Looks like a hole in one
Posted on: 23rd Jan 2013
After six model generations, 38 years and 29 million cars, it would perhaps be a little surprising if Volkswagen didn't have the hang of building Golfs by now. You certainly wouldn't expect anything radical or off-beat with the Golf Mk 7 and, without wishing to destroy a cliffhanger of a plot line, so it proves. This is a well-honed formula that works. Why mess with it?
So how have we come to this point, this incrementally bigger, sleeker and more sophisticated take on an established favourite? Its predecessor, the Golf Mk 6, had been one of the more successful Golf models. Introduced in 2008, it built on the foundations of the Mk 5, offering better safety, better efficiency but a lower build cost.
The Mk 7 might look like another refinement of that vehicle, but despite the evolutionary styling, it's completely fresh from the ground up but still unambiguously a Golf.
Design and Build
This car's clever MQB modular chassis not only offers Volkswagen the scope to run different models spun off it down the same production line, it also pares weight right back, such that this Golf Mk 7 rolls back the years. In fact it's not significantly weightier than a Mk 4, despite boasting massively improved safety features and more interior equipment. It's miles bigger inside too.
The driving position is almost unfeasibly adjustable and unlike many family hatches, you can get properly hunkered down in the car if required. The sheer amount of steering wheel rake and reach means that both shorter and taller drivers will have little difficulty achieving a perfect seating position.
The cabin's a little wider than before, which helps with elbow room and there's also a bit more rear leg room which is a welcome touch. The boot measures a hefty 380-litres, is well shaped and features a low loading height. An expert will tell you that Volkswagen could have cut costs further and offered more boot space if they had migrated to a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension: well actually, they have - on cheaper versions anyway.
As it stands, variants sold with 'under 122bhp' are fitted with an inexpensive torsion beam rear end, so you'll need to buy a more powerful Golf model to get the expensive and effective multi link rear suspension. That's a clear sign of cost-cutting.
Get under the skin of this latest Volkswagen Golf and you'll find a chassis that's a lot stiffer and is almost infinitely customisable. Interior refinement has improved enormously, with very little road noise filtering back into the cabin. Tyre noise and engine sounds have also been muted to the sort of level you'd have expected from a Phaeton limousine not so long ago.
There are a number of engines to choose from, the petrol units comprising a four-cylinder 1.2-litre TSI unit producing 85 PS, a 1.2-litre TSI with 105 PS, a 1.4-litre TSI 122 PS motor and the very clever 1.4-litre TSI 140 PS engine with Active Cylinder Technology. This powerplant can deactivate the central two cylinders under modest throttle loads in order to improve economy. The two diesel engines offered are a 1.6-litre TDI 105 PS and a 2.0-litre TDI 150 PS unit. Both are four cylinder units that feature common rail diesel technology for power and efficiency.
The eagle-eyed spotters amongst you may have noticed that the 1.4 TSI engine in this model is up 5cc on the 1.4-litre TSI in the Mk 6 and that's because it's an entirely different unit. The 8.4sec 0-62mph time doesn't sound overly rapid, but it's an engine that makes some very decent torque figures in a broad midrange band. All but the entry-level versions get variable drive settings (Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual) and this results in a car that can entertain or cosset as required. There's also the option of Dynamic Chassis Control to consider. This features adaptive damping and a Sport setting to really give the car's ride a dual personality.
Market and Model
Pricing starts from around Â£16,500 and there's a premium of around Â£650 to go from the three to the five-door bodystyle. All Golf models come with seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS braking with ESP stability control, a clever XDS electronic differential lock to get the power down out of tight corners and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats. The entry-level 'Composition Media' system includes a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, a DAB digital radio, a CD player, what Volkswagen calls an 'MDI interface' (for connecting iPod or MP3 player), Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming for the eight-speaker stereo. Also standard is semi-automatic air conditioning, among a host of other features.
Moving up from S to SE trim of course brings more, including standard ADC 'Automatic Distance Control with Front Assist' (to help you keep a safe distance from the car in front on the highway) and 'City Emergency Braking' which will alert you to low speed collision risks and can even bring the vehicle to a complete halt if necessary. There's also a Driver Alert System (that'll alert you if your reactions indicate that you're getting drowsy), PreCrash preventative occupant protection (that can pre-tension the seatbelts and put up the windows if the ESP suggests the car is about to skid), rain-sensitive wipers, an automatically dimming rear-view mirror and a dusk sensor. A black radiator grille with chrome trimmed-inserts and 16-inch alloy wheels complete the exterior.
So most models get most of what you need, which should be sufficient unless you want the GT variants with their more overtly sporting touches.
Cost of Ownership
One of Volkswagen's key priorities with this seventh-generation Golf was to reclaim its position as one of the most efficient family hatches, a position it had been struggling to maintain in the latter years of Mk 6 production. So how has it gone about achieving these efficiency gains? The big one is a weight loss plan. Then there are aerodynamic advantages, lower internal friction in the engines and optimised gearing on not only the five and six-speed manuals but also the six and seven-speed DSG twin clutch units. All new Golf models - both diesel and petrol - come with a Stop/Start system as standard, along with battery regeneration.
All well and good. What about the figures? The 1.4-litre TSI 140 PS engine with Active Cylinder Technology is capable of 60.1 mpg (combined cycle) and 110g/km (when fitted with a seven-speed DSG gearbox), thanks to that ability to run on two cylinders where applicable.
The Volkswagen Golf Mk 7 is an interesting vehicle and it's not always quite as up-front as you expect. The lower specification torsion-beam suspension that's fitted to less powerful models is certainly a step backwards but it's one that many buyers shopping through the lower order trim levels won't care very much about.
In most other areas, the Golf forges inexorably onwards. Less weight and more space is always a good combination and a number of efficiency measures have brought the petrol engines, especially the excellent 1.4 TSI with Active Cylinder Technology, back into sharp relevance.
The styling is evolutionary but includes a number of interesting details, cabin quality is well up to par and residual values look promising. In short it's a Golf. A more polished, smarter Golf, but still a Golf. Reassuringly so.
Our verdict: 89/100. The Golf is back for its seventh go around and it's a formula that's tried, tested and popular with British buyers. This latest car features some changes to make it even better.