Quite of few of you have asked me to do a history of VW do Brasil’s most sold car ever: the Gol. No mean feat, considering the runner-up is probably still the Beetle. I’m currently working on a history of the car (that I hope will be up soon), but as an appetizer, let’s check out VeeDub’s latest Brazilian offering. If you happen to like it, it’s an intriguing piece of work. If you don’t, you’ll probably think it’s just confused.
First, let’s get something out of the way. There is a Golf. And there is a Gol. Different cars. Different sports.
The latest version of the Gol follows the aventureiro philosophy. Raised suspension, mixed-terrain tyres, cool or hideous graphics (everything is relative). It’s all there. Plus it comes in this super yellow high visibility color that VW reserves only for this kind of car. Just in case you get stranded in the wilderness.
What’s it weak spot? Money. Ready? Here goes. R$40,370 (US$22,427). Or R$43,030 (US$23,906), if you choose to have yours with an automated transmission. Now, for this kind of money, and being a well-equipped car and all, you’d expect air con to be standard. You’d be wrong. You have to add almost 2,000 US dollars to get that. Considering that Brazilians with this kind of cash to blow on a car will expect air conditioning, for that kind of money. That VW has the audacity to charge extra for it, or not include it already in the package is mind-staggering. And is yet another reason that helps explain VW’s fall from grace in Brazil.
Pricing and marketing issues aside you ask, how does it drive? It drives like any other Gol with a 1.6 engine out there. Except it has beefier tires and the suspension is raised 28 mm over the regular version (according to Brazilian enthusiast site Bestcars). This makes the air drag coefficient worse. This all means your Gol Rallye will fall behind the regular version. In a straight line or in the curvies. By how much? Well VW do Brasil informs that the regular version will eventually reach 190 or 192 km/h (or 118.75/120 mph according to fuel, see below). This alternative puppy will fight, doggedly, to get you up to 112.5 or 113.75 mph – numbers gathered at Bestcars). Those top speeds though are hard to get to (maybe on an endless, flat, straight, sea-level highway with perfect pavement). I do have to give VW credit though. This Gol will go all day at 160 km/h (100 mph) without breaking anything. Just be aware it won’t be quiet going about it and that you’ll have to brake mightily to make that curve ahead.
Speaking of speed, the Gol Rallye’s engine is the same one that motivates the regular “street” version. The venerable 1.6 EA unit. Venerable of course has different connotations. One of them is old. You can see how old it’s getting when you realize it only produces 101 or 104 hp (if fed with ethanol or the concoction called gasoline in Brazil). It also (you can also thank those exaggerated tires) feels less spirited under hard acceleration, though the factory numbers show an almost negligible difference (from 10.1/9.8 to 10.6/10.3 secs from 0 to 100 km/h or 0 to 62.5 mph, thanks Bestcars).
Like I said before, it drives like any other Gol. So, despite the thicker front sway bar, and harder springs out in the rear, this car fearfully dives under hard (or not) braking, and mindlessly lifts its snout under hard (or not) acceleration. Due to the special suspension bits, it’s also harder than other Gols (not to mention the competition). On Brazil’s normally busted pavement it becomes quite a nuisance. Call me soft, but other cars have a softer suspension (that don’t give up the ghost in curves, either), which soaks up bumps and potholes and etc., etc., etc. better. Some, many Brazilians in fact, call this sporting, taunt, Germanic. In a word, superior. My backside doesn’t agree. It just calls it like it feels it: Sore.
The automated gearbox is another thing. Not quite as effective as an automatic, it’s not nearly as costly either. It has become rather popular in Brazil precisely because of that. However, it’s just not as smooth as a conventional automatic. It requires a learning curve. Or you’ll be bumping and jerking your head through traffic. The trick is to lift you right foot of the accelerator when you “sense” a shift is coming. This becomes almost second nature to the good drivers out there. For those with learning difficulties, it just means a head-jarring ride. BTW, VW links this feature to the trip computer. If you opt for the manual, you can’t get a computer. Why? Curious minds want to know…
How about the stick? This is the pièce de resistance of Brazilian VW fans. They just can’t get enough of touting its superiority. It has short throws. It has precise engagement. But, but, what’s that noise? Well I’ve been told that there’s a little part called the tremulator that causes that. In my Dad’s company-issued regular 1.6 Gol all gear changes were accompanied by a very audible and distinct thud! In the Rallye it’s somewhat subdued, but it’s there. Maybe not thud!, but thud. Call me crazy but I prefer a little less precision and slightly longer throws, but no “thudding”.
Inside, there are some differences to the regular version. The headliner has gone from gray to black. Not a deep black, but black nonetheless. In such a small car the sensation of airiness is important, at least to me, but that headliner… Again, in the spirit of the car, we’ll call it sporting. Finishing is meh, though well put together. Some call the design and color choices somber. Others just think they’re stark. The pedal placement issue has not been resolved though. The steering wheel now aligns perfectly with the seat, but the pedals are still weirdly and uncomfortably misplaced to the right. More often than not, I’d shoot my foot out to depress the clutch and find nothing but air. Of course you get used to it. However, other cars don’t have this issue. It’s an improvement though for VW as older Gols used to have the wheel, seat and pedals all misaligned, bending your spine into an “S”. Chiropractors no doubt love the Gol. Getting back to that clutch…does it really have to be so heavy?
So, let’s sum up. It’s taunt, sporting, somber, classic, drives like a tank and, according to most Brazilians, is terribly reliable. For others it’s hard, stark and dark, and just simply uncomfortable.
So there you have it. TTAC’s first write-up of the Gol. Certainly not what VW wants to hear. It also flies in the face of what many of my countrymen think. It’s my assessment though. And I stick by it.