So after 15-hours of flying and airport lounges, I wake to find myself slap-bang in the middle or the Mediterranean. Porto Cervo, Sardinia, to be precise. But there will be no time to kick back with a brew and watch the girls walk by from the deck of some cushy yacht club. Nope, I’m here to do a job. One that involves strapping into that shiny new Volkswagen parked outside the arrivals hall. Yeah, the big wigs at Wolfsburg want me to put their freshly minted Golf 7 through its paces. It’s time to get busy.
Before I put key to ignition and tear on down the highways unexplored, I stand back and soak up the latest efforts of the Volkswagen exterior design department. And if I’m being quite honest, there’s not a hell of a lot separating the new Mk7 to the outgoing Mk6.
On one hand this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) but on the other, well, it’s sure to get all the barroom critics mouthing off about ‘a lack of imagination’ and ‘corporate laziness.’ Whatever. In my mind the evolutionary rather than revolutionary styling epoch adopted by Walter de Silva and his team of draughtsman definitely works.
The more I look at it, features like the shorter front overhang (-43mm); more pronounced wheel arch flares; lower roofline (28mm) and that slightly wider track (8mm front, 6mm rear) make the new Golf 7 seem just that little bit more dynamic when stood still. I also dig the sharp new ‘character line’ that defines the car’s profile and that smooth, uninterrupted C-pillar – a hat tip to the Mk4 that rocked the late 1990s. Okay, so it isn’t the most exciting machine we’ve seen all year but it does meet the traditional Golf brief of being mature and sensible yet strangely desirable all at the same time. You know, like Kate Middleton.
After throwing my luggage into a slightly larger boot (it’s now swelled to 380 litres), I discover that the interior of the Golf 7 is imbued with the same restraint as its exterior. Again, evolution is the order of the day with things like the dashboard and switchgear and general ergonomics not straying far from what we’ve already seen inside the outgoing Mk6.
What you will notice, however, is a tangible hike in build quality (as if it could get any better) plus a useful wodge more space. Thanks to that longer wheelbase and wider stance, the limbs of passengers and drivers alike can look forward to far more intercabin freedom.
Volkswagen has also been a lot more generous in the gizmo department too, with even the entry-level Trendline models scoring standard nice-to-haves like a 5-inch TFT touchscreen; electronic parking brake; tyre pressure sensor as well as a fuel-saving Stop/Start system. Even better is the inclusion of the firm’s electronic XDS differential lock: a clever drive aid that debuted on the last GTI and makes a noticeable difference to the overall driving experience.
Speaking of which, it’s time to twist my red 1.4TSI Highline to life and cruise along the roads that coil lazily along the Costa Smeralda coastline. And the first thing that strikes me is just how wonderfully refined the new Mk7 is. Built upon the Volkswagen/Audi Group’s lightweight MQB platform (also set to make an appearance in the upcoming A3), the engineers have gone to great lengths to make this Golf quieter than any one of its predecessors.
In fact revisions to the front suspension joints, all-new engine mounts and a sound-deadening acoustic windscreen make this hatchback feel as premium – if not more so – than some considerably dearer sedans. Further building upon these impeccable road manners is a compliant suspension system that copes well with the scabby sections of the Sardinian road network. Never does the Mk7 feel harsh of flustered.
Yet for all this polish, the new Golf still remains game for a bit of back road tomfoolery. Rural Sardinia is home to some killer asphalt and my 1.4TSI Highline carves across it with surprising gusto. Not only does this Golf feel more nimble than its predecessor thanks to a general reduction in weight (up to 100kg depending on your model and chosen specification), it handles noticeably better too.
Sure, there’s less body roll present, but the most impressive thing about the new Mk7 is its surprising lack of understeer. I mean even through some of the tightest hairpin bends, and at higher speeds, those front wheels hardly ever display a tendency to washout. Yeah, there is a nice neutrality built into this Golf that really encourages spirited driving. Again, this can be put down to that shorter front overhang, longer wheelbase and brilliant XDS system that keeps the car calm and collected even when its driver isn’t.
Being a range-topping Highline model I’m also getting an opportunity to sample the firm’s new, second generation Dynamic Chassis Control system. An interesting option that forms part of the Driving Profile Selection module, it allows you adjust, with a press of a touchscreen button, the parameters of your steering, drivetrain and chassis maps.
