The Volkswagen Golf needs no introduction. A perennial favourite among the new car consumer looking for quality, Euro chic at more mainstream pricing, and modest timeless styling, the Golf has a long and storied history in the Australian marketplace over its many years all the way up to the introduction of the Mark 7.5 Golf introduced in July 2017.
Featuring a slight facelift and a smattering of new kit, the update has brought this hatch yet another step forward in the constant struggle for domination in the small hatch category.
Unfortunately for me, I got in about six months before all the fanfare and launch of the new version and picked myself up a very bottom of the range Mark 7 that has been out for a couple of years now.
A combination of wanting to return to the pleasurable and involving experience of owning a manual vehicle, a very enticing interest rate promotion, and not really needing the power and capability of my previous 2014 Polo GTI (which I was only ever daily driving) made the choice fairly easy.
It was about a week from reaching a decision to pick-up day when I was rolling out of the dealership doors in my new Golf.
The step up from a sub-light car to a small car was a change and while I immediately noticed the drop in power, it wasn't as much of a downgrade as I expected.
The 92TSI engine claims a massive 40kW drop from the twincharged 1.4 I was used to in the Polo, but the fact that torque output from the mill was still 200Nm, the real world feeling didn't equate to what you'd expect from reading the brochure. Mate this to the nice six-speed manual and you can really extract every bit of what the entry Golf's engine has to offer.
Looking around the rest of the cabin reveals a real duality in personality. Material quality is fantastic and what has come to be expected from a car that has become the byword for the class.
Soft plastics are scattered all through the cabin with hard stuff only being found on lower areas generally not commonly seen or touched. There is fleece lining on the door pockets which is a nice touch that reduces or eliminates rattles and are genuinely huge, able to fit a 1.25-litre bottle in the front section and extend almost right to the full length of the door card.
High gloss plastics on non-dash areas like the centre console, create a sense of tone and differentiation to create some visual dynamism and lift the cabin ambience.
Where the duality lies, however, is in just how plain it is. While this is largely forgiven by the mastery of how it's presented and applied – if you're looking for something daring, unique or different, this is not your car.
A very standard stack starting from the middle console with two cupholders (featuring spring-loaded arms to hold smaller cans – nice!), the electric handbrake and transmission lever, a small cubby in front of that featuring a 12V outlet, HVAC controls, stereo system and vents are all very textbook.
However, for those not looking for something that looks like it's out of Transformers, it is a very nice place to spend time.
The gauge cluster in front is high quality, to the point and has a high resolution black and white display between the two dials featuring all sorts of driving information, Bluetooth/media information and call data. To VW's credit it also features a digital speedometer – an almost must-have for Australian roads and the Draconian speeding laws that will almost throw you in jail if you dare to step over that posted speed limit.
The steering wheel features a large array of buttons that are all logically laid out, including stereo controls, cruise control and menu controls for your gauge display, and is wrapped in a very tactile leather for your hand contact points and inlaid with piano black. As far as entry-level steering wheels go, this is one of the best – it feels great and looks the part.
Around the rest of the car there is actually a genuinely surprising amount of standard kit. On top of what has previously been mentioned you can find a generous eight speakers around the cabin for a great sound quality with crisp treble and deep, window-rattling bass, a standard rear-view camera shown in high resolution on the centre screen, and even fatigue detection that monitors your inputs and warns you with a loud chime if it senses you need a rest.
On a recent move from Brisbane to Melbourne, I tested this last feature and apparently I was tired quite a bit! For an entry-level model it has everything that you want and a little more.
On the driving front it is again more of the same. A smooth cosseting ride belies its $20k price tag with genuinely admirable absorption of bumps and ruts in the road, never bottoming out and never transmitting sharp hits to the driver.
Pushing the car, you can feel the suspension stay remarkably stable but you do feel it push and roll a little on the tyres, a reminder that this isn't what it's made for – if you want something more engaging, the GTI and R are ready to play that tune for you. For the vast majority of driver's it happily does everything you could reasonably want.
The engine is also a peach. The 92kW is not what you'd expect from this class with so many competitors featuring naturally aspirated or turbo engines that easily exceed 100kW but, as is common with VW group engines, the real world output feels a lot more muscular than you'd expect.
The engine is quite flexible with torque from right down low providing the sensation of speed that is quite satisfying and almost never leaves you wanting. It's only when you're stretching its legs on something like a highway on-ramp, that you see through the facade and watch the needle climbing much slower than it feels and you wish it had some more hidden away in reserve.
The fact that the new model deletes the 92TSI and makes the 110kW output standard is a smart business move that is simultaneously great for buyers of the Mark 7.5 and aggravating for the poor guys that bought the old model before the new one was released (cough cough!).
That being said, it never feels dangerously slow and you're never left properly annoyed at the output and again, for most people, this is going to be more than enough.
So, seven months into my experience with this car and 10,000km including an interstate 18-hour drive, I am still more than happy. My next purchase will likely be a GTI or an R simply due to the fact that I am a performance car buyer (I am also a bike rider who bought this car as I thought I would be happy getting my performance kicks from my two-wheeled machines) but for someone who wants a high quality hatchback it's hard to go past the Golf.
The fact that the new model starts at the 110TSI removes one of my largest niggles with the car and it's now genuinely hard to pick the car apart from a negative standpoint.
For those buying a one- or two-year old 92TSI, check the service history to set your mind at ease due to constant reliability rumours (I haven't had an issue with any Volkswagen I've owned) and you will have a great little car that is awesome value for money and has all the kit you'd hope for in an entry level hatchback.