Above par

New tech­nol­ogy keeps Volk­swa­gen’s Golf ahead of the pack

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR joshua.dowling@news.com.au

AND you thought cook­ing shows were com­pet­i­tive. There are more com­pa­nies try­ing to sell you a small car than there are peo­ple try­ing to make the per­fect choco­late fon­dant for five min­utes of TV fame. The small-car class is the most com­pet­i­tive au­to­mo­tive cat­e­gory in the world — and rep­re­sents the largest slice of the pie when it comes to sales. A new Ap­ple iPhone or Sam­sung Gal­axy might come out once a year, but there is a fresh se­lec­tion on the small­car menu al­most every month. In the past six months alone we’ve seen the ar­rival of an over­hauled Toy­ota Corolla and Mazda3, all-new ver­sions of the Subaru Im­preza, Holden As­tra and Honda Civic, and a re­freshed Kia Cer­ato. The next gen­er­a­tion Hyundai i30 is just around the cor­ner. Europe’s top-seller, the Volk­swa­gen Golf, hasn’t been sit­ting idle ei­ther. The for­mer Cars­guide Car of the Year and World Car of the Year has had a makeover four years after it went on sale. Among Volk­swa­gen afi­ciona­dos the cur­rent model is re­ferred to as the “Golf 7”, as it’s the sev­enth gen­er­a­tion since 1974. What we have here is the “Golf 7.5”, a midlife up­date be­fore the next full model change — com­mon prac­tice in the car in­dus­try to keep the range fresh. In most cases, car com­pa­nies use the op­por­tu­nity to add tech­nol­ogy and/or make im­prove­ments to how the car han­dles the daily grind. In the case of the Golf 7.5, Volk­swa­gen has added a heap of op­tional tech­nol­ogy, given the car a nip and tuck, and ad­justed the model line-up. The ex­te­rior vis­ual changes are sub­tle: new head­lights, front fend­ers, tail-lights and bumpers. When the up­date ar­rives in Aus­tralian show­rooms in July, the cur­rent $22,990 drive­away base model — the awk­wardly named 92TSI — will be dropped. The new base model will gain the more pow­er­ful ver­sion of the same 1.4-litre turbo four-cylin­der petrol en­gine from the 110TSI (at least it’s a round num­ber). Cur­rently a Golf with this en­gine starts at $34,990. More power for the base car is the con­so­la­tion for Aus­tralia not get­ting the new su­per fru­gal 1.5-litre turbo petrol in­tro­duced in Europe. The $22,990 start­ing price of the range is not ex­pected to change rad­i­cally — espe­cially as Golf sales were down by roughly 12 per cent last year — but if you tick all the boxes on the ex­ten­sive list of op­tional tech­nol­ogy you will likely eclipse $40,000. Every model in the new line-up will come with au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing (with pedes­trian de­tec­tion), a wider au­dio dis­play screen with “pinch and swipe” func­tion­al­ity and 16-inch al­loys rather than plas­tic wheel cov­ers. This is in ad­di­tion to a stan­dard rear-view cam­era, re­mote en­try and Ap­ple Car Play and An­droid Auto phone pro­jec­tion that will con­tinue from the cur­rent car. Op­tional traf­fic jam as­sis­tance (which will brake, ac­cel­er­ate and gently steer the Golf au­to­mat­i­cally up to 60km/h) is said to be a first for the small-car class. Radar cruise con­trol will con­tinue to be op­tional, but the sen­sor is now hid­den be­hind the VW logo in the grille rather than a be­hind a blank piece of plas­tic in the lower bumper. Au­to­matic lane keep­ing — cam­eras mon­i­tor line markings and make sure the car doesn’t wan­der — is also on the op­tions list. A su­per-wide au­dio dis­play (9-inch ver­sus 8-inch) with ges­ture con­trol (elim­i­nat­ing the need to touch the screen for cer­tain func­tions) will also be avail­able. The larger screen is a treat but the ges­ture con­trol only worked some of the time on our test and was more of a dis­trac­tion than a driver aid. Its big party trick is the op­tion of a dig­i­tal widescreen that re­places the in­stru­ment clus­ter. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of VW’s fam­ily con­nec­tions, it’s the same type of screen used in Audi and Lam­borgh­ini su­per­cars — and an op­tion on the lat­est VW Tiguan SUV. There are two grades of LED head­lights: a ba­sic design and a dearer op­tion with in­tel­li­gent high beam that doesn’t daz­zle on­com­ing cars but still il­lu­mi­nates the road around them. Tech geeks will likely go gaga over the strip-thin hor­i­zon­tal in­di­ca­tors in the new LED tail-lights which scroll out­wards as they il­lu­mi­nate — just like they do on the lat­est Audi and Lexus lux­ury cars. It all adds up to the big­gest midlife facelift in the Golf’s his­tory. VW says it’s a sign of the com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, rather than a plan to ex­tend the cur­rent model cy­cle.

ON THE ROAD

Volk­swa­gen seems to have sub­scribed to the­ory “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The Ger­mans haven’t turned a

span­ner on the sus­pen­sion on the Golf 7.5. They didn’t need to. It was al­ready the class bench­mark, see­ing off newer com­pe­ti­tion in every com­par­i­son test over the past four years. Whether this is enough to stop the Golf from be­ing over­taken by newer ri­vals over the next three years or so — be­fore the new model ar­rives — re­mains to be seen. It’s hard to pin­point what makes the Golf so sub­lime to drive. It’s also hard to ex­plain why the best brains in the car busi­ness are yet to ace Volk­swa­gen at its own game. The Mazda3 may have sharper re­flexes but is not as plush over bumps, the As­tra is a big step up but still not as pol­ished as the Golf, and the Toy­ota Corolla comes close but lacks the VW’s re­fine­ment. The Golf feels sure­footed on patchy sur­faces, and is the best in its class at pam­per­ing you dur­ing the daily grind. In­side, the cabin ma­te­ri­als and pre­sen­ta­tion are also up­mar­ket and of higher qual­ity than the av­er­age fare. The new widescreen au­dio dis­play is a wel­come im­prove­ment, al­though we ex­pect not ev­ery­one will be de­lighted with the ab­sence of a vol­ume knob — you’ve ei­ther got to tap the screen or the but­ton on the steer­ing wheel. Nei­ther op­tion is as fast as turn­ing a dial up or down quickly with your fin­ger­tips. The engi­neers fought to keep the vol­ume dial, but the de­sign­ers lob­bied to delete it. The de­sign­ers won. And that pos­si­bly ex­plains just how good the Golf still is. The only thing I could crit­i­cise was the lack of a vol­ume dial.

VER­DICT

Volk­swa­gen has inched the bar for­ward, rather than raise it by any sig­nif­i­cant mar­gin. How­ever, when you’re at the pointy end of the field, it’s harder to make gi­ant leaps. The Golf is still the bench­mark in the class. Let’s just hope Volk­swa­gen doesn’t get greedy on price.

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