View Full Version : Jeremy Clarkson tests the new Golf 5

09-03-2004, 17:02

Jeremy Clarkson

VW Golf

Last weekend I took my boy to a game of club rugby. A team of part-time amateurs from Birmingham were taking on the professional and mighty London Wasps.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. Wasps are home to Lawrence Dallaglio, Josh Lewsey and a sprinkling of other World Cup-winning household names. The team from Birmingham, called the Pertemps Bees, are home to a warehouseman, a bricklayer, a doorman and an electrician. There was absolutely no chance of a Bees victory. The bookies rated their chances at 250-1 and that made it as near as dammit a statistical impossibility. You wouldn't get 250-1 in a two-horse race, even if one of the horses was a cow.

But being seven, my boy doesn't like close, tense games. He likes to see his team totally destroy the opposition and since the chairman of Wasps is a friend of ours, this seemed like the perfect place to break his club rugby duck. Mine too, actually.

Besides, I enjoy watching Birmingham lose things. Losing seems to suit their whining adenoidal accents. Try singing Kylie Minogue's Lucky, Lucky, Lucky song in a Brummie accent and it starts to sound like Albinoni's Adagio. Nigel Mansell was a perfect Brummie; born to lose and moan about it. As soon as he won, he retired and went off to play golf.

In the grandstand, I was surrounded by lots of Birmingham businessmen who plainly had invested a great deal in the little club. They were red faced and pot bellied and were wearing jumpers that could only have come from the
Alan Partridge catalogue. I wanted to see them lose, too.

At half time, over tea and buns, there was still no sense that the Bees could emerge triumphant. They'd played well, for sure, but in the second half, when fitness would start to play its part, everyone knew they'd be marmalated. Only they weren't. They played like demons and when the final whistle blew the smallish crowd knew they'd witnessed the biggest upset in the history of club rugby. The Bees had won.

"Neeeeoooow yeeeeow weooooow," said one of the jumper-men, tunelessly, as though his dog had just died.
With hindsight, it was easy to see how this had happened.

The Wasps team had woken that morning, stretched, yawned and remembered sometime over breakfast that they were due to play a team of no-hopers that day. The Bees team, on the other hand, probably hadn't slept at all.

This was their big day and they had arrived at the ground more wound up than a freshly synchronised Swiss watch.

On the pitch the Wasps went through the motions, using their heads, remembering their training and knowing that, of course, they'd win in the end. They had logic, history and talent on their side. But the Bees had heart. And the heart is a powerful weapon.

Over the years Uri Geller has impressed many people with his abilities to bend spoons and stop watches. But not me. Because surely, if you'd been given the ability to bend matter with your mind, you wouldn't waste your time appearing on crummy game shows for £500 a time. You'd go out and do something useful with your gift, like breaking into Fort Knox.

However, while I'm doubtful that the mind can bend metal, I do think it has control over your own body. For instance, I'm able to put off the arrival of a cold or a sore throat if I'm filming the next day. I just go to bed and say to myself, "I don't have time for this right now", and I wake up in the morning mended. The Bees had done exactly the same thing. They were completely outclassed but they'd wanted to win with such passion and such verve they turned from electricians and warehousemen into square-jawed, muscle-bound superheroes. They were gods. And watching this level of passion is infectious. I'm afraid to say I ended up wanting them to win. I wanted to slap the businessmen on the back of their jumpers and say well done. And Wasps? Well they were complacent. They got what they deserved, frankly.

And speaking of complacency, let's move now to Volkswagen and its new Golf. Ooh, this is causing some ructions in the Top Gear office. We're busy filming the road tests for the next series at the moment and there's a faction in the production team that thinks we have to cover the Golf because, well, because it's a Golf. But there's another faction in the office that thinks it'd be a waste of videotape. I mean, who wants to spend their Sunday evening watching a five-door hatchback going round corners? Perhaps there's a couple of thousand viewers who might be thinking of buying one, but that leaves 4.2m who aren't.

That puts me in the judge's seat. So here goes. Volkswagen says this new car is a culmination of all it knows about affordable family transport, and VW does indeed know a lot, since Hitler used it to start the ball rolling 65 years ago. VW says it has been making Golfs for 30 years and that this new one represents the peak. There are a couple of good points. Because the new car is bigger than the old one, there's more space on the inside, especially in the back, which is truly enormous. Really. Even if you're used to a Range Rover, you will not be cramped back there.

There are lots of toys, too. I remember the old Mark I Golf used to have a trip computer, which I thought at the time was the absolute last word in sophistication. But my test car had heated seats and sat nav and a six-speed box and air-conditioning as well. It was very well equipped indeed.

Then there's the driving experience, which is also better. Although the new Mark V Golf is heavier than the old Mark IV, it feels more sprightly and more nimble. I'd even go so far as to say the turbo diesel version was fast.

However, it's nowhere near as much fun to drive as the Ford Focus and the styling is just catastrophically bland. They started with a blank piece of paper and ended up with a blank piece of paper. Where are the natty details, the pleasing little touches that make you proud to be an owner? Honestly, even the new Vauxhall Astra looks better.
But the worst thing is the quality of the interior trim. Get inside in a showroom, twiddle the heater knobs, and I guarantee you'll get straight out again. There are discarded toys in our playroom that feel more robust. And what's with the dashboard? It feels like it's been made out of a melted Sanilav.

This is the thing that annoys me most about the new Golf, the nasty sense that the only real difference between this version and the old one is to be found in VW's profit and loss account. I bet it's much, much cheaper to make.

In the past, when someone has rung and asked what car they should buy for around £15,000 I've always said "a Golf" without really thinking. It's always been perfect because quality suits everyone, whether they're an heir to the throne or a geography teacher. Quality is what made the Golf classless.

But this new one doesn't feel like a quality product. I'll tell you how it feels. It feels like the engineers have spent the past few years making V16 engines for the new Bugatti and V10 diesels for the Touareg off-roader. It feels like they've been busy with that astonishing W12 Phaeton and its sister car, the Bentley Continental GT. It feels like they've been out there, at the fizzy and exciting edge of engineering, having a ball.

And then one day someone came into their offices and said: "Sorry, boys, but can you do us a new Golf?" So, with a lot of "Oh, sir" and Kevin-the-teenager shrugs, they put their satellite-guided superchargers down and spent no more than five minutes doing just that. A Golf, that was new.
Volkswagen, it seems, has moved on. With the Phaeton and the Bentley it is now making some of the best luxury cars money can buy. But it seems to have lost the plot with the bread and butter. As a result, the new Golf has no heart, no soul, no character at all. You don't want it to win. You don't want it at all.

So the next time someone says they want a car for around £15,000, they will be in for a shock. Because I'll suggest the 250-1 outsider bee. I'll suggest they buy a Renault Megane.


Model Volkswagen Golf 1.9 TDI SE
Engine type Four-cylinder, 1896cc
Power 105bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque 184 lb ft @ 1900rm
Transmission Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Suspension (front) MacPherson strut (rear) multilink
Fuel 53.3mpg (combined)
CO2 143g/km
Top speed 116mph
Acceleration 0 to 62mph: 11.3sec
Price £16,180
Verdict Spacious, well-equipped and fast but let down by nasty interior and lack of soul
Rating - two out of five

09-03-2004, 20:18

10-03-2004, 06:22

Yeah, it seems as if the dash-strokers will be disappointed? I also agree in that I do not like the exterior styling. But I do have a question, though: Are the JC's articles always so full of unrelated nonsense? I've seen his smug reviews on TV and he always struck me as someone who is TOTALLY impressed with himself, but this piece of rambling <cough> "journalism" makes me wretch. :mad: