Volkswagen Golf masters the hatch genre: 2013-17 models
You're spoilt for quality choice when looking for a late model used small car. Volkswagen's Golf, a European standout, is the stalwart of the segment, having evolved over a 44-year lifespan into a superb all-rounder.
The Mk7 model combines stylish design, good equipment, extensive safety gear, practicality and economy. It was built on an entirely new modular platform and had petrol and diesel engine options, all turbos.
Its cabin fit and finish earn praise as a notch above key rivals - but this Golf scores almost universal praise for its drive experience. In layman's terms, it simply handles and goes very well indeed.
In this series, no more than six years old, the choices care five-door hatchback, wagon or Alltrack off-road wagon. A cabriolet sold until 2015 was based on the previous Mk6 platform. We'll overlook the hot Golf GTI and R versions as these are for very different buyer types.
Among the shortcomings are VW's three-year warranty - far less than Hyundai's or Kia's for example - and capped price servicing, which is dearer than the likes of Toyota. VW's petrol engines also require pricier 95 RON fuel.
Automatics in this series are dual-clutch jobs, or DSG in VW's parlance. There are seven-speed autos in petrol cars and six-speeders in diesels.
The seven-speed auto was beset with problems in the previous Golf, leading to clutch and gearbox maladies and failures and culminating in a recall for Mk6s built up to September 2011.
The Revised Version in Mk7s has proved far more reliable but some owners have reported problems including shuddering and jerking, some needing clutches replaced.
A vocal minority of Mk7 owners pour scorn on the DSG but there are huge numbers who love their VWs.
Turbo diesels didn't sell in big numbers but are worth seeking out if you travel longer distances. These weren't involved in the Dieselgate scandal.
The naming convention is simple to follow. TSI means turbo petrol and TDI turbo diesel; the accompanying number (say, 90TSI) signifies the engine output in kilowatts; grades are base Trendline and extra kitted Comfortline and Highline.
Cheapest at launch was the 90TSI with six-speed manual or optional auto, the same set-up in Comfortline trim adding a few thousand dollars. Topping out were the feature-packed 103TSI Highline or turbo diesel 110TDI Highline, both auto only.
Trendline features included seven airbags, cruise control, electric handbrake, Bluetooth and 5.8-inch screen, plus prosaic 15-inch steel wheels.
Comfortlines got 16-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, auto wipers, parking sensors and reversing camera. Highlines had 17-inch alloys, Alcantara trim and satnav.
Extra-cost options included Vienna leather, bi-xenon headlights and panoramic sunroof in the Highline, which along with the Comfortline could add a driver assistance pack including adaptive cruise control and city emergency braking.
The auto-only Golf Wagon launched in February 2014, claiming a mighty 1620L of cargo space with seats folded and presented in the same three grades (with alloy wheels on the Trendline).
The Golf's specification jumped with model year 2016. Entry point was the 92TSI with, in common with the other grades, 6.5-inch touchscreen, reverse camera and smartphone connectivity. Highlines now had standard Vienna leather and keyless entry.
For something a bit different, the versatile Golf Alltrack wagon from September, 2015, came with a new 1.8-litre 132kW petrol engine. It was classified an SUV with its plastic cladding, 20mm higher ride and all-wheel drive.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Find a good Golf and you'll be rewarded with a brilliant everyday car. Prioritise models that have a full VW service history to ensure the required software updates and recall work were carried out.
To check on recalls, view www.productsafety.gov.au/recalls and check the VIN of any Golf you're looking at.
The 90TSI and 92TSI should have ample performance for most users but, if you prefer more poke, target the 103kW/110kW or diesel.
If considering a Highline, check you can tolerate the slightly harsher ride on bigger wheels and lower-profile tyres.
The manual gearbox is a gem in these cars if you prefer to self-shift but autos account for the vast majority in the classifieds.
Ask the seller whether there have been any problems or work carried out on the DSG. Test it on a long drive in traffic, hills (up and down), highway and low-speed manoeuvres.
Expect a touch of jerkiness but nothing more. Any ugly vibrations, sounds or shuddering? Walk away.
Considering the cost of dual-clutch repairs or replacment, paying a specialist to check the health of one is a wise investment.
A few owners have also grumbled about the car's infotainment screen, so check through menus and, on later cars, ensure your smartphone works with the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
A quite brilliant all-rounder, the Golf is the true benchmark for a hatch and wagon - and there's no dud in the range. Its three-year warranty means many in the classifieds will not be covered, so invest in a specialist mechanic's health check, especially for autos. Get a good one and it's a car to love.
WILLIAM GALTON: I have a 2014 90TSI Comfortline auto. I'd tested the main rivals and after five minutes of driving I knew the Golf was what I wanted. Great fun to drive, zippy turbo, responsive, agile and it's equally at home in the city, motorway and country roads. I appreciate the driver aids such as reversing camera, front and rear sensors, park view digital display and dipping mirrors when reversing. No mechanical issues, it drives as well as the day I picked it up and I haven't found service costs excessive.
THE EXPERTS SAY
VW sold nearly 70,000 examples of the Mk7 and there are about 1000 in current listings. Of those, 90 per cent are petrol and four out of five are front-drive automatics. More than a quarter are the 90TSI and in Comfortline grade.
The base 90TSI manual from 2013 (new price $21,490) still sells for $11,950. The 110 TDI Highline ($34,490 new) is now worth $18,800.
The 92TSI manual from 2017 ($22,840 new) is now valued at $18,700. The 110 TDI Highline ($35,840 new) fetches $29,250.
Rivals include Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Skoda Octavia and Renault Megane. Golf Mk7s from 2013 retain value better than the Skoda and the Renault but not the two Japanese cars. For 2017, the Golf is on par with the Megane - the Octavia, Mazda3 and Corolla retain better resale values.
VW GOLF 2013-17
PRICE NEW $21,490-$35,840
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINES 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 90kW/200Nm, 92kW/200Nm, 103kW/250Nm, 110kW/250Nm or 118kW/240Nm; 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 132kW/240Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 110kW/320Nm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed man, 6- or 7-speed dual-clutch auto; FWD/AWD
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