2009 VW City Golf

Status symbol, econobox, or both?

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2009 VW City Golf
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There are few vehicles in this world made exclusively for the Canadian market. Currently Acura sells its Civic-based CSX (formerly the EL) and, well, that’s about it. Even the Mercedes B-Class, while not available in the U.S. is sold throughout Europe.

FAST FACTS

1. The City Golf is sold only in Canada and is based on the Mark IV Golf but with an updated body and slots in below the Rabbit in the VW Canada lineup.

2. Power is derived from VW’s old 2.0-liter SOHC 4-Cyl engine that makes 115hp and 122 ft-lbs of torque.

3. Sold for just $15,000 CDN, the City Golf competes against sub-compact cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

4. A six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission is offered.

In 2007, Volkswagen launched the City Golf, an incredibly well-priced V-Dub. The City Golf, and its sibling the City Jetta, are essentially stripped down versions of each respective vehicle and use a much older platform. My 2009 City Golf tester is actually a Mark IV vehicle underneath and uses a chassis that was first introduced in 1997. All current Golfs are Mark Vs and VW recently unveiled the Mark VI.

No wonder VW can sell this car for a starting price of $15,300 CDN – just 75 percent of the price of a Rabbit.

At that price, the car is no longer competing with compact cars like the Civic or Corolla but sub-compacts like the Yaris and Fit and even the Accent and Aveo.

CUSHY SUSPENSION, UNLIKE THE COMPETITION

When compared to these vehicles the underpinnings don’t feel dated, although they aren’t exactly impressive. On the highway the car settles nicely at speed, although large bumps can send the car bouncing up and down on the soft springs and shocks, reminiscent of a mid-90s Buick.

On the plus side, this suspension does mean that around town the car has no problem soaking up bumps, however, the body roll is significant and is a far cry from the type of setup one might expect to find on a Golf.

The sheer length of the springs and shocks is obvious just by looking at the City Golf, as it has a great deal of wheel gap.

My tester featured the optional 15-inch aluminum wheels and while they do spice up the look of the car, they are somewhat redundant from an engineering perspective as they are no larger in diameter than the standard steel wheels.

UPDATED BUT STILL OLD EXTERIOR

As for the body of the City Golf, VW has done a good job at masking the decade-old vehicle underneath. When the car was first launched it came with an old Mark IV body style, however, in 2008 a redesign helped make the car look neither new nor old.

As for those aluminum wheels, they did help to class-up the car, although any good they might have done to the overall package was negated by the taillights. VW opted to go with cheesy aftermarket-style units that just cheapen the overall look of the car.

OLD 2.0-LITER ENGINE STILL DELIVERS

Power is deliver by a decade-old SOHC 2.0-liter engine that has both its drawbacks and its benefits. Power is rated at 115 ponies and torque is a substantial 122 ft-lbs. With maximum torque at just 2600 rpm, the City Golf has excellent useable power for around town and initially feels much faster than the 11.7-second sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph) that VW Canada claims.

Fuel economy isn’t bad either, despite the fact that the competition relies on 1.6 and even 1.5-liter engines.

Fuel consumption is rated at 9.9 and 6.9 liters/100km city/highway (or 24/34 mpg). One reason the numbers are even this good and the 2.0-liter is competitive in the sub-compact segment is due to the new six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission (a five-speed manual is standard).

With six-speeds, the tranny is constantly shifting around town, which can be a mild annoyance, however, the optional manual-shifting tiptronic setting or even the sport setting that holds on to gears much longer, lets you have more fun with the car than you might expect. The transmission is even capable of downshifting the car to almost a complete stop and is actually a far better system with quicker shifts than similar setups found on many high-end luxury cars. Younger drivers, to which this car is no doubt targeted, will definitely appreciate this system, however, they won’t like its $1,400 asking price.

INTERIOR LOOKS DATED

The interior is a real disappointment for a Golf, but it’s exactly what you should expect for 15 grand. Standard equipment includes an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary input, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and tilt-telescopic steering wheel. Unfortunately even with the seat in its lowest position and the wheel in its highest I still couldn’t see the top of the gauges, including any of the engine temperature gauge.

The metal trim around the automatic shifter looked alarmingly out of place in the otherwise basic interior, and the signal light indicators on the dash glowed a sort of off-yellow, as opposed to green, making you feel as though the car was already a few years old.

And another thing… the side mirrors are just far too small.

My tester came pretty-much fully loaded with the optional air conditioning ($1,350), stability control ($450), and Comfort Package ($1,175) that includes those 15-inch wheels, an alarm system, cruise control, power heated mirrors, power locks and windows and remote trunk and fuel-door release. A nice option would have been steering wheel-mounted controls.

A Cold Weather Package ($275) was also installed which includes heated seats. Annoyingly the heated seats use VW’s scrolling temperature adjuster with an excessive six settings. On the plus side, however, the seats heat up fast and get mad hot – something that is definitely appreciated in Canadian winters.

Standard safety equipment includes front air bags and ABS (something a lot of comparably priced sub-compacts list as options). Side air bags and curtain air bags are separate options, as is an electronic stability control system.

THE VERDICT

It’s important to note that the City Golf was created to serve a need for an entry-level VW after the upgrade to the Mark V vehicles did not include an inexpensive diesel option. Well, actually it did, it’s just that those diesels didn’t meet North American emissions standards.

PLUS

An econobox in yuppie-status symbol clothing
Good around-town torque
ABS standard

MINUS

A half-assed engineering project
Despite revision, exterior still looks dated
Massive body roll

As a result the City Golf was created as somewhat of a stopgap measure by VW Canada, in order to keep VW owners coming back to VW dealerships.

In many ways the car feels as though it is a half-assed engineering project, which in many ways it is. It uses an old engine and old chassis and as of 2008 features a slightly revised shell to keep it looking fresh. In short, it’s an affront to automotive progress.

Despite all this, it has been a top seller for VW Canada, something I can’t help but think has to do with the VW logo and its appeal to economically insecure yuppies. Why else would anyone take this over a Yaris or a Fit?

It may be an econobox, but as long as there is a VW logo on the back, it’s a status symbol to somebody.

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