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Volkswagen Golf 1.4 review: The high life for S$1,000 a month
THE world's most typical person is a 28 year-old Han Chinese who earns US$12,000 a year. So said National Geographic in 2011, which seems plausible since it's just the sort of thing Natgeo would say.
What does the typical car look like? Probably a lot like the Volkswagen Golf in one of its many (seven) iterations. More than 33 million have been sold since 1974, after all.
That's more than, say, the number of albums Katy Perry has flogged (and a lot better sounding, besides), and yet she pops into my head whenever I try to think of a typical pop star I wouldn't mind spending an evening with.
So the Golf has a pretty high statistical chance of embodying a typical car. But it's also the quintessential modern car in many other ways, something no truer than with the Golf 1.4.
Newly introduced (or reintroduced) after the seventh-generation Golf went through a mid-life revamp, the 1.4-litre version is a vital car for VW in Singapore. It's usually the model line's best seller, and the one that best embodies the Golf's strengths.
Think of it like this: if the Golf itself is a bread-and-butter car for Volkswagen, the 1.4 is what provides the creamy, salty appeal between the bread.
The engine occupies a sweet spot. Below the Golf 1.4 there's a 1.0 TSI model that's frugal but accelerates with trepidation, and above it there's the GTI, which drives like something with bipolar disorder. Above that there's the Golf R, which is like a bipolar patient who went off his meds.
All of them are easy to handle for anyone with a modicum of ability, and they all strike a beautiful balance between ride comfort and a willingness to dance through corners.
Pair that with the Golf 1.4's eager turbo engine, and you have a car that's a pleasure to drive when conditions allow, and soothing to be in when they don't.
Modern lean-burn turbo engines are everywhere these days, but the Golf played a huge role in ushering them into the mainstream here.
That brings us to another Golf trait, which is its habit of taking features and technology from expensive cars and spreading them to the mass market. Anti-lock brakes, airbags, and electronic stability control are a couple of notable examples of how VW believes that it isn't only rich bacon that's worth saving.
Sure enough, there are posh features in the Golf 1.4, especially in the Highline version tested here.
Most of them are pretty fancy, such as the 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that not only looks sharp, but displays all sorts of useful info, like how far you can go before you have to stop for fuel, or the map from the navigation system.
Then there's the 9.2-inch touchscreen navigation system that all the posher VW models also come with, the one with a screen so sharp that it would have made Steve Jobs apoplectic with envy.
Also pretty fancy is the large glass sunroof that allows light to pour into the cabin. That's only nice to have if you're someone who loves sunshine (although you should probably be suspicious of anyone who doesn't).
Some features are more on the schmancy side. The tail lamps have "dynamic" indicators (because everything is dynamic these days), meaning the turn signals blink in an outward sequence. That's a bit like having a nice tattoo on your patootie, which you can't see but want others to, for some reason.
The Highline model also comes with stiffer sports suspension and 18-inch wheels, neither of which is necessary. If anything, they diminish the Golf's inherent fluidity over bumps without adding much to its handling prowess. Still, at least the wheels give you something to admire when you approach your car.
If you can do without all those, there's a Golf Comfortline 1.4 which is cheaper but still solidly equipped.
Among other goodies, it comes with a reverse camera, keyless operation, seven airbags, smartphone pairing and a multifunction steering wheel - all useful stuff.
There's a price gap to consider, too. Financing a Golf Highline entails putting a S$48,960 deposit down and paying S$1,027 a month for seven years. The Golf Comfortline's deposit is S$16,740 less, with roughly the same monthly payment (S$1,051).
This means that for a grand a month you get a car that sets the standards in its class, so all you have to do is decide how fancy you want it to be (and whether that's worth 16 big ones).
Would Natgeo consider the Golf the most typical car on the planet? Who knows, but the amount of equipment the Highline version comes with certainly isn't typical.
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF HIGHLINE 1.4 TSI
Engine 1,395cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 125hp at 5000-6000rpm
Torque 200Nm at 1400-4000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed twin-clutch automatic
0-100km/h 9.1 seconds
Top Speed 204km/h
Agent Volkswagen Group Singapore
Price S$122,400 with COE