It might not look it, but the latest Golf VII is finally the all-new model we’ve been waiting for
Base price: $34,750.
Powertrain and performance: 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four, 90kW/200Nm, 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual, front-drive, Combined economy 5.0 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 9.3 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4255mm long, 1452mm high, luggage capacity 380/1270 litres, fuel tank 50 litres, 15-inch wheels on 195/65 tyres.
We like: Astonishing level of sophistication for the money, energetic powertrain, sheer quality.
We don’t like: Same-again styling, DSG still irks around town.
How it rates: 9/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
It might not look it, but the latest Golf VII is finally the all-new model we’ve been waiting for. It’s built on Volkswagen’s new MQB platform, which will underpin all of the Group’s small/medium models for the immediate future – so it’s a big deal.
Local importer European Motor Distributors (EMD) is looking to make an impact with this car: a radical realignment of pricing has brought Golf right up against mainstream models. In the Golf VI range there was only one model under $40,000 – now, there’s only one over that figure (bearing in mind that the hot GTI-and-above versions are yet to appear).
The entry Golf TSI 90, as tested here, is hardly basic, either: it comes well-equipped with side, curtain and knee airbags, tyre pressure warning monitor and alloy wheels – impressive for a German car at this price level.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
VW has long since stopped badging cars by their engine capacities. Presumably because it reckons its small engines punch well above their cubic centimetres.
The entry-level TSI 90 – a 1.4-litre direct-injection turbo with 90kW – is one such powerplant. It’s smooth, astonishingly energetic and performs like a much larger engine. It can be quiet and easy to drive, or rev-happy and a whole lot of fun: you choose.
The dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) certainly plays its part. The automated clutches are still slightly shaky around town, especially at very low speed or on hills, but it’s still hard to believe how quickly this transmission changes cogs when you’re up and running. And of course it delivers performance and economy as good as a conventional manual, just without the annoying third pedal.
The TSI 90kW wears modest footwear: 15-inch alloys on 65-series tyres. The ride is brilliant, the chassis compliant and occasionally a bit bouncy in tight corners, but overall this entry-level model is an astonishingly capable and safe car in all conditions. Step up the range if you want more sportiness and control, but there’s a depth of engineering in the new Golf that shines through even in this humble base version.
Case in point: the XDS electronic differential lock, previously only offered on the GTI models, is now standard on every single Golf. It helps the front-drive car put its power down in tight corners without spinning away too much power to the inside wheel.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
More raves for the little Golf here: the quality of the car’s interior is near luxury-car level, with soft-touch materials and strong fabrics everywhere. Sure, there are pieces of cabin architecture where costs have been cut, but those hard plastic are in out-of-the-way places and beautifully matched with the appearance and texture of the rest.
Okay, you could argue that the Golf VII is a bit dull: there’s nothing adventurous about the styling inside or out, and the whole experience of living with it is strangely similar to the last one. And the one before. But that’s how the Golf rolls and subtle though it may be, every single aspect of the car has been improved.
Aside from the sheer quality, the humble TSI impresses with a touch-screen multimedia system that’s capacitive like a smartphone: you don’t just press it, you can also swipe. And the menus pop up to meet you as soon as your hand goes near the screen.
There are lots of little details like that, giving this car a luxury feel: stuff like a cooled glovebox and heated door mirrors.
What’s missing? Actually, a few things from this so-called Comfortline specification. There’s no parking radar on this model, which came as a surprise. Automatic wipers and lights are very common these days, but the Golf TSI 90 doesn’t have them either. Not at this price, anyway. But being a European car, there’s a large options list ready and waiting.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
Absolutely. Not only is Golf VII a worthy addition to an iconic line of family cars, it’s also now priced and specified in a way that makes it a genuine rival for mainstream models like the Toyota Corolla and Holden Cruze. It’s an incredible amount of car for the money.
Or just an incredible car: Golf is also now the European Car of the Year for 2013.
Would you be satisfied with the humble TSI 90 though? I would have to say yes, because it’s so refined and the powertrain so energetic.
Should you wish, you can add a $3000 Comfort Package that brings 16in wheels, upgraded two-zone air conditioning, parking radar front and rear, and automatic lights, wipers and mirror-dimming. But that total puts you very close to the price of the Golf TSI 103 Highline. And that is a very swish little car indeed.
Air conditioning: Semi-automatic single-zone
Audio: CD, iPod compatible, SD card
Automatic lights/wipers: No/No
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Head-up display: No
Keyless entry/start: No
Parking radar: No
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes