If you’re not getting enjoyment out of a car, then you need to do something about it. The BX was not delivering. It was becoming clunky and horrible to drive, had turbocharger issues and was making me grumpy rather than jolly. I considered spending yet more money on making it better but then a better idea came along.
A fellow Citroen-nut had found himself with a Volkswagen Golf 1.6 Driver – the Mk2 variety. He has the skills to sort the BX out and I just wanted something to tool about it. A deal was swiftly concluded and today, it was exchange time.
To many, the Golf is about as exciting as celery. I reckon it gets a bad press just because some people are blinkered into regarding it as one of the finest cars ever made. These people are usually young, misguided and prone to chopping suspension springs. See the Golf as just another 1980s hatchback in a world of capable-but-unexciting family cars and it has an appeal all of its own.
Is it hewn from granite and likely to be more reliable than an atomic clock? No. Yes, it feels sturdy and hopefully it’ll work more often than it doesn’t, but it is just a car. The non-believers usually get all hatey about the Mk2 because it wasn’t as ‘good’ as the Mk1. I’ll concede, the Italian-styling of the Mk1 was delicious. The Mk2 is a bit flabby, but quite pleasing I reckon.
Many, many Golfs have been ‘improved’ with ill-considered modifications. The only mod I’ve found is the white indicator lenses (with correct orange bulbs). The spotlights were part of the Driver package. Typically, it’s low on toys – you had to pay extra for those. The windows, mirrors and steering are all manual, but someone did cough up for central locking and a sunroof – two very useful features.
But how miserable is it to drive? The answer is, not very. It can’t compete with the BX for comfort – few cars can – but it lopes along very merrily indeed. The 1.6-litre engine has prodigious torque and while it can’t hope to match a turbo diesel for in-gear acceleration, it builds speed nicely. The gearing is very tall, which does blunt acceleration, but it’s doing about 2600rpm at an indicated 70mph. That’s very relaxing. Heading onto twistier roads – mainly to avoid the horror of Newtown – I soon discovered that it’s possible to maintain a good turn of speed without issue. The brakes are not so good. Leaping from one of the best cars of its era, they feel woefully weak and need a proper shove to bleed the speed off.
That means you’re not tempted to go barrelling into bends too quickly, which is probably a good thing. Instead, you become more measured. The steering is truly delightful. I thought it would be horrible with no assistance, but it manages to be direct and full of feedback and doesn’t load up when cornering hard. Shove your foot down and the engine responds instantly – no turbo lag here. I do declare that I was enjoying myself.
Let’s be clear though, it’s no sports car. It’s not exactly fun, it’s capable and safe. I found myself cornering more quickly than I expected, but it didn’t feel like chucking a Lotus through a set of hairpins. There was too much roll and it all felt a bit vague for that. You could argue that it behaves exactly how a family car should behave.
Some have queried my sanity in replacing such a good car as the BX. I can see where they are coming from. The BX does many things exceptionally well. But this wasn’t the best I’ve ever owned and even great cars have annoying issues. It was time for a break. For a start, the engine bay on a turbo diesel BX is an absolute nightmare. You can’t get at anything!
Not like a Golf.
There’s space everywhere! Which is good, as it’s probably due a timing belt. This isn’t a car for me to get enthusiastic about – the 2CV and Land Rover fill those roles (and the Merc as long as I can’t sell it!). I just want something that I can tinker with quickly and easily should I need to. That engine bay makes me hopeful.
After a good 80 miles of driving, the Golf felt pretty much how I hoped it would feel. It’s easy to drive and satisfying. So much so that I’ve already cleaned it and have even started polishing it! I’m regretting that slightly as it has turned into a much bigger job than I thought. I’ll leave you with a shot of it sitting behind another mighty Teuton. Spot the rear light similarities!
(can I just point out that the driveway is very uneven. The suspension is not broken!)