|Behind the Wheel / Volkswagen Golf ― Design: ★★★★☆ / Interior:★★★☆☆ / Engine:★★★★☆ / Fuel economy:★★★★☆ / Cost and A/S:★★★☆☆|
For Hyundai Motor, the Volkswagen Golf may be both a source of inspiration and an eyesore.
The Korean carmaker often admits that its engineers take the popular hatch apart to study, and its latest compact cars have a greater competitive edge than ever before.
(A Volkswagen executive also once told me that the company was inspecting new vehicles from Hyundai as well.)
But after my four-day test drive of the Golf, I felt there was still a clear gap that cannot be narrowed soon between the two rival carmakers, even considering the more than $10,000 price difference.
The Volkswagen Golf is undeniably one of the best-selling cars in the world. Since its debut back in 1974, the car has sold more than 30 million vehicles globally.
The Golf that I test-drove recently is its 2.0 TDI version that arrived in Korea in July last year. Its sales have already exceeded 2,300 vehicles here.
The latest model ― the seventh generation ― looks familiar, with new headlights and taillights and slightly sleeker styling being the main changes.
The car is 2.2 inches longer and a half-inch wider than its predecessor. The carmaker also lowered the roof line more than an inch, which gives it a sportier look from the side.
In terms of interior styling, we cannot blame Volkswagen for playing it safe. The carmaker provides a navigation system designed specifically for Korean customers.
The turbocharged engine proved itself when I drove the car to the highway leading to Incheon International Airport, some 40 kilometers west of Seoul.
The sport suspension was definitely better for traveling at highway speeds than for the stop-and-go rhythm of downtown Seoul. I found myself already outpacing most cars on the road.
There was some body lean during hard cornering, but the car maintained its position and moved along. The steering was quick, with nice weight and a good feel.
On top of its brisk acceleration, the car slowed down effectively for the frequent speed traps along the roads.
The overall driving performance may not be as sharp as those of more luxurious, expensive cars but is unrivaled in the compact segment.
It also raised my expectations for the 300-horsepower, all-wheel-drive Golf R, which was recently unveiled during the Detroit motor show.
The powerful brand portfolio and the flexible partnerships of Volkswagen Group also make it unlikely that Hyundai will keep its dominant position on home turf.
For those who do not like the hatch styling, Audi, also owned by Volkswagen, recently launched the cheapest, smallest A3 sedan, which has the same platform and diesel engine as the Golf.
The Golf is priced at 29.9-32.9 million won ($28,000-31,000) here and has a fuel rating of 16.7-18.9 kilometers per liter.
The only concern for potential Golf buyers is the brand’s lack of after-sales service centers ― VW has yet to follow up on the stunning growth of its car sales.
The Korean unit aims to elevate the number of service centers from the current 26 to 35 by the end of this year.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)