The seventh-generation version of Germany's world-famous hatch is hard to fault.
The Volkswagen Golf has defined the hatchback class for nearly 40 years.
Germany’s world famous small car was last launched in Australia in 2009, but the new Volkswagen Golf Mk7 model is the first all-new generation for a decade.
While Golf Mk6 has been a benchmark car in the small car class for four years, it was more of a major update while Volkswagen brought its new modular vehicle architecture – dubbed MQB – into play.
The clever setup will allow VW to share major interchangeable platform and component pieces not just between a broad range of Volkswagen models but also throughout the whole group that also encompasses the likes of Audi, Skoda and Seat.
More flexible production, shorter engineering hours, and an even larger number of related models will all help make Volkswagen even more of a giant when it comes to volume and profit, though the amortisation of costs should also benefit car consumers.
The new Volkswagen Golf brings more content than before but starts $500 less then the outgoing model – priced from $21,490 with a manual gearbox ($23,990 for auto).
There are of course rivals in the small car segment that cost from $19,990, though VW continues its strategy of pitching the Golf – like its brand – as semi premium.
Yet there’s nothing half-luxury about the Golf 7’s interior. You wouldn’t find yourself stepping out of a BMW 1 Series, for example, and thinking you’d jumped into a higher-volume car.
Beyond excellent fit and finish, it’s the extensive use of soft-touch materials, the surface quality of harder plastics, the tactility of switches and dials, and VW’s trademark attention to detail – such as carpeted door pockets and rubber-matted cupholders – that allow the Volkswagen Golf cabin, even in base trim, to transcend mainstream small car interiors.
There’s also more room. From a longer car (up 81mm to 4365mm), VW has extended the Golf’s wheelbase – previously the shortest in its class – to liberate extra legroom. There’s also footspace and headroom aplenty for two tall passengers, five if you really must but recommended for short trips only, and the rear seat bench is angled perfectly for good under-thigh support.
Boot space is not the biggest in class but it gains a useful 30 litres to move up to 380 litres overall. The boot floor can also be manipulated to have either a deeper boot or a higher loading lip that sits flush with the rear seatbacks when they’re folded.
The only major criticism we could level at the Golf in this area is that the interior styling is again firmly planted in the ‘conservative’ camp.
Same goes for an exterior that, while sharper and squatter looking than Mk6, is again evolutionary. But would buyers have it any other way?
The Volkswagen Golf rides on 15-inch (steel) wheels in base form, 16-inch alloy wheels in Comfortline specification, or 17-inch alloys in Highline form.
Only the 90TSI entry Golf comes with the option of upgrading to another trim level – Comfortline, priced from $24,990. It’s a $3500 jump to Comfortline, which inside adds key features such as dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers and a rear-view camera to existing standard items of seven airbags, auto hold function, electric parking brake, cruise control, Bluetooth, trip computer and 5.8-inch colour touchscreen.
The more powerful petrol model – the $31,990 103TSI – and $34,490 110TDI diesel variant are both Highline grade only.
Highline highlights are satellite navigation and the best seats – offering the best combination of support and comfort - found in the regular VW Golf range for now (GTD and GTI are due later this year; R in 2014).
Otherwise the more powerful version of two 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engines offered isn’t necessarily a reason to buy the 103TSI over the 90TSI (with 103kW and 90kW respectively as the badges indicate).
The 103kW/250Nm VW Golf 103TSI is quicker and slightly more economical – with a 0-100km/h claim of 8.4 seconds and fuel efficiency of 5.2 litres per 100km comparing with the 90kW/200Nm VW Golf 90TSI DSG’s figures of 9.3 seconds and 5.4L/100km.
The 90TSI hardly lacks for speed, however, and it matches the 103kW version’s smoothness and appetite for revs, and offers ample mid-range strength.
The flexibility of the two petrol engines – benchmarks in the high-volume hatchback class – is helped by them both generating torque from lower revs and over a broader rev range than the average small car engine – between 1400 and 4000rpm for the 90 TSI, and between 1500 and 3500rpm for the 103TSI.
If you want the punchiest engine in a regular Golf, the 110TDI (unusually) offers more power than the petrols and (typically) more torque – 110kW and 320Nm.
Also new like the two petrols, the new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel also sounds quieter than the previous Golf diesel.
The drivetrains aren’t quite faultless. The ‘DSG’ dual-clutch auto feels smoother when moving away from standstill than before, but there is still some hesitation.
It can make for a double whammy delay at junctions or traffic lights if you have the engine stop-start system switched on. It’s one of the slowest systems we’ve tested to fire the engine once the driver has lifted their foot from the brake pedal. You can switch it off, which is our recommendation.
Pick any of the Volkswagen Golf models, though, and you will have invested in the most refined car in its class.
The smaller-wheeled base and Comfortline variants are especially good at minimising noise intrusion either from the wind or tyres, while regardless of spec the Golf’s ride quality is truly astonishing.
It’s rare to drive an imported vehicle that deals with Australia’s extremely variable road surfaces so expertly – and more so one that also doesn’t lose the plot when it comes to body control in corners.
The Golf was good in both the ride and handling departments in both Mk5 and Mk6 guises, but it feels as though the Mk7 has made even more of a progression here than on the switch between those earlier two generations.
All Golfs sold in Australia are variants continuing with the multilink rear suspension rather than the less sophisticated torsion beam that has been applied to sub-90kW versions of the car in other markets.
Its ability to lope along bumpy country roads with the most relaxed of gaits and cushion occupants adeptly in the city is quite uncanny.
Yet head into some challenging forest roads and the Golf can entertain with its delightfully balanced underpinnings, grippy tyres (even the base 15s), and steering that, while again short on feel, is remarkably linear and accurate.
It makes for a fluid driving experience in the country, whether your scenic route is open or tight.
Consider the overall package of the Volkswagen Golf that includes strong resale values, strong safety (five-star NCAP plus optional safety and driver aid systems for Comfortline and Highline models), and recently introduced capped-price servicing, and rivals can only watch as the small-car goalposts are moved once again.
Volkswagen’s classy hatch has simply become an even classier act.
Volkswagen Golf range
Volkswagen Golf 90TSI
Price: from $21,490 to $27,490
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 90kW at 5000-6000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 1400-4000rpm
Transmission: FWD, 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.4 to 5.7L/100km
CO2 emissions: 126-133g/km
Volkswagen Golf 103TSI
Price: from $31,990
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 103kW at 4500-6000rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 1500-3500rpm
Transmission: FWD, 7-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 8.4 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.2L/100km
CO2 emissions: 121g/km
Volkswagen Golf 110TDI
Price: from $34,490
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 110kW at 3500-4000rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1750-3000rpm
Transmission: FWD, 6-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 8.6 seconds
Fuel consumption: 4.9L/100km
CO2 emissions: 129g/km
Volkswagen Golf pricing
VW Golf 90TSI manual – from $21,490
VW Golf 90TSI DSG – from $23,990
VW Golf 90TSI Comfortline manual – from $24,990
VW Golf 90TSI Comfortline DSG – from $27,490
VW Golf 103TSI DSG Highline – from $31,990
VW Golf 110TDI DSG Highline – from $34,490