The Volkswagen Golf has altered almost unrecognisably across its six generations but feels very familiar in seventh generation form. June Neary checks it out.
Will It Suit Me?
Volkswagen's designers must be a frustrated bunch. They see other manufacturers giving the old creative juices free reign, showing the green light to all kinds of exciting and unconventional designs, then they're asked to come up with a new Golf that looks ever so slightly different to the old one. There's no doubt that VW is one of the most conservative car companies when it comes to vehicle styling but then, with a car like the Golf, they can afford to be. The MKVI Golf was very good. If the MKVII could improve upon it, success would be guaranteed. When I first caught sight of the seventh generation Volkswagen Golf, I thought the German brand was trying to pull a fast one. Yes it was different, but recognisably the same. That though, is just the point. In the words of a previous Volkswagen Group Chairman, the only mistake a Golf can really make is to stop being a Golf. Inside, there was more of that familiar feeling. Lots of the switchgear looked familiar but there were nicer materials and a higher quality ambience was in evident. These were my first impressions and they're likely to be those of many people who encounter the latest Golf for the first time. My advice would be to give it time because it's the depth of the car's talents where the real advancements have been made.
Conservative but classy has long been the Golf constant and the MKVII model diligently tows that line. So though on this seventh generation model, virtually everything has changed, in many ways, virtually nothing is different. The same thick rear C-pillar and near vertical tail. The same sharp crease line above the flanks. The same horizontally-barred grille. Look more closely though and important differences begin to emerge. In MK7 guise, this car is 56mm longer and 13mm wider to give more interior space. And lower to create a more dynamic stance. The front wheels have been moved further forward too, reducing the front overhang, visually lengthening the V-shaped bonnet and apparently moving the passenger compartment a little towards the rear. The result is a gym-toned look that's particularly nice at the side. Inside, the dash design is more of an eye-opener. The instruments are tastefully designed with obvious Audi influences and illuminate in crisp white light. The controls function with typical efficiency and the plastics quality is hard to fault compared to the Golf's family hatch rivals. Some might find the cabin lacking a spark of originality but it's certainly got an abundance of class and the execution is hard to fault, with a smart colour touchscreen infotainment display dominating the centre of the dash. The rear doors open wide to make childseats easy to get in and out and the fabric looks well set to withstand sticky fingers and chocolate stains. Rear legroom is adequate for tall adults so long as the front seats aren't pushed right back on their runners and a bigger boot of 380-litres ensures the Golf's competitiveness on practicality grounds. Fold the rear seats and 1,270 litres is made available.
Behind the Wheel
If anything, it's the improvements made in terms of refinement that bring the biggest single step forward over the previous generation Golf. A back-to-back drive in the two cars reveals a major reduction in cabin noise achieved through a host of measures including a special sound-damping windscreen, extra thick side window glass and advanced door and window seals. The cosseting experience inside the Golf is added to by the car's clever suspension system. The multi-link rear axle technology you get in pokier models is the preserve of the top performers in the family hatchback class from a ride and handling perspective and this Golf is certainly amongst those. Well weighted speed sensitive steering and a slick manual gearbox contribute to a driving experience that isn't the sector's most thrilling but is tough to beat for sheer competence.
Value For Money
Most mainstream Golf models will be sold in the £17,000 to £25,000 bracket, with the diesels that 85% of UK customers want starting from around the £20,000 price point. There's a £655 premium to go from the three-door bodystyle to the five-door bodyshape that 90% of British buyers choose. We're talking here of pricing and quality of product that has subtly moved Volkswagen into a slightly more up-market position. So, it's fully credible a stepping stone from Focus family hatch mundanity to full premium status in this size of car. If that sounds exactly what you're looking for, then you'll want to select carefully between the wide range of turbocharged engines on offer - which really fall into two distinct categories. First, there are the models offering less than 120PS featuring less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension - the 85 and 105PS petrol 1.2 TSI variants, the 122PS 1.4 TSI and this 105PS 1.6 TDI diesel, also offered in 110PS form in the frugal 'BlueMotion' model. Then, there are the more sophisticatedly-sprung multi-link rear suspended variants further up the range. These include the remaining petrol variants, the 140PS 1.4 TSI ACT with its clever cylinder de-activation system and the 2.0 TSI unit available to Golf GTI hot hatch buyers with either 220 or 230PS. Diesel drivers meanwhile, get an uprated 2.0 TDI with 150PS, but if that should still be insufficient, then you can talk to your dealer about ordering the performance-orientated GTD version with 184PS.
Could I Live With One?
There really wasn't much room for improvement on the MKVI Golf. It felt like a highly adept performer right up to the end but while the MKVII model looks similar in many respects, it has been advanced in areas right across the board. Quality, refinement, comfort: these are the standout aspects of this latest design but the engine range takes some beating and no other family hatch can match the Golf's classy image. It's a great all-round family car.