New…but most certainly a Golf

Road test: Volkswagen Golf Mk7 105PS diesel

The biggest challenge for Volkswagen must surely have been how to make the new Golf different enough while trying to keep it not too dissimilar from the outgoing model.  Visually, the new MkVII Volkswagen Golf couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a Golf but it has grown-up a great deal – in some ways which are visible but many which aren’t.  It is not often one has the opportunity to test a new model alongside its predecessor but sitting next to the MkVII Volkswagen Golf press car is the previous version on the family fleet.  They are not quite the same models – the shiny new one is a 105PS 1.6 manual diesel

rather than the 140PS 2.0 unit with DSG gearbox but design, fixtures and fittings, build quality, ride and handling  can all be readily compared.  And they are both blue.

The first obvious changes are external.  Swage lines have been lifted and sharpened, gentle curves have been supplanted by crisper angles and the whole profile looks tauter.  Interestingly, that most famous of Golf characteristics, the C-pillar in the shape of a chevron has become more angular, re-asserting the original Giugiaro ItalDesign influence.  A first on the MkVII since the MkI is the appearance of the quarter-light – that tiny triangular window on the leading edge of the front doors – which aids visibility a small amount across the car (although makes little difference on the side one is sitting).  It isn’t just panel tweaks – the whole shape has changed with the new model 56mm longer (as is its wheel base), 13mm wider and 28mm lower to aid aerodynamics.

Sit inside and you will make no mistake guessing what you are driving.  However, it’s all subtly changed here too.  The overall dashboard is slightly more coherent, gently combining the central and driver’s air vents into the swoop over the instruments and there are pseudo brushed aluminium inserts and surrounds.  The central section is now slightly angled toward the driver and the mechanical handbrake has been replaced by an electronic one.  It is attractive, too – there certainly isn’t anything to frighten any die-hard Golf fans.

Haven driven many thousands of miles in the last model, the improvements are immediately obvious.  First, the main infotainment display is now touch screen on all models and much more intuitive.  Thankfully, the steering wheel has been brought into the twenty-first century.  While both are in SE specifications, the previous model has a horrid plastic one in which it is possible to get one’s thumb stuck in the square hole at the bottom.  The Mk VII’s wheel is leather-wrapped with three neat, shiny spokes and importantly comes with a sensible variety of buttons to control the key menus, audio functions and adaptive cruise control.

The new Golf has also upped its game with clever less-visible electronic components.  All models come with a new electronic diff lock, and SE up has City Emergency Braking, Automatic Distance Control and an auto parking feature.

The driving experience doesn’t feel radically changed over the last version – it’s still pretty neutral and safe but it does feel lighter and slightly more composed.  I thought this might be down to the smaller, lighter engine, but in fact there’s around 100kg saved overall, which is noticeable in terms of cornering and ride.  Given the greasy February roads, it was easy to see the benefits of the diff lock.  Whereas the old model would fight to find grip, this car makes far less fuss and often the only indication of a traction challenge is the light on the dash.  The other advantage of saving weight is fuel consumption.  I have had a few tortuous runs, traffic-wise but the frugal engine, weight savings and stop-start mechanism helped and the factory figures indicate a considerable (quoted 23%) improvement over the equivalent outgoing model.

Of the many engine options, our test car comes with the 105PS 1.6 diesel, likely to be one of the more popular fleet and personal choices.  Being used to the meatier 2.0, I did expect a greater differential in performance but the 1.6 unit feels perfectly adequate.  There isn’t a great deal of oomph below 1,400 rpm but above that it is quite spritely.  Where it falls down is in the mid-range – climbing up from 60mph to motorway speeds takes an extra few seconds.  There is a new mode switch, allowing Sport, Normal or Eco which primarily affect steering and throttle responses – Sport certainly felt livelier.  This model comes with five-speed ‘box – which feels one ratio short.

This mid-spec SE comes extremely well-equipped, both with the gadgets you can see and a considerable number of clever bits you can’t.  It is smart, addresses some of the minor niggles of the MkVI and manages to feel like a more mature model rather than just a revamp.  Strategically, it uses VW’s MQB (Modularer Querbaukasten), or modular platform which will aid manufacturing flexibility and streamline component interchangeability.  For the end consumer, we can hope this ultimately leads to increased choice and controlled costs.  What it means today is an attractive new Golf which doesn’t look too different from the last one.

Volkswagen Golf Mk VII 105 PS diesel, at £20,500 (plus £495 for metallic paint and £590 for Park Assist pack on car tested). Golf range starts at : £16,285 for three-door 1.2 TSI

Power: 105 PS (3,000-4,000 rpm), torque: 250 Nm (from 1,500 – 2,750 rpm), emissions: 99g/km CO2 (band A), 0-60 mph: 10.7 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●●

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