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This is the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Trendline, one step up from the entry point in the new Golf 7.5 range. As a major 'in-between' upgrade, Volkswagen says the new Golf's changes are significant enough to warrant a half-point leap in its generational naming to 7.5, with the all-new Golf 8 still some time away.
I’ve written before that an iconic vehicle like the Golf makes for a tough proposition for a manufacturer. Don’t change it enough and the naysayers will be out in force, change it too much and the traditionalists get their panties in a knot.
The word ‘evolution' often creeps into a Golf review too, as opposed to ‘revolution’. There is, however, good reason for Volkswagen to not try and reinvent the wheel when the time comes to tweak the Golf. When you already posses the platform that defines the segment, sets the standard and delivers on all key measurements, why make drastic changes. That’s the problem with being at the top – there’s only one way to go.
The challengers are now many, none more impressive and head-of-the class of most likely to take the crown, than the all-new Hyundai i30. Over the decades, though, there have been many pretenders to the throne and some have been better in one or two areas than the Golf. None, however, have been a better all-rounder. And that’s the key to the Golf’s enduring success.
The Golf represents the classical Euro versus Japan (and now South Korea) conundrum for buyers. Match two vehicles up on price and you're likely to get a little more for your money with the Japanese or South Korean car (like leather or premium appointments), but on the other hand you’ll get the ‘carved from granite’ sense of ownership that only a Golf can provide.
But, there’s no doubt the Golf won’t have things all its own way in 2017 and beyond.
While those of you with performance fascination no doubt want to delve into the GTi or R, the volume section of the market, where most buyers actually spend their money, is here at this end of the Golf range, and that’s why first cab off the rank for CarAdvice is the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Trendline. (Read our Golf Highline review.)
Priced competitively – and it needs to be to ward off the Japanese and South Korean challengers – it promises to offer buyers the Golf experience without having to dig quite as deep into your pocket.
Read our pricing and specification story for the full range and pricing structure, but key to the new Golf’s assault will be sharp drive-away pricing straight off the bat from launch.
There’s a 110TSI kicking the range off, and then this vehicle, the 110TSI Trendline which costs $25,490 for the manual or $27,990 for the DSG as tested here – both drive-away.
Our test Trendline also has a $1500 package fitted, that adds blind-spot monitoring, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and park assist.
Standard equipment highlights for the Trendline include: front assist with city emergency brake, cruise control with speed limiter, multi-function display, composition media 8.0-inch infotainment system, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth, rear-view camera, seven airbags, driver fatigue detection system, multi-collision brake, extended electronic differential Lock, LED tail-lights, LED DRLs, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, parking stance sensors front and rear, front seat lumbar adjustment and rear seat centre armrest with load through and cupholders.
Think of the exterior changes as a little icing on the cake, or a polish to an already immaculate car. In other words, they’re not extensive.
The bumper, grille and headlights have been redesigned up front and that’s it. The infotainment system is however all-new, as is the extra safety tech and the engine is more efficient than the old model’s. Further, the base engine is now the 110TSI, replacing the 92TSI.
The 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder generates 110kW between 5000 and 6000rpm and 250Nm from 1500rpm. It’s matched to a seven-speed DSG automatic, and the ADR fuel usage claim is 5.4L/100km. Recommended fuel is 95RON as a minimum.
Countering that claim, we used an indicated 7.2L/100km during our week behind the wheel mainly in the city. A 150km run of pure freeway, netted a frugal return of 5.3L/100km, illustrating the Trendline’s long distance chops.
While we appreciate the added safety technology that’s been bestowed upon the new Golf, the most obvious change buyers will notice is the updated infotainment system. The clever design of the screen itself makes it look wider than its 8.0 inches and the touchscreen is responsive to commands. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto works faultlessly as does Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
The centre screen is crisp and clear, and can be configured. True to most ‘piano black’ and highly polished interior finishes, it will display fingerprints no matter how hard you try, but that’s really the only negative unless you (like me) dislike the lack of a traditional volume dial on the optional larger display. It’s old-tech to want a dial I know, but on the move I just find it an easier way to adjust the volume quickly. You do have the option of changing the volume via the steering wheel, of course.
Where the Golf shines brightest is in its cabin dynamics out on the open road. It’s quiet, hewn from the aforementioned block of granite, solid and insulated. While our test example features cloth trim for example, where some competitors go with leather at this price, none can offer the cabin ambience of the Golf. Buyers who value solidity and quality need look no further.
The cabin is quiet and refined at any speed, and even on coarse chip country roads at 100km/h there’s only the slightest tyre noise entering the cabin. The seats are excellent, all the major controls are clearly marked and easy to access and there’s room for four adults plus luggage thanks to 380 litres in the hatch area. Thud the door closed and the outside world has little impact on the driver and passengers, something you used to have to pay a lot more than 28 grand for.
The small hatch proof is ultimately in the driving though and again, the Golf continues to set the standard for all others to follow in all-round terms. While some may turn in a little sharper at nine-tenths, or handle in more sporting fashion in the twisties, none nail the all-round package with such consummate ease as the Golf.
We’ve taken issue with some elements of DSGs in the past largely their behaviour at low speed. The good news here is the seven-speed used in the Golf is as close to perfect as we've ever tested. There was never an issue at speed, more the jerkiness you’d sometimes sense from a standstill or crawling in traffic. That has largely been tuned out and the DSG is now on its best behaviour around town.
It’s also exceptional out on the freeway, where it uses sixth- and seventh-gear to really dial the efficiency in and keep the small engine turning over at the lowest possible revs for the desired road speed. It will shift positively and snappily too, if you’re working the engine right up to redline under hard acceleration, so it’s capable of serving double duty when required.
The steering is excellent, the chassis control and bump absorption as good as other vehicles with suspension tuned specifically for our market, while the handling is more competent than buyers will ever need at this end of the market.
The Trendline isn’t the ultimate Golf by a long shot, but it can be driven hard, and it can be driven hard safely. Where some combatants in the segment opt for 17-, and even 18-inch, wheels and tyres, the Trendline rolls on 16-inch wheels, which also help to iron out nasty surfaces.
Combine a quality cabin with excellent ride and handling, and an enthusiastic engine mated to a sharp-shifting automatic, and you effectively nail the small hatch brief – it’s that simple.
These cars need to appeal to buyers who don’t have unlimited funds, but want practicality, fun and build quality in an affordable package. Sure, call the Golf boring, but claim it doesn’t do what it needs to do at your peril.
So, is the updated Volkswagen Golf still the benchmark for the segment? Certainly in terms of being the best all-rounder it is, yes. Scream all you like about it being boring, or CarAdvice being VolkswagenAdvice, but that’s the reality. The Golf remains the best all-round performer in the small car segment. Full stop.
Others, especially the all-new Hyundai i30 are nipping at the Golf’s heels like never before. And they are close, and in the case of the i30, very close. They haven’t overtaken the Golf just yet, though.
There might be more inspiring, interesting or left-field choices for buyers who want to stand out, but there’s no disputing the Golf’s refusal to let go of the small car crown just yet.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn.