This is due mainly to this three-layer, heavily sealed bulkhead structure. Another significant player in the sound killing is a new material-generic term "slush"-that's tailored into all echo-prone parts of the body, works twice as well as the old materials, and adds only 2.2 pounds to the new car versus the Golf V stuffing. I twice suffered the indignity of the entire engineering squad guffawing at me as I twice tried to start an already running Golf VI. It's that quiet at idle.
While the basic sheetmetal of the laser-welded unibody construction is identical to that of the Golf V, on the A6 model rigidity has been added selectively only at the highest stress points of the cage structure. Model for model, the A6 Golf weighs 25 pounds less than the A5 generation. Sitting inside the VI, however, all of the bass and baritone (alto for the ladies) tones come out while you speak and there's no metallic echo, while in the V the econo-car high metal echoes abound.
When Volkswagen AG back in 2003 introduced us to the A5-generation Golf at a Wolfsburg event, I couldn't help but notice the fully re-engineered rear axle and multi-link suspension scheme more or less inspired by the range-topping Phaeton. Overnight, it seemed, we forgot all about the Golf IV and its independent setup with torsion beam; dynamics had improved just that much.
Having now driven to the limits, over 500 miles, this A6-generation 2009 Golf with the Twincharger engine, DSG, and DCC, it's clear to me that Volkswagen has performed a lot of detailed and often small changes on a chassis which is essentially the same as that of the A5 Golf. The overall feel of the A6-generation's drive and dynamics-particularly when equipped with the optional DCC suspension, of course, but also with the standard springs and dampers-has been altered.
Actual calibrations on the springs, anti-roll bars, and multi-link structure remain identical to those on the A5 Golf. Front springs still read a density figure of 23 N/mm, while rear springs read 26 N/mm. As to the anti-roll bar rigidity, in front the figure remains 38 N/mm and in back 15.7 N/mm. According to lead suspension engineer Ulrich Sonnak, what has changed on the standard setup are bushing densities all around, as well as fluid flow rates on the dampers. Short of giving hard numbers on bushing density or flow rate, the aim, says Sonnak, "is to make the overall ride just a little more comfortable than on the A5 Golf standard suspension." In other words, the VW premium compact revolution instigated by the A5's rear multilink structure goes one step further in the A6 with fine tuning of the bushings and dampers.
Beyond the standard chassis, the A6 Golf now offers the sophisticated adaptive chassis control system, or DCC, which sets the car 0.4-inch lower. This chassis technology, which was first introduced as standard (optional in North America) in the first half of 2008 on the Passat CC, has been engineered in cooperation with Monroe. As engineer Sonnak describes it, "the DCC struts alone took four years to engineer mainly because they've been designed as modular assemblies easy to switch out using the drillings already in place for the standard suspension." Bushings have been made to correspond better with the DCC design with the goal of keeping the general comportment and comfort of the car at similar default levels as with the standard suspension. Anti-roll bars with DCC alter rigidity-33 N/mm front, 12.5 N/mm rear-as do the spring rates-21 N/mm front, 24 N/mm rear. As with the costly rear axle engineering back in 2003, the DCC integration has cost a lot up front, but the payoff across the VW product line in the next few years will be impressive.
One issue of particular pride at Volkswagen is that the algorithms that correspond to the DCC calibrations have all been programmed in-house. A high data-flow Infineon TriCore 1766 processor mounted within the ECU board placed to the right of the trunk in the A6 Golf determines every move of the DCC chassis via numerous sensors monitoring body roll, steering input, throttle and brake action, as well as road impact. The three basic control programs-Sport, Normal, Comfort-are general default guidelines that act upon suspension and steering feel, but the full range of DCC reactions is ready to override any of these three should conditions call for this. The ECU communicates with each strut separately once every millisecond.
Golf engine experts Niels Mller and Andr Kuphal reminded me of the newly situated engine mounting points and bushings which significantly reduce engine noise and vibration carry-through to the cabin and add their touch of stiffness to the whole. All engines within the lineup as well, from the EA111 1.4-liter with little Eaton supercharger I drove to the new EA888 2.0-liter TFSI, though identical in appearance, have been completely redesigned to ease accessibility during service, another significant cost-saving move.
So the Golf VI, though seemingly not Earth-shatteringly new compared to the Golf V, is finally a distinctly different and upmarket driver versus the Golf IV. Whereas I only really felt the big differences in the GTI model before, now the entire lineup is distinctly supreme in comparison to even the Audi A3 with which it shares a chassis. That's a big leap. Even for a Rabbit.
Build for our North American cars starts at the end of June 2009 and deliveries start in September. Golf VI marketing boss Dirk Hussmann tells me that we will be pleased with how close the new car's price is to the outgoing model's. That's huge since you'll feel a huge difference, too, when you try it.