Malcolm Flynn road tests and reviews the updated VW Golf hatch, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its international launch in Spain.
Pulling out of the bus parking area at Majorca international airport, all it takes is one sharp speed hump to determine if the updated 2017 Golf is still at the top of its class.
There's actually three to cross before joining the airport freeway, but one traffic-calming device is enough.
This is because the 2017 model refresh due for Australia in July are admittedly only skin deep, with the now four-year-old underpinnings left alone.
This is almost unheard of in the automotive world, with most mid-life facelifts accompanied by at least a damper or bush revision to help the model stay fresh among newer peers.
But if you're already at the top of the class by a country mile, why bother?
One area that never escapes a mid-cycle refresh is styling, even for conservative German brands.
Volkswagen has taken the chance to subtly tweak the Golf's look to bring it in line with more recent siblings like the Passat and Tiguan, with new headlight and bumper designs up front, revised LED tail-light internals and a discretely morphed rear bumper up the back. The tail-lights on the high-spec models on test also featured Audi-style scrolling indicators, a feature set to entertain following motorists the world over.
Look closely and you'll see that the new headlights extend further into the front guards, and the resulting revised sheetmetal also features a sharper ridge along its top edge.
The updated Golf will follow the Tiguan and Passat by offering AEB as standard across the range.
The new front bumpers also feature functional aerodynamic ducts that help to pressurise the front wheel apertures at speed, making it easier for air to pass from the bumpers rear edge, across the wheel and the rest of the body. The benefit isn't reflected in any of the key numbers, but every little bit counts.
We only drove the top-spec Highline hatch variant in Spain, but you can bank on fresh wheel designs for the base Trendline, mid-spec Comfortline and sporty R-Line variants when they touch down in July.
Australian Golfs will also retain engineering bragging rights over their Audi A3 platform twins by retaining independent suspension across the board, unlike the base A3 1.0TFSI which brought a cheaper torsion beam setup with last year's update.
More important news for Australian buyers is that the updated Golf will follow the Tiguan and Passat by offering AEB as standard across the range.
VW claims the existing model's optional AEB system has cut low speed collisions by 30 per cent among those so equipped, but it would be a worthwhile addition even if it were one per cent.
International models bring a new 'Traffic Jam Assist' function to help smooth traffic flow when fitted with adaptive cruise control, plus a host of smartphone-integrated safety features under the 'Car Net' umbrella, but these functions are yet to be confirmed for Australia.
You can take it as read that the existing suite of ANCAP five star-rated safety gear, including seven airbags, reversing camera and multi-collision braking will remain.
Price and features
The Australian Golf is set to follow the path of a number of small car rivals by moving its entry model upmarket, with the previously Comfortline-only 100TSI spec engine replacing the 92TSI in the entry Trendline and mid-spec Comfortline.
The base model is also set to score an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, along with banishing steel wheels and hubcaps from the range with 16-inch alloys for the first time.
The Active Info Display is paired with a new 9.2-inch multimedia screen for the centre stack that also introduces gesture control functionality for the VW brand.
Further up the scale, the excellent 'Active Info Display' – as seen on Tiguan and Passat - replaces analogue gauges in the instrument cluster. This gives the driver a number of customisable views, but the key benefit is the ability to follow the whole sat nav map right in front of you.
The Active Info Display is paired with a new 9.2-inch multimedia screen for the centre stack that also introduces gesture control functionality for the VW brand. This gives the ability to scroll through the system's main screen options or scan through a list of radio stations by waving your hand side to side.
Getting it to work takes practice, and it's actually more fiddly than using the steering wheel controls, or a regular knob. It makes for a great party trick though, which your neighbour won't be able to match with their Mazda3.
Exact Australian pricing for the new Golf range is yet to be confirmed, but marginal increases are expected across the line-up, shifting the base price from its current $22,840 list to something closer to $23,500.
Engines and transmissions
The big news for Golf internationally is its new-generation 1.5-litre 110TSI petrol turbo engine, which brings efficiency and emissions gains through the use of higher injection pressure, low-friction cylinder liners and a cylinder deactivation system, while delivering the same 110kW and 250Nm as the existing top-spec 1.4-litre petrol turbo.
However, Australia won't get the new engine just yet due to its higher cost, but will bring the existing 110TSI-spec engine down to the base model from its current position as a Highline-only affair. Therefore, the current 110TSI engine will span all petrol Golfs this side of a GTI.
The not-for-Australia new 1.5-litre petrol engine is rated as low as 5.1L/100km according to the combined European cycle, while Volkswagen is yet to publish Australian combined figures for the updated model with the existing 1.4-litre 110TSI engine or the 110TDI diesel. They shouldn't stray too far from their 5.4 and 4.7L/100km best combined figures though.
Nothing new here, with the Golf still doing a great job of fitting four real-world humans aboard.
You get the same carpet-lined bottle holders in each door and two cupholders front and rear.
Volkswagen's three year, unlimited kilometre warranty isn't expected to change between now and July, and nor is the capped price service costs or 15000km/12month service intervals of the existing models.
This means $333 (not including brake fluid or pollen filter replacement) for each of the first three services on petrol 1.4-litre models, and $322 for the same on the 2.0-litre diesel Highlines.
So, about that speed hump at Majorca airport. Even with the Highline's largish standard 17-inch wheel package, the Golf does a brilliant job of ironing out the shock you'd expect from any other car with such a short wheelbase and limited suspension travel.
This has always been a Mk7 Golf trademark, and represents a brilliant engineering synergy between the tyres, wheels, springs, dampers, suspension architecture, bushes and the body itself.
The launch drive route was otherwise largely comprised of smooth, straight roads, aside from the occasional roundabouts to test the Golf's direction-changing ability. The same light but feelsome steering and cornering stability we've always appreciated seems to be intact.
The diesel engine in general is arguably approaching its engineering zenith, and this engine is certainly a high point.
The only petrol engine on hand was the new 1.5-litre that we won't get yet, and while it doesn't feel light years ahead of the current 1.4, it is a smidge quieter and crisper in its power delivery. The current 110TSI 1.4 is hardly old tech in the grand scheme of things, so it's no great loss and we agree that most Australians would rather pocket the $1000-plus extra the 1.5 would have likely added to the new Golf's price.
We also spent time aboard the 110TDI diesel Highline, which benefits from a new wet clutch seven-speed (up from six) dual clutch auto. The diesel engine in general is arguably approaching its engineering zenith, and this engine is certainly a high point. From the outside at idle, it's barely noisier than a direct-injected petrol engine, and delivers relaxed, rapid progress when on the move. The abundance of torque on tap masks any advantage of the new extra transmission ratio according to our seat-of-the-pants analysis.