Volkswagen's on a roll. Its sales aren't dropping as far as the current trend, and just days before it launched the sixth-generation Golf, that car won the 2009 World Car of the Year award. So it must be pretty special, right?
Not as special as you'd expect, though it does further hone the Golf recipe for tidy design, sensible features and competent all-round performance.
That tidy design picks up on the wide-mouthed grille introduced by the sportier Scirocco and involves changes to almost every panel, including the door handles and mirrors.
VW says those new mirrors, plus door seals and the windscreen, are key to how quiet the car is. It's the quietest Golf ever, apparently, though it can't be by much, judging by our drive.
Given it's based on its predecessor the dimensions have barely changed too, though it's a touch wider and lower, while shoulder room has improved.
Inside there's a new dash, a few alterations to improve ergonomics and several fitments lifted from the Passat CC executive express - like the steering wheel. It's all still very much a Golf, and the car's not much different under the skin, either. Only the common rail diesel engines are new, the petrols were deemed good enough as they were.
The 1.4-litre twin-charger - which takes off under supercharging then hands over to the turbo to deliver high-speed performance from a smaller, more frugal engine - works better than it sounds. That's why VW uses the kilowatt rating instead of engine capacity when referring to the model, to avoid deterring Kiwis who traditionally are reluctant to downsize their engines.
Meanwhile the 77kW 1.6-litre diesel that replaces the 1.9 won't arrive until mid-year, so the 2.0 is so far the pick of the bunch. It pulls strongly, with a pleasant engine note and a 0-100kph acceleration time of 9.3, while delivering a frugal 5.4l/100km claim, over half a litre per 100km better than what went before.
Manuals? Nope - it's all double-clutch DSG now, with six or seven gears depending on your model.
Golf isn't a sports car - at least, not until the GTI arrives in six months. Throw it down a demanding B-road and it'll cope, but you wouldn't do so for the fun of it. Still, the suspension's compliant despite the lumpy surfaces of our test route, and this emphasis on comfort will please most buyers.
VW has opted for two specification levels, both including ESP and seven airbags as standard, key to the car's excellent Euro NCAP crash test results. You can add to that, with the likes of 17-inch wheels linked to sports suspension, and parking assist, both available.
Yes, with the line-up starting at $40,590 prices have risen across the range. Fortunately VW NZ plans to hold its price for most of the year.
Meanwhile Golf Bluemotion 2 is in the wings, based on the 1.6 TD and boasting a litres per 100km figure somewhere in the threes - a laudable achievement, but one which won't be rewarded by sales until the inequity of our Road User Charges system is resolved.