Volkswagen’s UK operation is careful to describe the latest Golf as an updated Mk7 rather than a Mk8 or even a Mk7.5. It’s undoubtedly very similar in a lot of ways to the version you could have bought up to the early months of this year. The bodyshell is exactly the same as before, the suspension has not been altered on any model, and there are no new engines. From an engineering point of view, very little has changed.
But it’s, you know, complicated.
Although the structure remains as before, there has been a redesign, including new front wings which you could not bolt on to the slightly earlier car as replacements. The tail lights are all-LED on every model, with not a single conventional bulb to be found, and on higher-ranking models the indicators are animated in an Audiesque sort of way.
While no completely new engines have been introduced, there are still changes. For example, power outputs are higher in the GTI, GTI Performance and R at 227bhp, 241bhp and 306bhp respectively.
The 1.4 TSI is being joined by a 1.5-litre version available in two forms: the Evo produced a maximum of 148bhp and can deactivate two of its four cylinders to improve fuel economy in low-stress situations; the BlueMotion can manage 128bhp and shut down completely when coasting. Neither is on sale or even available to order yet, and official fuel economy and CO2 emissions have not been confirmed, but the figures for the BlueMotion will no doubt be impressive.
Cheaper Golf models have a clear and simple analogue instrument panel which worked well at the turn of the century and is still working well now. Alternatively, there’s a 12.3″ digital Active Info Display with a choice of five design profiles, one of which displays the satnav map in between the speedometer and revcounter dials.
There’s also a new infotainment system based on a touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard. If you choose the optional Discover Navigation Pro system you get gesture control, which allows you to change radio stations and browse through music and picture albums by waving your hand near the bottom of the screen without touching it. Your gestures are accompanied by a neat swooshing noise which you can mute if you like, though I think it’s a nice touch and would probably leave it switched on.
The usual array of electronic aids (including Adaptive Cruise Control) has been joined by Traffic Jam Assist, Pedestrian Monitoring, Emergency Assist and Trailer Assist, which was introduced to the Passat several years ago but is new to the Golf. Trailer Assist makes the notoriously difficult business of reversing a trailer or caravan into a confined space much easier, and is partly controlled by the rotary switch normally used for adjusting the driver’s door mirror, which briefly becomes effectively a joystick in this context.
Speaking of rotary switches, the most immediately disappointing aspect of the Golf Mk7 when it was introduced was the quality of the air-conditioning controls. They felt very cheap and tacky in an otherwise premium car back then, and sadly Volkswagen hasn’t troubled itself to make them any better now.
Pricing, which ranges from £17,625 for the most basic model to £33,935 for the five-door R with DSG semi-automatic transmission, is on average around £650 lower for the new car than it was for the previous one. The biggest saving is on the Golf GTE plug-in hybrid, which combines a 148bhp 1.4 TSI petrol engine with an electric motor.
Including the £2500 UK Government grant, the GTE is now £3420 cheaper than before at £28,135. It’s joined by a better-equipped version called the GTE Advance, and even that one is below the psychologically important £30,000 barrier at £29,635. Volkswagen says this is because increased production means it can drive down component prices, but declines to comment on just how many more it plans to build.
With a total output from its two power sources of just over 200bhp, the GTE is quite rapid, but it’s far too heavy to be as sporty on interesting roads as its name suggests it ought to be. It’s a very pleasant car to drive, though, partly because its front seats offer excellent side support, and while its official CO2 rating of 40g/km is, from April 1, no longer much help in terms of Vehicle Excise Duty, the combined fuel economy figure of 156.9mpg rather grabs the attention. (How close you’ll actually get to it is another matter, very much dependent on your driving style.)
This was one of six new Golfs I drove in rapid succession on the UK media launch. My favourite was an SE Nav (likely to be the most popular trim level, since until now it has accounted for 33% hatchback sales and 42% of estate ones) with the lovely little 1.0 TSI three-cylinder petrol engine and six-speed manual transmission. It doesn’t weight much and is smooth and responsive, unlike the 1.6 TDI, which is badly affected by its heavier engine.
Both were fitted with optional 17″ wheels rather than the standard 16s. These didn’t affect the 1.0 TSI much but had a disastrous effect on the 1.6 TDI, which rode horribly. Another 1.6 TDI on 16s was enormously better, though also even heavier because of its DSG semi-automatic gearbox which made it even more ponderous than the manual was.
The Alltrack is, as it always was, better on-road than its equivalent, though you would really need a good reason to buy one rather than a regular Golf Estate. Its 181bhp 2.0 TDI engine, interestingly enough the most popular in the range, is quite something, providing a tremendous amount of mid-range grunt. The GTI is obviously quicker, and a very fine car for buzzing around clear country roads in a brisk manner, without quite the intensity of the still more powerful four-wheel drive R.