GOLF: a four letter hatchback that has sold 29 million since the first in 1974. Now we meet the seventh generation, which arrived last month, from £16,330.
It is the first modern Volkswagen to share a chassis and major components with Audi (the A3) in the start of a modular “platform” strategy that is being spread across the VW Group’s mainstream brands, which include SEAT and Skoda. It is longer, lower, wider and up to 100kg lighter. The average fuel saving is 0.3 litres in 62 miles. OK, not a lot per car but with 700,000 sales a year, say at an average of 9,400 miles, this is a potential saving of nearly 20 million gallons of petrol and diesel a year, says Volkswagen.
It is the most impressive new car at any price I have driven in the past year. It looks lovely, with bolder sharper lines which immediately distinguish it from what went before – and from everything else in its sector (Focus, Astra, Cee’d). The Golf takes an eighth of VW’s world sales, In Europe one in every four VWs is a Golf. In Britain the mix is one in every three – making us the keenest Golfers of all. Total sales have passed 1.6 million.
What makes this Mk 7 Golf so desirable, so good? Well, the styling is superb. There are crisper lines from the slim intake grill, overlapped top and bottom by a bold VW roundel. The one at the back swivels to open the boot but can incorporate a rear view camera. Want a tow bar? The factory option and integrated plug socket stores out of sight in the rear valance. Pull a latch and down it drops, clicked into place by your foot, retracted in the same way, no dirty hands. Cost: £800.
The sides of the car have a new elegance. The bonnet line does not rise up into the screen pillars but extends along the window line – endowing a visual lengthening. Lower down is a bold seam across both doors. The views in the cabin are just as pleasing.
Engineers have fine tuned this new chassis, giving us a car with outstanding ride refinement and comfort and low noise, and all the balance and grip you could hope for. Wheels are bigger and wider apart. The reduced weight and shorter overhangs front and back and responsive engines and stiffer construction endorse its fun rating. Crash safety is improved. All models have brakes which automatically come on after a crash to make sure the car does not career onwards. A new option is the pre-crash system which tensions seat belts and closes windows and a sunroof (leaving a small gap to reduce pressure when the airbags explode). Depending on the model, you can also have adaptive cruise control, emergency city braking (standard from SE trim), camera monitored lane-keeping, dynamic lights and parallel parking control. The latter will park in a gap 32 inches longer than the car.
UK launch models are S, SE and GT in three and five door bodies. The 1.2S three door opens the book at £16,330. The five door version is an additional £655 throughout the range. This 84bhp small but pokey turbo engine records 57.6mpg, emits just 113g/km of CO2 and will probably satisfy most buyers. The 0-62mph time is 11.9 seconds. Like all new Golfs it has an auto-off electric parking brake, climate control and an information screen which responds with a neat touch. Wheels are steel 15s with a space-saver spare. Move to SE though, for the pre-crash safety system, city emergency braking and radar monitored distance control, cruise control, dusk sensing headlamps and alloys. The snag is the cheapest SE means picking the 120bhp petrol engine and the price for a three door leaps to £18,935 (figures are 54.3mpg and 120g).
The cheapest automatic is the 1.2S five-door at £19,410. Diesel prices begin at £18,995 for the 104bhp 1.6S three-door.which records 74.3mpg and 99g. The other engines at launch are the 104bhp 1.2 petrol (57.6mpg and 114g) and the 138bhp 1.4 petrol with automatic shut-down on two cylinders under light load, achieving 58.9mpg and 112g. The remaining diesel is the torquey 148hp 2-litre rated at 68.9mpg and 106g. In GT spec only, with a six speed DSG and five doors this is the most expensive Golf at launch, costing £24,625.
On the way are a 227bhp petrol GTI and a new 1.6 diesel with BlueMotion technology rated at an official 88.3mpg and 85g/km CO2. I realise I have said little about the feel of the car on the road. It would be almost a waste of words. Let’s just say that within a few hundred yards the refinement of the 138hp 1.4 petrol model was in no doubt and that after a few brisk corners the balance and grip was also in no doubt. This engine produces a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds and I want one tomorrow, please. First, I need £22,050 (three-door) because annoyingly this engine only comes with the top GT specification. The 148bhp diesel was noisier (but OK) and had a heavier feel. Its 0-62mph time is 8.6 seconds, which in the past would have given it hot-hatch status, coupled with low CO2 and high economy. From £21,305 for the three-door SE. «