If Porsche built a hatch, it would prob­a­bly feel a lot like the Golf 7.5

Wheels (Australia) - - Part 2 Australia -

thought­ful de­sign touches ev­i­dent in the ex­e­cu­tion of the Civic’s pack­ag­ing. The fabric par­cel shelf roller blind is one, and the way the global clo­sure on the key also shuts the sun­roof is an­other. The HDMI port lo­cated in the nether re­gions of the fas­cia will be a head scratcher for some, but it’s used for smart­phone mir­ror­ing via Hon­dalink apps.

Sort­ing these cars into some sem­blance of or­der is sur­pris­ingly easy. The Honda is the only car here with a glar­ing short­com­ing. No, it’s not the styling. The CVT gear­box does it no favours what­so­ever and masks what is a dy­nam­i­cally ca­pa­ble car. Add a de­cent auto and a lick more power and the Civic would be on the money or there­abouts. There’s work to be done here for the next re­fresh.

The Hyundai ini­tially looked as if it would give the Golf a stern test and, in many re­gards, it fits the warm hatch brief best. Our money would go on a man­ual SR, a car that would have posed us a few more search­ing ques­tions than this full-fruit auto SR Pre­mium ver­sion, but the i30 has earned its spurs in some tough com­pany.

The As­tra came close. Ini­tially unfancied in com­par­i­son to the more overt charms of the Golf and the i30, the RS-V in­vei­gled its way into our af­fec­tions the longer we drove it. It has a num­ber of an­noy­ing de­tail glitches that ought to have been fixed early in the de­sign process but the fun­da­men­tals are just so ro­bust. The Holden feels bul­let­proof, Aus­tralia-proof even, in a way that none of the oth­ers, not even the im­pe­ri­ous Volk­swa­gen, can quite pull off. For that, it earns the run­ner-up spot.

It can’t top­ple the Golf, though, and, truth be told, it wouldn’t have bested Golf 7, let alone it­er­a­tion 7.5. As a tester, you’re con­stantly ask­ing whether you’re be­ing gulled by Volk­swa­gen’s pol­ish, se­duced by a su­per­fi­cial sheen of glitz, but no. There’s real sub­stance to the Golf, show­ing the more pow­er­ful Hyundai and Honda a clean pair of heels on a chal­leng­ing road and of­fer­ing the clean­est er­gonomics, the most ma­ture de­sign ethos, the sweet­est con­sis­tency of con­trol weights and, in al­most ev­ery area, a greater depth of en­gi­neer­ing. If Porsche built a hatch, it would prob­a­bly feel a lot like the Golf 7.5.

That’s the re­sult of years of con­ti­nu­ity in the car’s de­vel­op­ment; Volk­swa­gen’s nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of what works and what doesn’t. Maybe Hyundai will de­velop that. Holden and Honda cer­tainly haven’t, suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of As­tra and Civic suc­cumb­ing to a sort of de­vel­op­men­tal am­ne­sia where the best as­pects of pre­de­ces­sor mod­els are in­ex­pli­ca­bly jet­ti­soned in favour of a dif­fer­ent look and feel. Volk­swa­gen doesn’t at­tempt to rein­vent the wheel with each gen­er­a­tion of Golf. It just makes it in­cre­men­tally bet­ter. And that’s why it wins.

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