Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion First Drive

This is the third iteration of the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion. And it’s not that the cleanest Golf is getting more efficient each time that’s so remarkable; it’s the rate at which it’s improving.

Just six years ago the first Golf BlueMotion emitted 119g/km carbon dioxide. The new car’s figure is just 85g/km and there’s not an electric or otherwise hybridized powertrain in sight. The new BlueMotion is just about as clean as ‘normal’ cars get and, because it’s a Golf, it's a car that defines ‘normal’.

Efficiency by the book

The aesthetics of sustainability dictate smooth surfacing and clean lines, which is why the standard Golf looks so benevolent. Its exterior design consists entirely of explicit creases conjoined by beautifully smooth coachwork; just enough surface entertainment to avoid being plain. The Golf BlueMotion further elaborates without going spoiling the illusion.

There are the usual ‘BlueMotion’ emblems dotted around the body and the polymorphic red horizontal from the GTI’s radiator grille is blue. The grille is also nearly completely closed for the sake of aerodynamics but the result only adds to the BlueMotion’s Bauhaus cool. Unfortunately for British buyers this car’s U-shaped LED headlights will not be available – a shame given that with them the BlueMotion looks positively sub-zero.

Masking the grille isn’t the only aerodynamic boon the BlueMotion receives. A redesigned, smoother undertray, roof spoiler and partially closed air intakes in the front bumper also disturb as little air as possible. There are also buttresses that flare off the C-pillars, although you’ll have to look closely to notice them.

Tying all this together is a chassis lowered by 15mm with the overall effect of reducing the car’s all-important drag coefficient from .29 to .27. Every little helps, especially regarding something as intangible as aerodynamics.

Volkswagen's environmental language is clean, clear and surprisingly sporting. The understated BlueMotion is probably the best looking car in the range.

The standard car, built on VW Group’s new MQB platform, is already fantastically light for a car of its size and safety, but the BlueMotion is 23kg lighter at 1,265kg (and that’s including a 75kg driver). But if weight is half of the battle against fuel consumption, then efficiency of powerplant is the other.

Volkswagen’s decision to use the new 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine is perhaps surprising given that the 1.4-litre petrol with cylinder deactivation is excellent all-round. Clearly carbon dioxide emissions of 85g/km and a combined fuel economy approaching 90mpg just isn’t possible with the petrol engine, no matter how cleverly geared the car is or how special the low rolling resistance rubber.

The diesel engine has, however, been reworked. It warms up faster for a start, reducing the period when it’s at its most inefficient. Super-slick bearings on the camshaft also help reduce mechanical friction and exhaust gas recirculation results in fewer NOx emissions. It’s a refined powerplant, and delivers 108bhp with helpful levels of torque at low engine speeds.

After power is transmitted through a new six-speed gearbox that uses low viscosity oil Volkswagen claims the BlueMotion will return a combined 88mpg. Driving like a saint on some of Holland’s smoothest (and the world's flatest) roads our Golf returned 74mpg. That’s a not insignificant discrepancy, but whilst it’s so far impossible to tell what the BlueMotion might achieve on a day-to-day basis in the UK, somewhere between 60mpg and 70mpg is a reasonable assumption to make. That’s very, very impressive for a car that offers everything a Volkswagen Golf does.

Things will get interesting next summer when a Golf plug-in hybrid goes on sale. Unlike the BlueMotion, it will use the 1.4-litre petrol engine as well as an electric motor resulting in 188.3mpg and 35g/km carbon dixoide emissions. Of course, such figures for plug-in hybrid vehicles are even more out of touch with the real world than they currently are for combustion engine cars. We suspect the BlueMotion and plug-in hybrid Golf models will be much more closely matched during long-term ownership.

The clearest illustration of how far the Volkswagen Golf has come is that the current GTD model – the nearly-GTI fast performance diesel of the range – is cleaner than the original 2007 BlueMotion. Engineers in the industry currently feel that the limit for this kind of car currently sits at around 75g/km carbon dixoide emissoins, after that alternative technology is required to drive emissions down further.

Right now, however, the latest Golf BlueMotion represents a seemingly unbeatable benchmark for practicality vs. economy vs. desirability. It’s expensive, but most of the time the benchmark is.

Engine: 1,598cc 4-cyl diesel Power: 108bhp Torque: 250Nm 0-60mph: 10.5 seconds Top speed: 124mph Fuel economy: 88mpg combined Emissions: 85g/km CO2 Price: From £19,730

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