It doesn’t seem that long ago that ‘fuel economy’ and ‘performance’ couldn’t see eye-to-eye. To the petrolhead, if you wanted your ride to put a smirk on your face that even a naked Cheryl Cole covered in Jell-O couldn’t match, fuel economy had to be a term that your dictionary hadn’t met yet.
I even remember the times when the ‘flame throwers’ would have had a field day anytime a new forumer on any car forum would ask the regulars for advice on a ride that was ‘sporty and frugal.’
The onset of technology in engine design did strike a chord in the adage that ‘fuel economy’ and ‘performance’ could never get in bed together for a while but deep down inside, we all knew that it was eventually going to pull a Titanic, as the ever stringent emission regulations finally did the deed on some of our favorite and iconic performance cars.
There’s no replacement for displacement but as the rule book reduced the grey areas, it would appear that displacement has finally seen its replacement. Forced induction was seen as a noble way to counter the smaller engine displacements that were required to meet the emission regulations although fuel economy did raise the ire of the tree-huggers somewhat.
Still, as technology shone its torch of enlightenment upon us and blessed us with tech such as direct-injection, the clouds appeared to part once again and the rays of speed cracked through.
All this brings us to the Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI that joins its hotter brother, the Golf GTI on Volkswagen showroom floors around Malaysia.
Before you scoff at the minute displacement though, just keep in mind that this powerplant employs twin-charging to help keep the smile on your face and that ‘fuel guzzler’ won’t be your most-used phrase.
Superchargers have almost instantaneous response but often lack that top end kick. On the opposite end of the scale, turbocharging takes a few seconds to build up pressure and get going but makes up for it in the final bits of the tacho.
So a supercharger handles the low-end duty on this engine, boosting up to 1.8bars before cutting off at 2,400rpm for the turbocharging to take over the mid and top end for a powerband that seems endless.
The whole basis of forced induction was that a smaller engine could sip fuel like one yet provide the performance of a much larger capacity block. In this instance, that nail is driven firmly through the spot.
The engine also benefits from VW’s Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI) tech. Simple put, the fuel is injected under high pressure into the combustion chamber where the shape of the piston and some smart valve work cause the air to tumble, creating a more efficient combustion for a cleaner burn.
All that combines for some astounding power figures. Max power stands at 160hp@5,800rpm and peak torque rated at 240Nm between 1,500rpm-4,500rpm.
With that much torque on tap from basically idle, combined with the well spread powerband, it is an extremely nippy hatch.
Furthermore, all that power reached the front wheels through VW’s pride and joy, a seven-speed direct shift gearbox (DSG).
It does cost some serious coin, but having sampled the car, it’s worth every single penny you would shell out for it. The interior is exactly what you would define as premium. While it’s by no means luxurious, it’s damn well leaps and bounds beyond the Japs.
Just a glance at it and you’d immediately think Golf GTI. You wouldn’t be far off the truth too. The entire dash is almost identical to the GTI, which is not a bad thing.
The entire upper dash is wrapped in soft-touch rubbery plastic that you expect to find on higher end cars. The lower end of the dash that leads onto the center console gets some harder plastics that are still capable of teaching the Japs a thing or two about interiors.
For a model that’s placed below the GTI, the TSI still gets a full spec treatment on the inside. Dual-zone air-conditioning, multi-function display and even a parking sensor that covers the front and rear gets the full thumbs-up with an ear-to-ear grin from all of us. Safety was not skimped on either, with seven airbags being standard and earning a Euro NCAP rating of five stars.
The seats are semi-bucketish with firm side support to hold you in place while getting gnarly on that next corner while the doors and dash are trimmed in some black carbon-fiber type print that lends the interior a very classy touch.
The rear has its own air-conditioning vents and sufficient legroom for six-footers. Interestingly though, the boot couldn’t fit a golf bag in it without lowering the split rear seats. Just a little irony for the day there.
Getting behind the wheel, you could just tell that it was going to be a fun drive. The seats were a tad too deep set for us, probably made to cater for taller Europeans. Nonetheless, nothing the height adjustment couldn’t handle.
Step on the go-pedal and you would honestly be blown away by the response and quickness. Just a slight feathering of the throttle was enough to hit cruising speeds in no time.
I’ve had the opportunity to sample some other dual-clutch gearboxes from other manufacturers before and honestly, the head start the DSG has had by being the first is probably the reason it’s still a few car lengths ahead of the rest. Shifts were seamless and lightning quick, climbing up the gears instantly for better fuel economy.
If there was a kink in its formidable armour, the DSG was a laggy from a complete stop. Many a time it took a split second longer than what we would have expected before it got going from a traffic light or junction. This is no major issue but we can see it becoming annoying when you’re trying to cut through an intersection or out from a junction.
It’s not a fast car but is definitely a quick one. The handling was very impressive, considering that you would always find yourself comparing it to the GTI. The ride had a very conti feel to it, absorbing bumps with a solid thud with enough comfort on the inside for people to doze off in.
That being said, chucking it around corners was still every bit as fun as flooring it in a straight line. Handling was very neutral with a pinch of oversteer. Steering feedback was sufficient to let you know when the edge was approaching. The rear did feel a little light though, as mid corner you could sense the behind wanting to kick out.
Once all that hooning was done with, you could still sit back and enjoy the ride by cruising about town. On the highway, it easily reached the 200km/h mark, topping out at 220km/h, although maintaining anything above 200km/h that was next to impossible.
Priced at RM 156,758 (OTR w/o insurance), it’s no doubt plenty of money for a hatch. Bear in mind though that the Golf 1.4 TSI is catering to a different market altogether.
While the middle class might consider RM150k a lot of money and expect something along the lines of a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, the upper class might prefer something smaller as a second or third family car but a whole lot more premium. That is exactly where the Golf 1.4 TSI comes in. If there was a need for a well rounded premium hatch, you can call off the search party.