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Volkswagen Golf GTI 2013 review: road test

EXPERT RATING
9

The Golf is back to its best with the arrival of the seventh-generation German baby. A road-up re-work has brought everything from a bigger new body to a three per cent boost in showroom value. The seventh-generation Golf drives like a shrunken luxury car, not a traditional tiddler, and is going to make life tough for anyone shopping in 2013.

They will have to judge it against the all-new Toyota Corolla that's just around the corner as well as all the value contenders, including the locally-made Holden Cruze. The new Golf is not as sharp to drive as the Ford Focus, and it wil not have a $19,990 driveaway pricetag, but it is loaded with technology and comes with the promise of a 100-kilogram weight loss and up to a 23 per cent economy improvement.

The Golf is more than just a car, too, as it signals the arrival of a new 'toolbox' for model development inside the Volkswagen Group. Around 40 individual models will eventually be spun from the MQB mechanical package that provides the foundations for the newcomer, some as small as Polo and others as big as Passat.

More than 95 per cent of the parts in Golf 7 are new, a contrast to the outgoing car which was more like a 5.1 update than a true sixth-generation Golf. "This is the most important car for brand Volkswagen," says Albert Meltzow, head of the Golf project. "It is important that it is a practical everyday car. Every year we sell around 700,000 Golfs."

Volkswagen applies predictable spin at the press preview of the car in Sardinia, with only two engine choices - a 1.4-litre turbo petrol and 2.0-litre turbodiesel - and cars fully loaded with infotainment, luxury and safety equipment. That makes it tougher to be judgemental, but the first impression is good. Very good.

VALUE

No-one is talking yet about the starting price for the Golf in Australia. But global marketing boss Jurgen Stackmann confirms to Carsguide that European prices have been held steady at the level of Golf 6, with a value boost of three per cent thanks to extra standard equipment.

The pricing has already sparked a round of discounting by rival brands in Europe, as they rush to convert customers before production of the Volkswagen flagship gets up to speed. Australian deliveries will begin in the second quarter of next year, but there is no detail yet on pricing, equipment, or even the engine choices. The Golf will definitely continue as a five-door hatch, with the three-door body reserved for the GTI and the R model that will follow.

"We'll try to keep the price as close as possible to the current car. But there is a significant increase in the standard equipment," says Karl Gehling, spokesman for Volkswagen Group Australia.

TECHNOLOGY

The heart of Golf 7 is the MQB - translated as Modular Transverse Matrix - that provides the mechanical package for a car that is both bigger and lighter. It's not a traditional mechanical platform, but a range of parts that can be built - almost Lego style - into a range of different cars.

But there are also all-new engines, lightweight suspension - although a basic rear axle is still fitted to cheapie Golfs - stop-start fuel saving, an electronic parking brake and a lot more. Infotainment is a major component for the Golf, with everything from iPhone-style 'swipe' controls for the TFT display screens to a driver-adjustable display layout. The engines at the press preview drive are the 1.4 petrol with 103 kiloWatts/250 Newton-metres and the 2-litre diesel with 110/320, promising economy of 5.0 and 4.1 litres/100km.

DESIGN

There is nothing radical about the look of Golf 7. You can easily pick it as a Golf from 200 metres away, thanks to the DNA that carries through from earlier models, but it's not until you get closer that you see the fastidious detailing and restrained panel work.

"There are cues that are hallmarks of the Golf," says Stefan Wallburg, exterior designer. "Compared to the outgoing car, I think this is an evolution. If you compare them side-by-side, you will see the changes." Inside, even the switches are new and there is more obvious quality in the look and feel of all the materials.

The new design brings a payoff in the cabin, where a longer wheelbase has liberated an extra 14 millimetres of rear knee room and another 30 litres for the boot, while head clearance is also improved despite a lower roof and Volkswagen claims improvements for shoulder and elbow clearance.

SAFETY

The Golf will be a five-star ANCAP car. It gets six airbags and the regular ESP/ABS combination, but there is also a huge range of extra safety equipment starting with the multi-collision braking system that automatically applies the brakes to prevent secondary impacts.

The package for Australia is still being decided, and there is likely to be an extra cost for the extra gear, but the range of safety stuff available includes lane-assist and anti-fatigue system, radar cruise control and city emergency braking. The press preview cars have a space-saver spare tyre but there is no decision yet on puncture protection down under.

DRIVING

This is a very mature, very refined car. That much is obvious from the first kilometre at the wheel. Golf 7 is extremely quiet, it absorbs bumps like a costly luxury car, and you can see and feel the extra space and luxury equipment.

It's the sort of car you would happily drive from Sydney to Melbourne, or just down to the shops, knowing it's going to cause minimum fuss and reward you with impressive efficiency and minimum fatigue. Tackling a wide range of roads and surfaces in Sardinia, the new Golf refuses to be unsettled. It turns light and easy, has good cornering grip, is easy to park - there is, of course, an optional auto-park package - and generally just gets the job done.

The boot is roomy and flexible with a low loading lip and an easy-close hatch, there is plenty of space in the back seat, and everything fits nicely. There are a couple of glitches on some test cars, with wind noise on one and a recalcitrant infotainment system in another, but these are some of the first Golf 7s to come down the line. What's not to like? I'm still not convinced about DSG gearboxes, and there is still some shunting during three-point turns with variable shift quality, and it's impossible to really rate the engines or suspension so far from home.

Also, without a pricetag there is no way to say how it will line up against the new Corolla, or even the Mazda3, Cruze, Mitsubishi Lancer and the rest. But I know the new Golf is an utterly competent and very impressive car. The overall refinement is incredible. Volkswagen has hit all its targets and that means Golf 7 should now be the first choice for anyone shopping for a small car.

VERDICT

The new Golf is the new benchmark for the small-car class. It's the car to recommend to your family and friends.

Pricing Guides

$14,990
Based on 263 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$9,977
Highest Price
$27,989

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
118 TSI 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $14,987 – 19,990 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 118 TSI Pricing and Specs
103 TDI Comfortline 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $17,990 – 18,785 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 103 TDI Comfortline Pricing and Specs
103 TDI Comfortline Bluemotion 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $11,770 – 15,730 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 103 TDI Comfortline Bluemotion Pricing and Specs
103 TSI Highline 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $13,913 – 18,990 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 103 TSI Highline Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9