Small car king
It’s a rare five-star rating from Paul Gover for new Golf
SMALL-CAR shoppers are spoilt for choice. The spoiling and the choice have just become even better thanks to the all-new Volkswagen Golf.
The seventh-generation Golf is more like a compact luxury car than any $19,990 bargain buy and will start favourite for this year’s Carsguide Car of the Year award, even if Holden is about to unleash its VF Commodore.
We knew the new Golf was special in Sardinia during last year’s preview drive and it only takes 30 minutes in Sydney to confirm the quality of the car. It’s a ripper. Now, to put it in focus. This year has already brought the impressive new sub-$40K A-Class Mercedes-Benz. Meanwhile, the Hyundai i30, Nissan Pulsar and Toyota Corolla have lifted the bar for value and quality in affordable small cars. So the Golf, the longterm pacesetter in the class, is caught in a pincer between downsized luxury cars and upwardly-mobile price fighters.
That’s great for buyers, as VW has counter-punched by adding more safety, value and technology while holding the price line to a starting point below $22,000.
Golf 7 is loaded with safety stuff, has an impressive multimedia package, and buying is easier thanks to pre-packaged kits of equipment in place of the tick-the-box ordering system for individual items.
But it’s the basics which provide the bedrock.
The Golf sits on a new mechanical platform that means more space in the back and boot, less noise in the cabin, and new engine choices.
The Golf has never been the cheapest car in the compact class and that does not change, even though the bottom line now starts below $22K and VW says you can get a full-loaded car ‘‘ short of gold plating or sunroof’’ for less than $35,000.
It’s also taken the prestige path on equipment, combining the most popular customer choices— in the same way as Benz and BMW— into packs.
These sit above the basic car in either Comfortline or Highline levels, although the diesel car is available only to Highline standard.
Even the basic Golf comes with cruise control and aircon, as well as a 5.8-inch colour touch screen for the infotainment package. There’s a driver fatigue monitor and an extended differential lock for better grip and safety.
The best things about stepping up to Comfortline are the rear-view camera and automatic parking system, as well as dual-zone aircon.
Highline brings sports seats, upgraded infotainment with satnav and more bling in the cabin, including an LED lighting package.
But the starter car only has steel wheels and a space-saver spare— a deal-breaker for some buyers— is common to all models.
As an offset, very welcome but long overdue, VW has added capped-price servicing for the Golf that provides a package for 90,000km or 72 months with an annual fee pegged as low as $272.
Everything about Golf 7 tracks back to VW’s new small-car platform, which provides better suspension design, more space in the back seat and a quieter cabin, thanks partly to an ‘‘ acoustic’’ windscreen. There are also big weight savings from the body through to the dashboard and aircon.
They’re the basics. It’s the tech tweaks that are built up from the platform that make life better for buyers. That’s everything including an electronic parking brake and lots of extra safety equipment, such as automatic braking, blind-spot detection, parking radar and a lot more. There is even an Eco Tip function which gives advice on saving fuel while you drive.
The arrival of Golf 7 brings a different engine line-up, with turbos all around on both the TSI petrol and TDI diesel power plants. There is a sixspeed manual on the starter car, but afterwards it’s sevenspeed DSG transmissions, or six for the diesel.
Power kicks off at 90kW on the basic 1.4-litre petrol turbo, with 200Nm of torque and fuel economy from 5.4 litres/ 100km, rising to 103/250/5.2 for the next step from the same capacity. Both have stop-start for fuel saving.
The 2.0-litre diesel makes 110kW/320Nm for economy of 4.9 litres/100km, and its 0-100km/h time of 8.6 seconds is only marginally behind the better petrol motor at 8.4.
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The highlight is the new infotainment package, which will satisfy even a tech-savvy GenY driver.
Golf 7 wins a five-star crash safety rating thanks to the strength of the basic body, a seven-airbag cabin and standard safety equipment that runs to ABS, ESP stability control, the tricky differential, fatigue detection and what Volkswagen calls ‘‘ multicollision brake’’, that applies the brakes automatically to minimise the chances of knock-on impacts.
Up the line the safety package includes parking radar at both ends, a rear-view camera, and automatic wipers and headlamps.
For people who put safety first, the best deal is the Driver Assistance Package that bundles adaptive cruise control, city emergency braking, toplevel parking assist, automated reverse and parallel-parking and proactive occupant protection. It costs more and is not available on the basic Golf.
If you were picking a small car to drive between capital cities you would take the Golf every time. It’s quieter and more cosseting than anything else in the class, including the Benz A at the top end and the new Pulsar at the bottom.
And you could rely on the anti-fatigue system and punchier new infotainment to keep you going on the boring interstate bumble while driving a car that is more than capable and comfortable at a 140km/h motorway cruise in Europe.
After driving all the Golf’s rivals, I’mconvinced that it is the best of the bunch and has raised the playing field to a new level. The A-Class has a classier badge. You can get a Korean car with more for less. But the Benz is too harsh for our roads and the Koreans don’t have finesse and refinement of VW.
The 90 TSI gets along well for almost anyone short of a Golf GTI fanatic and the 103 doesn’t bring much more.
The diesel will be best for long-distance drivers or people who need the torque for a fullyloaded cabin.
The most enjoyable thing about Golf 7 is the all-round experience. It doesn’t have much visual impact, but once you’re inside you can see and feel the added class.
On the road, the suspension is controlled as well as compliant, a rare combination in a small car. So it absorbs bumps and keeps noise down, but doesn’t flop or wallow in corners.
DSG transmissions have been a sore point with many VWowners and a source of lots of complaints to Carsgsuide, so we’re hoping the new Golf finally gets it right. I tried the toughest test of the doubleclutch controls— holding it with the accelerator on a very steep grade. It held without giving up the way we’ve experienced in earlier cars.
I wasn’t tempted to trial the safety systems, but it’s good to know they’re keeping a watchful eye. Especially for emergency braking.
We’re planning a lot of extra rounds with Golf in coming weeks and months, but the initial impression in Australia has just reinforced what we already knew.
Seven is a lucky number, especially for people who want the best in a small car.
Have we found our Car of the Year champion for 2013? Almost definitely.