First Drive: Volkswagen Golf
Sector: Lower Medium Price: £16,330-£24,625 Fuel: 53.3-74.3mpg CO2: 99-123g/km
Ageless, classless and robust, six generations and 38 years of the Volkswagen Golf have bred a sense that you always know what you’re going to get from the marque’s biggest-selling model. And it’s this which has helped shift 29 million worldwide, with 1.6 million of those sold in the UK.
So it really ought to come as no surprise that the seventh generation Golf, at least visually, isn’t a vast departure from its predecessor. The updated styling is so subtle that it’d be easy for a less keen-eyed motorist to miss the model change in the first place, or dismiss it as a subtle nip-tuck.
That’s doing it a disservice. The skin-deep transformation isn’t radical – it never is, and with the Golf’s sales record it’s unlikely to ever be so – but everything underneath is entirely new, and clever with it. This is the first Volkswagen to get the Group’s modular platform, which will allow component sharing between multiple sectors, cutting development costs and paving the way for a diverse range of powertrains in the future. An electric Golf is two years away, and a plug-in hybrid is on the cards too.
For the short-term, though, it’s all very conventional. Engines at launch comprise 1.2 and 1.4-litre TSI petrols with between 85 and 138bhp, and two diesel engines at 1.6 and 2.0-litres with 103 and 148bhp respectively.
But there’s already new technology to be found here. The 138bhp 1.4 TSI is Volkswagen’s first car with the ability to shut off two of its cylinders when the engine isn’t under load, saving fuel and reducing CO2 emissions to 112g/km. It does so imperceptibly, and there’s no power loss for the extra economy, which could make it a viable alternative to the more expensive equivalent diesel.
Volkswagen is cautiously predicting sales could shift slightly back in favour of petrol engines during the Mk7’s life cycle, but for now diesels are the most popular option for fleets. The smaller engine, a more powerful version of which will power the BlueMotion model from next summer, is likely to be the most popular for business users but wasn’t available to drive at the press launch.
However, the 2.0-litre is a smooth, powerful unit and with 106g/km CO2 emissions it’s tax friendly too. Having shaved 100kg off the kerb weight, drivers familiar with the smaller unit should find it’s a little livelier and more efficient in the new car.
There’s a feeling of effortless practicality and solidity inside. The rear bench folds flush with the boot floor, which now has a compartment for the parcel shelf underneath, and a folding passenger seat is optional too. A new cubby hole for smartphones or media players, complete with a USB connection, has replaced the ashtray.
Trim levels at launch comprise S, SE and GT, and most UK buyers are expected to opt for at least the mid spec model. All now feature selectable driving modes, and a new touch screen infotainment system upgradeable to include satellite navigation. This now uses smartphone-esque finger controls, which makes it really easy to use, and the menu only pops up as you’re about to touch the screen, so it doesn’t clutter the display when it’s not in use. Clever stuff.
There are no surprises from the new Golf, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Like each successive generation it’s built on what its predecessor did well and introduced a few new features along the way. You always knew exactly what you were going to get when you chose a Golf, and you still do.
An understated package for a comprehensive under-body transformation, the Mk7 Golf follows the old formula of not being flashy or radical in its looks, while offering the practicality and solidity buyers have come to expect. This does everything effortlessly well, and should continue to broaden its appeal as the engine options expand.