There wasn't much wrong with the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf, but the new 7.5 version borders on perfection. It's quite possibly the best all-round hatchback ever built.
It’s hard to believe the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is already four years into its lifecycle, it seems like just yesterday it was released.
It had a brand-new shape, was built on the company’s brand new MQB platform and was a lot sleeker and cleaner than any Golf before it. Funnily enough, it still looks fresh to me, but that hasn’t stopped Volkswagen from releasing a newer version – dubbed 7.5.
As the number suggests, it’s not a new-generation Golf, rather it’s halfway measure before the all-new eighth-generation car arrives sometime in 2020.
The new Golf claims to be even smarter, more premium, and more frugal than its predecessor. It also gets a lot more tech than ever before, boasting all-new infotainment screens and the first digital instrument display in class. A superior offering all round, then.
And it will need to be too, after the monumental upheaval VAG (Volkswagen Automotive Group) has faced over the last 12 months, or so. That said, Golf is at the very core of the brand’s foundations that followed the ubiquitous Beetle – the original peoples’ car.
Launched in 1974, Golf has been a truly phenomenal success story the world over. They are everywhere. In 2015, over a million were sold, and in 2016, the same. In fact, on average, a new Golf rolls off the assembly line every 40 seconds, which is simply staggering.
It’s also a model that has evolved into a semi-premium offering over the years, aspirational even, and not just for the Y-Gen, either. With Golf, there seems to be no particular age skew. Everybody wants one.
That’s cause enough for VW design boss, Klauss Bischoff and his team not to mess with the styling – too much – more of a nip and tuck approach seems to be all that’s required to re-spark Golf’s enduring magic.
While styling tweaks can only be described as subtle, there’s no denying the 7.5 looks different. It’s cleaner and even sleeker than its Mk7 sibling. I know, because of the countless folks on the street that stopped me to ask, ‘is that the new Golf?
It’s like they knew it was different, but couldn’t quite put their finger on it. That’s said, there’s general excitement around this new version, though surely part of that is based on a bit of clever deception.
The rear lights, for example. I thought the assembly itself had been re-designed, but no, side-by-side, they look identical, but for the introduction of LEDs across the entire Golf range. In come LED headlamps, too (all versions get LED daytime running lights), but only on top-spec Highline variants.
The front and rear bumpers have been cleaned up, and any rough edges (if there were any) have been smoothed out and polished off. So much so, I’m not sure you can go any further with this design language. Every facet appears to have been honed or enhanced without meddling with the entire design itself. It’s a form that’s come about as close to perfect as you can get. At least that’s this writer’s opinion.
Attention to detail has always been next level with Golf, but the 7.5 takes this to a new high. For instance, those variants equipped with active cruise control have now got the sensors tucked in behind the prominent ‘VW’ badge for a sharper look. Same goes for the reflector lights down back, they’re slimmer for a sleeker overall appearance. Little things, which appear to make a big difference to the look of the new Golf.
Despite asking a $1000 more for the entry-level offering over the outgoing model, the overall equipment offering is far better on the 7.5 version of Golf. It starts with the engine. Gone is the 92-kilowatt engine, and in its place, the more powerful 110kW as standard fare.
It’s no GTI, but this 1.4-litre turbo petrol has got a bit of poke, especially in the mid-range. Volkswagen claims it will go from 0-100km/h in 8.2 seconds, and that feels about right. Certainly, it would be a bit quicker without some annoying turbo lag off the mark (more pronounced with the start/stop system engaged – but at least you can turn that off), but otherwise, it’s got useful lane-changing pace when you see a gap in the traffic.
With 250Nm from just 1500rpm, it’s got ample torque too, though not nearly as strong as the 2.0-litre TDI, which makes 340Nm from 1750rpm, but with the same 110 kilowatts of power on tap.
European models get the uprated 1.5-litre TSI Evo engine that consumes slightly less fuel while producing less emissions. VW Australia decided not to go down that road because it actually makes the same power and torque and would have added a thousand or two to the price tag.
Drive is to the front wheels exclusively across the standard Golf range via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, though a six-speed manual is standard fitment on the base Trendline variant. (Read our Trendline review.)
Like most dual-clutch ’boxes, you need to get used to them and their eccentricities. They’re still not perfect, but the quick-shifts (up and down the gear ratios) add a dash of excitement to an otherwise dull commute. Our Highline tester also came with paddle-shifters and a Sport mode, which alters the shift mapping when more aggressive acceleration is demanded. We also like the quick throttle blips on the downshifts, too.
It might be a small displacement powertrain, but there’s a high-level of refinement built into this engine that will surprise many. Even at revs, the cabin is well insulated from any unwanted racket. Same goes for road and traffic noise, which is all but cancelled out.
Ride comfort has been a hallmark of the Golf model range, even on the entry-level models. There’s no fancy adaptive damper system to assist either (unless you climb to high-performance versions like GTI and Golf R) just independent suspension with MacPherson struts with lower A-arms up front, and a four-link system with coil springs down back, along with anti-roll bars.
But tick the option box for the sweet-looking R-Line package, and along with some great looking 18-inch alloys, body kit, flat-bottom steering wheel and a host of other goodies, you also get Sports suspension, which lowers the car by 15mm.
The end result is a decidedly firm and often busy ride, which soon becomes tiring, if not downright annoying. The problem; you can’t take the styling package without the firmer suspension, so we can’t possibly recommend it, despite the slight reduction in roll, but only if you’re pushing.
The electromechanical power steering offers a good combination of feedback and response for daily driving, though it’s not the sharpest rack in town if you’re out chasing a few corners on a country road. The GTI will serve you far better in that regard.
That said, there’s solid stopping power from the ventilated front brakes, and we worked them hard at times, and they didn’t falter.
And while we like what Volkswagen has done with the exterior, it’s the interior that wins the prize. It comes down to the feeling you get when you first slide in, it’s almost like having a new toy, particularly if you choose the Highline variant, such as our tester. All the key touchpoints feel up-market, while even the hard plastics look and feel the same.
There’s just so much cool tech inside that I think the Golf (at least in this well-stocked guise) is fast approaching the point where it is able to challenge those entry-level offerings from the Premium brands.
Standard on both Comfortline and Highline variants is an 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen with all the latest infotainment functions including Discover Media audio and sat-nav systems, along with apps such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
Opt for the $2300 Infotainment package (Comfortline and up), though, and you’ll automatically upgrade to a 9.2-inch screen, as well as Volkswagen’s 12.3-inch virtual instrument display, which looks identical to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
The latter is fully configurable, meaning you can change the layout of the binnacles from, say, a gear indicator with a tachometer, back to the look of more traditional instruments. The colours are so vivid and the clarity is outstanding, and there are no buttons, so zero clutter.
Everything about the new Golf feels premium (except for the plastic paddle-shifters) from the smallest dial to the chunky grab handles on the doors. The metal work is top shelf, and Golf seats have always been inherently comfortable and supportive – these are no different, though the Vienna leather is particularly soft.
It’s the kind of place you’ll want to spend time in, even if that means the daily commute. It’s also a car you just enjoy driving.
This isn’t any mid-life crisis, nor is it a stop-gap measure. In fact, the Golf Mk7.5 is quite possibly the best all-round hatchback ever built.
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