Like an open fire, fresh bed linen or a hot cup of tea, there's something very comforting about the VW Golf. Shame, then, that since the mk3 it's not been particularly good at pleasing keen drivers. In fact, with the exception of the superb R32, the outgoing mk4 Golf's most satisfying iterations were the lusty PD turbodiesel-engined models. And that's not comforting; it's a bit unsettling.
Now, however, VW has got serious about reclaiming the agility and ability that made the first two generations of Golf firm favourites amongst people like us. So whilst the mk5's looks are another evolution of the familiar formula, there's been a more radical re-think underneath. A new multi-link rear axle, detail work on the front struts and a tricksy electro-mechanical power steering system are all signs of VW's realisation that some drivers care about more than just groovy blue instrument lighting.
So, can we stop thinking about those pesky diesel versions and rekindle a passionate 1980s affair with deft- handling, petrol-burning Golfs? Not quite. The VW Golf GT TDI 140PS may sound like an especially confusing text message but behind the unwieldy name is a truly decent car. For starters, that chassis work has paid off. Where the mk4 was flubbery and imprecise, the mk5 is sharper and more accurate.
Chuck it into a corner and you'll quickly notice that the rear end is now prepared to get off its arse and do some of the work. Better still, mid-bend messing with the angle of that floor-hinged throttle pedal actually has some effect on your line, and if you lift off completely there's a nicely predictable shift as the tail lightens and the nose tucks in. Nothing scary, but handy nonetheless.
The steering's better too; in the old model you'd find yourself having to tack through corners, repeatedly adjusting your inputs to take up the slack in the system in an irritatingly angular, disjointed way that made normally sweeping bends feel more like a circumnavigation of Sophie Ellis-Bextor's face. That doesn't happen in the mk5 and, although the system gives you little in the way of feel, the GT's 205/55 R16 tyres do at least add a welcome weighting that's missing from skinnier-wheeled models. Where the old Golf ultimately frustrated, this new one is tighter and more focused. Not quite an actual Focus but faithful and reasonably fluent. The ride's quite affable, too.
So, a Golf with a respectable chassis again. Huzzah. However, even though the engine drinks from the filthy black cup, this bit of the car is equally impressive. Now up to 2 litres and with a new 16-valve head, the well-known PD unit has evolved and matured into something pretty handy, sacrificing some low-down unstallability in return for a fresh dose of top-end that makes it keener to rev. It's still tight-chested by the standards of a good petrol engine, but therein lies the TDI's trump card. Because the unleaded-supping equivalent, the 148bhp GT FSI, does not have an especially good petrol engine. In fact, it doesn't feel like it's turning out the claimed horsepower figure and to achieve really meaningful acceleration you have to hammer it relentlessly. Whereas this 138bhp diesel feels true to its promised output or, more truthfully, to its quoted 236lb ft of torque from 1750-2500rpm.
What's more, you can rev it towards the 4500 red line without noticing a sudden drop-off in thrust. Forget old- skool turbodiesel behaviour (wait-for-iiiit... WALLOP... is that it?), this is consistent surge from start to finish. Sure, the engine's a bit noisy but then so is the petrol version, although the diesel note is deeper. If that's what bothers you most, simply imagine who you'd rather have shouting at you to do the washing up - Bonnie Tyler or Bonnie Langford.
Of course, all new Golfs retain the things that gives you a warm feeling when you spend your own money on a car. Stuff like those subtle, classless looks that make it equally at home crawling through the dark underbelly of urban Britain or pulling up outside Princess Anne's house. And if some interior plastics are a step down from those in the old model, they're still better than you'd find in other cars of this price. Yes, the Golf is still deeply, uniquely comforting.
But there's one fact that isn't - to make the most of that able chassis, the medium-rare meatiness of the TDI knocks seven shades out of the weedy, uncharismatic 2-litre petrol. So until the 200bhp GTI arrives at the end of the year, the most satisfying Golf for keen drivers is this one. The diesel.