REVIEW DATE: 2008-01-22 11:43:00.0
Equipped with both supercharger and turbocharger, Volkswagen's revolutionary Golf 1.4 TSI models could be the shape of things To come. Andy Enright reports
Frugal and fast is a combination that diesel cars have now well and truly cracked. There are any number of powerful turbodiesel models that will crack 200bhp and still return over 30mpg. How much fun are they though? The entertainment tends to tail off at a measly 5,000rpm, plus there's often a huge hunk of ironmongery hanging over the front bumper upsetting the weight balance and there's often very little throttle sensitivity. All of these issues are solved by a petrol engine but in order to power something Golf-sized at a reasonable clip, we're usually losing out in terms of fuel economy. Volkswagen think they have the answer in their Golf 1.4 TSI models, cars which fuse two tried and tested technologies with one very innovative piece of engineering. The results are startling.
Turbocharged cars have been around for decades and supercharged models even longer: the 140 and 170PS 1.4-litre FSI Twincharge engines fitted to the latest Golf models use both, at prices starting from £17,610. The supercharger operates at a maximum of 1.8 bar pressure, boosting the low end torque response where turbo cars can often feel lethargic. Once the supercharger has done its bit, the turbo kicks in for high-end power. With the faster powerplant, the peak power figure of 170PS arrives at 6,000rpm, whereas the maximum torque peak of 177lb/ft is retained all the way from 1,750 to 4,500rpm. Experts will realise that this makes a flexible and inherently driveable engine. The old cliche that this is a small capacity engine that drinks like one but drives like a bigger unit is, in this instance, bang on the money.
The clever technology doesn't just stop with the use of turbocharging and supercharging either. The 1.4 TSI units also use Volkswagen's clever FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection) system. FSI is a set-up that promises the twin benefits of more power and better economy. A high-pressure fuel line mounted on the side of the cylinder head, often dubbed 'common rail', injects fuel straight into the combustion chamber. The shape of the pistons and the clever working of a set of valves make the air 'tumble', thus creating more efficient combustion. Where FSI engines really impress is their behaviour under part throttle loads. Whereas before, part throttle meant just that, partially strangulating the output by closing a butterfly valve, the FSI system can be run with the throttles in a more efficient open position. How? In effect, by creating a rich fuel mix directly next to the spark plug and a leaner mix in other parts of the combustion chamber. This is not only more efficient in terms of how much fuel enters the chamber in the first place but it also means that less energy is wasted as heat to the cylinder block. In effect, a blanket of air shields the ignited fuel from the walls of the cylinder.
"Give a petrolhead the task of cutting fuel bills and emissions and the Golf 1.4 TSI would be the result"
So much for the technicalities. The 170PS version of this Golf 1.4 TSI will accelerate to 60mph in 7.9 seconds and hit a top speed of 136mph, so it's as quick as most decent hot hatches. That sort of performance in a car of this weight usually means an average of around 30mpg but this installation sees the Golf return a combined fuel economy figure of 38.2mpg. Benefits are also realised in terms of emissions. Whereas a 2.0T Golf GTI emits 194g/km of carbon dioxide and is only marginally quicker, the 1.4 TSI 170 chugs out just 175g/km, making it a far more attractive choice for company car user choosers and anyone with a slightly green tinged environmental conscience.
The 170PS TSI unit comes only in sporty GT Sport trim costing from around £18,710 but if you're prepared to satisfy a little of the speed but still like the technology, the 140PS version of this engine also comes in GT Sport guise for a around £1,000 less. Here, sixty is 8.8s away from rest on the way to a maximum of 127mph. And you'll achieve a combined fuel consumption figure of 39.2mpg. Both TSI engines come in five-door form for a £500 premium and, if you go for the five-door version of the 170PS unit, you can also opt for Volkswagen's clever DSG semi-automatic gearbox for around another £1,300.
The Golf's chassis produces a fine balance between comfort and lithe handling. The handling feels similar to that of a Ford Focus - for so long the industry benchmark - and that's hardly surprising as Volkswagen poached a number of key Ford chassis engineers in the development of the Golf. The Twincharge engine sounds quite unlike any other engine on sale today, combining the low-end whine of a supercharger with the top-end whistle of a turbo. Overlaid over those sounds is a rather purposeful induction sound that's quite unexpected for such a modestly sized engine. It's by no means disagreeable but if you're benchmarking it against, say, a 2.0-litre Golf, the Golf 1.4 TSI will appeal to those drivers who prefer things a little sportier. A specific output of 120bhp per litre for the 170PS TSI unit is right up there with some serious performance cars.
On longer journeys, it's possible to plug the Golf into a settling rhythm and it's effortlessly composed, smoothing the bumps and eating up the miles. Slotting the shifter into top gear and keeping it just above 2,400rpm - where the supercharger disengages - seems to give the most relaxed lope. Interior space is also good with ample accommodation for two six-foot people in the front and one of the most voluminous rears in the class. The controls and instrumentation in the cab are laid out in typically simple Volkswagen fashion and the gearstick has a tight, short throw action - even if the top of the shifter does feel a tad bulbous in the hand. The brakes are well up to scratch, with a firm pedal feel and an almost imperceptible anti-lock threshold.
If you've been getting rather depressed about the impending need to switch to a diesel or a hybrid car in order to maintain manageable fuel bills, Volkswagen may well have thrown you a lifeline. This technology isn't cheap of course but if you look at all the work that's gone into the whole TSI concept, you'd have to expect that. The Americans reckon there's no substitute for cubic capacity but these are the people who think that having a gun in every house cuts violent crime. Go figure.
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