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Volkswagen Golf MK7 review (2013 onwards)
Traditional Golf style camouflages a completely new car, classier and more economical than ever.
We like - faithful to the Golf style, solid build, lovely interior
We don't like - Golfs never were cheap, luggage space could be better, not particularly enticing to drive
It's a Golf. There have been six previous versions and this seventh generation is instantly recognisable for what it is. So no radical new look, like Ford with the Focus. Volkswagen knows its market.
And owners love their Golfs. They may pay a bit more than they would for the Ford or almost any other of the 30 possible rivals, but sales of 29 million Golfs over 38 years speak for themselves.
The new one is different, though - very different. The lights are an obvious giveaway, and the new Golf is a touch longer, wider and lower. The distance between the front and rear wheels has been stretched and the cabin moved back.
Performance is there when you need it
Beneath the surface there is a totally new structure, up to 100kg lighter than before, yet stronger and stiffer. It's the VW Group's new MQB chassis that has already appeared in the 2012 Audi A3 and will soon underscore Skodas and SEATs too.
The big drive is for increased efficiency, so there are smaller engines, all with turbochargers so that performance is there when you need it, economy when you don't.
Of course, there is that indefinable Golf quality that encourages people to pay a bit more for a Golf than they might with a rival, simply because it seems nicer. It can make sense too. A used Golf is always worth real money when you come to sell.
The range of engines on offer by the end of 2013 will be enormous - you'll even be able to buy an electric Golf - but at the launch in Sardinia there were just two new options, the 2.0-litre diesel and the 1.4 turbo petrol with 140hp.
There are no real surprises with the diesel, even though it is a new engine. It drives as well as previous Golf diesels, pulling very strongly through the gears with a performance equal to Golf GTI levels a decade or two ago.
The 1.4 petrol is a sweet, quiet engine
The 1.4 petrol turbo is a sweeter, quieter engine. With 140hp it is only 10hp short of the 2.0 diesel, and it drives with real verve when you extend the engine through the rev range.
Yet it pulls well too - the turbo helps that - and it has clever fuel-saving measures, like running on just two cylinders instead of four when you tread lightly on the accelerator.
Many models of the Golf will also have "Driver Profile Selection" giving up to five modes - Eco, Normal, Sport, Comfort and Individual - which alter the engine, air conditioning and other factors to change the performance/economy balance. In Sardinia it seemed more valuable in theory than in actual practice.
Ride and handling
There's a solidity to the Golf's progress that gives it the feel of a bigger car. The suspension deals well with bumps and the ride is fluid and always well controlled.
That said, it's never that involving to drive on winding roads. The electric power steering can feel remote from the tyres, even when you make it weightier by switching to the Sport mode.
Volkswagen has spent a lot of time developing this new suspension, but with a strong emphasis on reducing weight, the ride comfort has triumphed over an engaging experience for more enthusiastic drivers.
There can be no doubts about the interior, though. It simply smacks of the class necessary to keep the new Golf at the top of the desirability stakes.
The fascia is of a quality you'd expect in a premium car like an Audi or Lexus. Every model gets a touchscreen interface for the climate control, trip computer, clock and so on.
VW lists six levels of screen in a variety of sizes and colour, with the top model eight inches in size with full sat-nav and a 64Gb flash memory. It can even act as a wireless hotspot.
There is also the possibility to specify telephone signal augmentation. Put your mobile into the box between the seats and it will receive a boosted signal that will also help prolong battery life.
The seats are on the firm side
The seats themselves have undergone a weight-saving regime. They all tend to be on the firm side - Golf seats usually have been - but there is plenty of adjustment. They feel comfortable rather than sumptuous like a Volvo.
That longer wheelbase frees up legroom inside, and though the numbers don't sound like much, the Golf is a genuinely roomy compact hatchback, now with more shoulder room to make it better for three on the back seat.
Boot space is up by 8.5% to 380 litres. That's still only average and arguably one reason why the Golf might not be on everyone's shopping list.
Economy and safety
VW promises a great deal in both these areas. Every model has an automatic stop-start function that kills the engine as soon as you come to a halt, then instantly restarts when you press the clutch (or release the brake pedal in automatics).
The 1.4 140hp petrol model is claimed to return 60mpg on the combined cycle with manual or automatic transmission. The figures for the 2.0 TDI are 68.8mpg or 64.1mpg with the DSG automatic transmission. CO2 figure are very low, all under 120g/km.
1.6-litre diesel is capable of 88.3mpg
The Golf BlueMotion model, which arrives later in 2013, has a 1.6-litre diesel engine and is capable of 88.3mpg with a CO2 figure of just 85g/km. Amazing.
The new Golf is packed with safety features, including a first for this class, a multi-collision brake system. This brakes the Golf after a collision to minimise injuries in a secondary collision.
Seven airbags are standard and although there are no EuroNCAP crash safety ratings yet, you'd be foolish to bet against the full five stars.
The MSN Cars verdict
There will always be drivers who take one look at the price of a Volkswagen Golf and move on to something more attractively priced that seems to tick the same boxes.
That's understandable, but it is also very easy to appreciate just why many fall for the Golf's charms. This new model has all the same appeal, plus it's a giant leap forward when you scratch beneath the surface. It's a hard car not to be deeply impressed by.
Need to know
Engines, petrol 85hp 1.2 TSI, 105hp 1.2 TSI, 122hp 1.4 TSI, 140hp 1.4 TSI
Engines, diesel 105hp 1.6, 150hp 2.0
Power, hp 85 - 150
Torque, lb ft 118 - 236
0-62 mph, secs 8.4 - 11.9
Top speed, mph 119 - 135
Mpg, combined 54.2 - 74.2
CO2, g/km / Tax 99 - 119/14 - 15%
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