There are four preset modes to choose from (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Normal) plus an Individual setting that allows you create your own custom setup should you wish to. On the whole it works very well but even when put in Sport mode, I still would appreciate a little more weighting and feedback from the electro-mechanical power steering.
So what about performance? Well on the straighter sections of our test route I discover that the new range of turbocharged, all-aluminium petrol (TSI) and diesel (TDI) engines offer up a fair amount of poke. The 103kW unit in my 1.4TSI Highline ticks most boxes and even comes with something called Automatic Cylinder Deactivation (ACD) that, like it says on the tin, automatically shuts down two cylinders, when conditions allow it of course, between 1400 and 4000rpm. This results in reduced fuel consumption and lower overall CO2 emissions – something that Volkswagen is punting as one of the Mk7’s biggest unique selling points.
Personally though, my engine of the day has to be the brawny 110kW diesel found in the 2.0 TDI that I climb into after the halfway stop. Endowed with more torque and available, like its petrol-powered brother, with either a manual or DSG gearbox, it provides considerably better in-gear acceleration – definitely something you need in this country clogged up with lumbering freight trucks and millions of dawdling Fiat Pandas.
Though not present on launch, I find out that these two powerplants will be joined by two flavours of 1.2 TSI engine, a lower output 1.4 TSI as well two 1.6 TDI mills tweaked to deliver different power outputs. And of course, later on in 2013, we can all look forward to the wild new GTI.
So with the Sardinian sun sinking below the horizon line and the last few kilometres of our test route fading in my rear-view mirror, it’s time to ask that million-dollar question – is this the best Golf ever made? Well even though many people will view its exterior styling as something of a disappointment, a lacklustre copout, there’s no denying that the all-round package is nothing short of brilliant. So I’ve got say, yeah, it is. Building on all those core strengths that made the Mk6 such a capable bit of kit, the new Mk7 emerges as the undisputed leader of the A-segment class segment. The king is dead long live the king.
Fast Facts: New Volkswagen Golf 7
Engine: 1197cc four-cylinder turbo (1.2 TSI); 1395cc four-cylinder turbo (1.4 TSI); 1598cc four-cylinder turbodiesel (1.6 TDI); 1968cc four-cylinder turbodiesel (2.0 TDI)
Power: 63kW at 4300rpm (1.2 TSI); 77kW at 4500rpm (1.2 TSI); 90kW at 5000rpm (1.4 TSI); 103kW at 4500rpm (1.4 TSI); 77kW at 3000rpm (1.6 TDI); 81kW at 3000rpm (1.6 TDI); 110kW at 3500rpm (2.0 TDI)
Torque: 160Nm at 1400rpm (1.2 TSI); 175Nm at 1400rpm (1.2 TSI); 200Nm from 1400rpm (1.4 TSI); 250Nm at 1500rpm (1.4 TSI); 250Nm at 1500rpm (1.6 TDI); 250Nm at 1500rpm (1.6 TDI); 320Nm at 1750rpm (2.0 TDI)
Top Speed: 179 km/h (1.2 TSI); 192 km/h (1.2 TSI); 203 km/h (1.4 TSI); 212 km/h (1.4 TSI); 192 km/h (1.6 TDI); 202 km/h (1.6 TDI); 216km/h (2.0 TDI)
0-100km/h: 11.9 seconds (1.2 TSI); 10.2 seconds (1.2 TSI); 9.3 seconds (1.4 TSI); 8.4 seconds (1.4 TSI); 10.7 seconds (1.6 TDI); 10.5 seconds (1.6 TDI); 8.6 seconds (2.0 TDI)
Fuel Consumption: 4.9l/100km (1.2 TSI); 4.9l/100km (1.2 TSI); 5.2l/100km (1.4 TSI); 4.7l/100km (1.4 TSI); 3.8l/100km (1.6 TDI); 3.2l/100km (1.6 TDI); 4.1l/100km (2.0 TDI)
CO2: 113g/km (1.2 TSI); 114g/km (1.2 TSI); 120g/km (1.4 TSI); 119g/km (1.4 TSI); 99g/km (1.6 TDI); 85g/km (1.6 TDI); 106g/km (2.0 TDI)
Pricing: TBC when launched locally in the first quarter of 2013
Impressive new levels of refinement
Strong and economical range of engines
Some will find the styling staid and predictable
118kw twincharged 1.4 TSI engine scrapped
GTI is still some way off