The Volkswagen Golf remains the benchmark by which all other cars in its class are judged: just ask the 29 million people who have bought a new Golf since it was first launched in 1974. So the appearance of the seventh-generation of the car is a cause for genuine global anticipation and interest; at least, certainly in the motoring world.
Given the fact the Golf is a recipe which works well, would VW risk changing anything? Well they have: essentially they’ve changed everything, and nothing.
The MkVII is a clinical evolution of the car in terms of its feel and appearance. It sits on VW Group’s all-new, ultra-versatile MQB platform and boasts a host of fresh technology.
Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, the one thing which hasn’t changed is it remains the class leader. It also remains comfortably familiar, though with a welcoming increase in class.
The cabin gets sharper edges to the dash architecture; there’s an optional eight-inch colour screen (a 5.8in version is standard) which sits proudly in the GT-trim of the test car; the driver holds a slimmer-rimmed steering wheel and all the buttons have softer edges. This is a familiar and reassuring place to be.
The driving position, always one of the Golf’s strong points, now seems to mould its way round you simply because of the high number of adjustments available. The steering wheel rake and reach, compared to the class standard, is hugely impressive.
There’s also more interior space: so much so, that the Golf almost feels as though it sits in the class above. There’s a slight increase in elbow room for front occupants, plus more kneeroom in the rear.
And there’s more storage: the boot — fitted with its useful low lip — is now capable of holding 380 litres.
We tested the 138bhp 1.4TSI in top-spec GT trim, which is expected to cost around £23,500 when prices are confirmed closer to launch. While the car comes with a six-speed manual as standard, our car was fitted with the optional seven-speed DSG gearbox.
It was also fitted with VW’s cylinder deactivation, which imperceptibly switches the engine between two cylinders and four cylinders to maximise fuel efficiency and cleanliness.
The result of this clever technology means at 109g/km CO2, it’s actually cleaner than the lesser-powered 120bhp version of the same 1.4TSI engine — not fitted with cylinder management — in the range. Oh, and in addition to qualifying for free road tax, it’ll also nudge just over the 60mpg mark.
At launch — the MkVII Golf goes on sale across the UK on January 7 next year — the range will also include an 84bhp 1.2TSI, 104bhp 1.6TDI and a 148bhp 2.0TDI.
Interestingly, the current 1.4TSI engine is the biggest-selling Golf with private buyers in the UK, so there’s no reason why the new powerplant — which is completely unrelated to the current 1.4 — can’t maintain that position.
Why? Quite simply, at the moment there’s not another engine available in the range which delivers the fun and flexibility.
The MkVII Golf instantly feels more taut than the model it replaces. Changes in direction from the straight-ahead position are quicker, and overall the handling is now more neutral.
Inside the cabin of the test car — fitted with 17in alloys — tyre and engine noise was kept to a minimum.
Not surprisingly, the Golf’s new seven-speed DSG ‘box allows you to toggle through the Audi-like variable drive settings (Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual). These settings are standard on all but the base-spec Golfs.
Play with the buttons — the test car was also fitted with the optional Dynamic Chassis Control, which incorporates adaptive damping and a Sport setting — and you’re rewarded with a fun family car which delivers grip and entertainment on the road, while always remaining neutral.
The new Golf also enjoys a vast amount of grip which allows you to fully exploit the performance of the impressive 138bhp.
And while on paper the performance figures of the 1.4TSI — 0-62mph in 8.4secs — may not appear eye-watering, they are exactly what this car requires: a perfect compromise of performance, efficiency and accessibility for the real world.
And it’s not just class rivals from the likes of Ford and Vauxhall who should be worried. Anyone downsizing, even from something as grand as an Audi A8, won’t feel out of place in a new Golf.
Surrounded by all the electronic gizmos you desire — including the optional eight-inch HD sat-nav with smartphone tethered wifi hotspot, voice command and proximity sensor that automatically raises the menu when your hand approaches the screen — plus multi-collision avoidance as standard, and class-leading safety facets, the Golf is ready to conquer the world.
In a changing world, the Golf has evolved to once again position itself at the pinnacle of what others aspire to be. Sharper and even more complete than the outgoing model, the MkVII Golf has the global appeal and comprehensive, simple usefulness to be the best.
Ford, and the rest, should be very worried.