ON THE LEADER BOARD

The T Golf is to the fore in the hatch pack — it feels like a Ger­man lux­ury car

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - BILL McKINNON

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.

VALUE

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).

COM­FORT

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

HEART SAYS

Ger­many makes the best cars and I want one.

HEAD SAYS

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.

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