The Volkswagen Golf is a critical darling, and we’re often asked why. It’s a good question.
Indeed, it’s rare to see a Golf of any stripe losing in a comparison test to one of its small-car rivals. As a feat of engineering backed by Volkswagen’s near-bottomless pockets, it’s a hard act the follow.
But people don’t just know of the Golf. They also buy them en masse. It’s consistently in the monthly top ten sales chart, though invariably behind the Corolla, Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30.
Not much has changed since this model, the Golf 7, launched in 2012, but that’s no reason not to reacquaint ourselves and see if it still deserves its mantle.
Now the Golf’s design and silhouette shouldn’t surprise. Over the course of seven generations, Volkswagen has followed a strategy of constant evolution rather than revolution.
It’s not sexy or outlandish, but it remains handsome in a subdued way. This generation has sharper lines and a more dynamic grille that gives hit a hint of edge.
This version is larger than ever, but also lighter than its predecessor thanks to its clever modular underpinnings.
The version you see here is the 90 TSI Comfortline with standard 16-inch alloy wheels. It’s the second cheapest variant on offer, and is powered by the most popular engine in the range — a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol.
It remains a subdued affair inside. There isn’t the hint of flair evident in something such as a Peugeot 308.
But what the Golf offers is spades is tactility and a pervasive sense of quality.
Everything feels very Teutonic in its execution, be they the soft materials, the use of sound-deadening felt in the door pockets, the lines where one panel joins another — millimetre perfect.
This 5.8-inch screen that lets you slide through menus like on a slightly older smartphone is pleasant enough, and Volkswagen has really improved the user-friendliness of its menus and Bluetooth system.
This Comfortline specification adds some niceties over and above the base 90 TSI model, including a reversing camera (mounted in the rear badge) with guidelines, dual-zone climate control, all-round parking sensors, auto headlights, some extra chrome trim and comfier seats.
It’s worth pointing out that a rival such as the Mazda 3 would come with satellite navigation as standard rather than an option at the Golf’s price. The three-year warranty with roadside assist falls short of Kia and Hyundai, the name a few that come to mind.
It’s not as big as something like a Holden Cruze in the rear, but there’s adequate room for two adults in terms of legroom and headroom. And good visibility out too.
The Comfortline also gets a folding centre arm rest and cupholders. The range comes with rear air vents. The seats fold forward, taking the luggage space from 380 litres to 1270.
Perhaps the main reason for why we shower plaudits on the Golf is for the driving experience it offers.
The 1.4-litre turbo-petrol produces a modest 90kW, but a healthy 200Nm of torque, available from right down low in the rev band.
This means it has sharp response at low speeds and deceptive punch as your work through the gears. It feels decidedly more effortless and refined that a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre.
You can also spend more and get a punchier version called the 103 TSI, and the hardcore GTI and R with their 2.0-litre turbos. Being European, you can also get a punchy diesel version, the 110 TDI. But in Highline form, its almost $35K.
The seven-speed DSG is also the best example used in the Golf yet. VW has ironed out a lot of those quirks that have made previous versions tentative and indecisive around town.
There is also a sports setting that holds lower gears and thereby enhances responsiveness, and an Auto Hold function that stops you rolling forward when off the brakes in traffic.
The Golf also offers a beautifully composed ride in urban areas, and noise suppression and general refinement levels of a car twice the price.
It also has excellent chassis balance that gives it good composure if you want to drive with some verve, with progressive and linear steering that perhaps lacks a shade of feel and feedback.
Rather than being overtly sporty, the Golf is neutral, but in a good way. And it rides along like a proper little luxury car.
I’ve spent a bit of time behind the wheel this week and it has reminded me of just what is so good about this car.
It’s just pleasant, and It does almost nothing wrong. While it isn’t the most exciting car out there, it’s superbly refined.
The glitzy Peugeot 308 and sharp Mazda 3 is worth a cross-shop, but even after this time, the Golf remains a seriously well-rounded package.