ON THE LEADER BOARD
The T Golf is to the fore in the hatch pack — it feels like a German luxury car
Volkswagen’s Golf 7.5, a mid-life update for the Golf 7 launched in 2013, kicks off at $23,990 for the base 1.4-litre turbo/six-speed manual. If you like driving a manual, this is a good deal. But would you pay $43,790 for a Golf? That’s the sticker on the top-spec, optioned-to-the-max Highline we’re in today.
This is what the ultimate Golf hatch looks like. Well, this side of the GTi and R hot rods, anyway. We start with the Highline, running VW’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, at $36,990.
It’s respectably loaded in standard nick. With an eight-inch, super hi-res glass touchscreen, the infotainment includes navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity plus the ability to connect with a tablet via WiFi, so your kids in the back can overrule your choice in music.
Sports front seats (leather-trimmed, with heating and power adjustment), LED headlights, keyless entry and starting, 17-inch alloys and a glass sunroof are also standard.
The optional $2500 R Line styling package in the car we’re in includes sports suspension and steering, sharper bumpers with gaping lower vents and a narrow louvred grille in black, plus dark side glass and racy Sebring 18-inch alloy wheels. It could easily be mistaken for the GTi hot hatch.
A $1500 Driver Assistance safety package adds radar cruise, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping, automatic parking and rear cross traffic alert. A $2300 Infotainment package includes the customisable digital instrument panel and upgraded navigation with a 9.2-inch screen, gesture control, voice control and Dynaudio sound.
Our Golf also gets a $500 Turmeric Yellow metallic paint job. Makes a refreshing change from grey, silver or white (as in the regular Golf, main picture).
The Highline certainly feels like a premium German luxury car when you slide into the sumptuous, supportive GT-style driver’s seat, push the button and watch the digital tech do its pre-launch vaudeville.
This dash and instrument panel make other small car control layouts look prehistoric.
You rarely need to take your eyes off the road to use the satnav because you can do most things just by talking to it or using steering wheel controls.
If you go to the touchscreen, its icons are huge and easy to hit; predictive pop-up submenus mean you don’t have to drill down for the specific function you want — while you’re running off the road.
Digital instruments can be configured to suit your information preferences, with most infotainment, including the navigation map, able to be displayed right in front of you, further reducing eyes-off-the-road time. Soon, all new cars will have instruments like these.
The rear seat is firm and comfortable but, as in most hatchbacks, tall adults might find legroom a little tight. There’s not much footroom, either.
Its big boot is a easy to load, with a low floor, and the 60-40 split rear seat backs fold flat.
The optional Driver Assistance safety pack should surely be standard in the top-spec model. VW is having a lend here.
Standard across the range are automatic emergency braking, including post-impact to minimise the severity of a secondary collision, plus a rear camera with fixed guidelines and parking sensors are standard across the range.
A refined, responsive, frugal engine, the turbo 1.4 delivers deceptively strong performance across the rev range.
Most of the time it’s in perfect sync with the transmission, except for a characteristic momentary delay in engaging from rest, or when you put your foot down at low revs in a high gear.
As an owner, your right foot tends to adjust to this quirk. However, it can also be a serious issue when, for example, there’s a truck up your clacker, you need go forward right now and it’s not happening.
Take a long test drive to see if you can live with it. I’ve tested so many Golfs I instinctively compensate for it now.
A Golf sits on the road with the same assurance, comfort and rock-solid security as a big German luxo-bomber. Yet it’s also agile, responsive and fun to drive. No other hatch can match its all-round ability.
The R Line option’s sports suspension and steering, plus sticky Bridgestone tyres, further sharpen the handling, the trade-off being a less compliant ride. The GTi’s adaptive suspension, which you can tweak to suit the road surface and your ride-handling preference, would be a better fit on this car but is unavailable.
Germany makes the best cars and I want one.
It’s the best hatch on the market but I’m taking a risk on reliability.
ALTERNATIVES BMW 118I FROM $37,990
BMW’s base hatch has a sweet 1.5-litre turbo triple (100kW/220Nm), eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive.
MERCEDES-BENZ A180 FROM $38,700
The 1.6-litre turbo (90kW/200Nm) drives the front wheels via a seven-speed auto. Less refined than the Golf, though adaptive suspension is standard.