| First Drive | Sardinia, Italy | First drive: Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI GT |
We've all seen the advert, the one with the 'Why drive something like a Golf, when you can drive a Golf?' tagline. Well, in the case of the new Mk7, that rings truer than ever before. While it faces some tough competition, especially from the likes of Audi's new A3, in many ways it's streets ahead of the more mainstream rivals. Why drive something like a Golf indeed?
Model tested: Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI GT DSG Pricing: £24,625 Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel Transmission: six-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive Body style: five-door hatchback Rivals: Audi A3, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra CO2 emissions: 117g/km Economy: 64.2mpg Top speed: 132mph 0-62mph: 8.6 seconds Power: 150hp at 3,500rpm Torque: 320Nm at 1,750- to 3,000rpm
In the Metal:
Expect something radical from Volkswagen's best seller (the Golf accounts for 12.4 per cent of all Volkswagen sales worldwide, and 32.9 per cent of the firm's UK sales) and you'd be foolish - and of course wrong. Rather than messing with a formula that already works, the designers subtly updated this timeless icon - though the changes are more obvious than the facelift-style redesign that was the Mk6. It's sharper, and according to those wielding the marker pens every line has a starting and a finishing point, with everything connected throughout the car. Looks like it has worked, as the Golf is certainly cohesive, doing without the 'look at me' styling found on some of its slightly more brash competitors.
Longer (by 56mm), wider (13mm) and lower (28mm) than before the new Golf also boasts more room inside - and it certainly feels spacious, the wide centre console that flows into the driver-orientated dashboard adding to the effect. All of the touch points are of high-quality while the gloss black fascia, detailing and typefaces are leagues ahead of anything else in the sector. Just like the Mk4, this Golf 7 is without doubt setting new standards for the occupant space.
If there's one thing the Golf has always been famed for (after interior quality) it's that big-car feel, the refined driving manners fooling those behind the wheel into believing they're piloting something larger and more expensive than any direct rivals. Those rivals have taken a march in the same direction (especially the Ford Focus) but this latest Golf appears to have triple-jumped right past them all. Wind and road noise are conspicuous by their absence while the 2.0-litre diesel engine remains hushed and vibration free throughout the rev-range.
It pulls cleanly from little above idle too, peak torque of 320Nm arriving at 1,750rpm with no sign of a curve until 1,250rpm later, and with the six-speed DSG gearbox fitted here the Golf accelerates from 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds. That's around the same as the Mk1 Golf GTI; be in no doubt that this economical family car punches well above its weight.
There is a small penalty to be paid by choosing the diesel though, as the extra mass of the engine is obvious through the tighter bends - if only when driving back-to-back with the 1.4-litre petrol alternative. Understeer is steadily resisted no matter what fuel in the tank though, as the XDS electronic 'differential' system (standard across the range) brakes the inside wheel, which pushes torque to the outer in a bid to tighten the line. It might be an electronic system, and not truthfully like a traditional limited slip differential, but it does a great impression of one.
There's little reason not to choose the DSG transmission, as the smooth, quick and fuss free changes (either in automatic mode or manipulated through the paddles) matches the engine's character perfectly. All Golfs benefit from the firm's BlueMotion technologies, and in the case of the DSG-equipped cars will even coast to a halt with drive disengaged and the engine idling, saving even more fuel.
Opt for anything above the SE trim and you'll have the chance to configure the way the car drives too, the Driver Profile selection allowing you to choose between Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual modes - along with Comfort when the DSG gearbox is fitted. Altering engine, throttle and gearchange characteristics the system can also change the steering feel and air conditioning parameters.
Unless you're in Sport mode the steering is very light, but while the electric rack isn't brimming with direct feedback the weighting is consistent, and around the tight Sardinian hills it felt pleasantly sharp too. The suspension set up has been described as neutral, but what really sticks in your mind is just how capable and comfortable it is. The level of body control through the bends leaves you expecting the odd bang and crash over rougher ground, but the Golf 7 is having none of it. Just another string in its refinement bow.
If we had to criticise one thing it'd be the view out of the front, the Golf suffering from A-pillars so thick that your vision around a bend can be compromised. It's a small detail on this whole package, and one that affects many new cars thanks to current crash regulations. At least Volkswagen has tried its best to alleviate the problem with the tiny 'quarterlight' sections in front of the wing mirror.
What you get for your Money:
Order your car before 31st December 2012 and you'll have the option of Volkswagen's fixed price servicing plan, taking care of your Golf's regular maintenance for three years or 30,000 miles - all for £329. Remaining running costs promise to be equally acceptable; the 117g/km CO2 output means annual road tax is only £30 while the 60-plus mpg economy will keep fuel costs down.
Of course this being the current range-topping option, the 2.0 TDI GT five-door model with DSG isn't cheap - in fact you'll need over £24,000 just to slip behind the wheel. And that's before you add any options; though things like the rear camera (£165) and Drive Alert system (£65) are at least reasonably priced. All GT models come with 17-inch alloys, XDS electronic differential, Driver Profile selection, Automatic Distance Control (ADC), stop-start, parking sensors, a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen with satnav and sports front seats.
With the Golf being such an important car for Volkswagen (it is indeed the real people's car of the modern motoring landscape) it's no surprise that there are a raft of other models due to join the family. Five- and three-door cars are available from launch, and in 2013 we'll see GTI, GTD and BlueMotion models added to the range. That'll be followed by an electric Golf, expected in the UK early the following year - though unlike Europe we'll make do without the CNG model due to the lack of a fuelling infrastructure.
Not many cars carry as much expectation as this new Volkswagen Golf. We were prepared to be a little disappointed, questioning whether the firm would be able to meet the high targets or even move the game on from the sector reference point that was the Mk6. Thankfully, for both buyers and Volkswagen, it has succeeded at both points - creating a car better in every way than the one that came before it. There's no doubt that the class, once again, has a Golf-shaped leader.