In a world staggered by upheaval, with global economies slowing, car sales on the decline, and a pall of uncertainty weighing on consumer actions and tastes, along comes Volkswagen with six-month results that defy expectations and shame rivals.
Why did Volkswagen AG’s revenue grow by 4.9 per cent compared with the first half of 2018? Why was operating profit up 1.9 per cent? Why did net cash flow of the Automotive Division jump 2.2 billion euros? Why, despite the cost and embarrassment of Dieselgate, is VW an automotive juggernaut that makes Daimler and BMW look flu-ish?
Because of cars like the Golf TSI Execline. Not cheap at a base price of $31,420 (plus $1,645 to get it delivered and another $1,750 for the useful Driver Assistance Package), this rather basic Golf is a paragon of refinement and a rewarding pleasure to drive.
Why is the Golf so good? You would expect the researchers at J.D. Power and Associates to have valuable insights here. But no. Despite millions spent asking owners questions about what they like and dislike in cars and carmakers, J.D. Power has nothing satisfying to offer here.
Indeed, no one from J.D. Power and Associates can adequately explain why Volkswagen lands mid-pack in the latest so-called “things-gone-right” APEAL study (Automotive Performance Execution and Layout). It looks like the most “APEALing” brands produce luxury cars (Porsche, BMW and the like) and pickups (RAM). This bit of “research” does not appear to reward the kind of mid-market excellence you get in a VW Golf.
If I were looking for a smallish hatchback, this particular version of the Golf would be hard to ignore, especially now that VW has joined the 21st century with an in-car infotainment interface that is clear and easy to manage, one with a bright display, and easy synchronization with Apple Carplay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
The most precise word I can use to describe this Golf overall is “calming” or “reassuring.” The car feels solid, the seats feel expensive for a runabout, the 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine does its work effortlessly even though the horsepower rating is just 147. Note, though, torque: 185 lbs-ft at a low 1,500 rpm. This is why the Golf feels so lively. As well, shifts of the eight-speed automatic gearbox are seamless and precise.
Every panel gap is tight and they’re all uniform, rather than a hodgepodge of pickup-sticks engineering such as you see in, say, the $72,000 Tesla Model3 I tested a little while back. The suspension tuning delivers a balance of cornering finesse and long-range comfort. The hatch in back opens wide for easy loading. The back seat is a decent place for two adults, with a drop-down armrest/cupholder in between.
This is just an excellent car, one you’d likely own for 300,000 km without regret. Indeed, one friend of mine who throws about dimes like their an Olympic discuss, drove his last Golf for 370,000 km, and now he’s on another, expecting even better longevity.
This brings me back to the beginning. Why is VW performing as a company performing so well in a world in which most car companies find themselves now struggling? How is VW managing this, despite the humiliation and cost of the Dieselgate fraud? Because the cars VW customers continue to buy in numbers, and with plenty of expensive features and engineering, are so good.
Make no mistake, Dieselgate remains an ongoing and difficult challenge for VW. As the Financial Times reports, VW Group board member Hiltrud Werner recently said the worst of Dieselgate is yet to come, and VW has already spent $30 billion (US) on this scandal. Next year, he said, “will be the most difficult year to manage. It’s not so much the size [of the potential fines], but the sheer complexity. It’s tiring out the workforce.
Somehow, the distractions of Dieselgate have not yet sidelined VW’s ability to make cars for the middle class. Somehow, the new and expanding alliance with Ford Motor has not taken VW’s collective eye off the ball. Somehow, the pressures and cost of VW’s electrification commitment have not starved VW’s engineers, product planners and designers of the resources need to make good Golfs for 2019.
This German automaker remains capable of doing the most basic and most important things of all: making a Golf that ranks among the very, very best compact cars on the planet. It’s really quite impressive.
2019 Volkswagen Golf TSI Execline
Base price: $31,420. As tested: $33,170 plus $1,645 for freight and PDI.
Engine: 1.4-litre I4 (147 horsepower/184 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: eight-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.1 city/6.4 hwy using regular fuel.