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Volkswagen Golf Mk7 2013 review

EXPERT RATING
10

Small-car shoppers are spoiled for choice these days, but the spoiling and the choice have just become even better thanks to the all-new Volkswagen Golf.

The seventh-generation Golf is more like a compact luxury car than any $19,990 bargain buy and will start favourite for this year's Carsguide Car of the Year award, even if Holden is about to unleash its VF Commodore.

We knew the new Golf was special in Sardinia during a European preview drive and it only takes 30 minutes on home soil in Sydney to confirm the quality of the car. It's a ripper.

Now, to put the Golf into focus, we've already seen the arrival of the impressive new sub-$40,000 A-Class Mercedes this year at a time when the Hyundai i30, Nissan Pulsar and Toyota Corolla have lifted the bar for value and quality in affordable small cars. So the Golf, the long-term pacesetter in the class, is caught in a squeeze between downsized luxury cars and upwardly-mobile price fighters.

That's great for buyers, as Volkswagen has counter-punched by adding more safety, value and technology while holding the price line to a starting list price below $22,000.

Golf 7 is also loaded with safety stuff, has an impressive multi-media package, and buying is easier thanks to pre-packaged kits of equipment in place of the tick-the-box ordering system for individual items.

But it's the basics which provide the bedrock, as the Golf 7 sits on an all-new Volkswagen mechanical platform - that's shared throughout the group, to drive up numbers and push down prices - that means more space in the back and boot, less noise in the cabin, and new engine choices.

VALUE

The Golf has never been the cheapest car in the compact class and that does not change, even though the bottom line now starts below $22,000 and Volkswagen says you can get a full-loaded car - "short of gold plating or sunroof" - for less than $35,000.

It's also taken the prestige path on equipment, combining the most popular customer choices - in the same way as Benz and BMW - into packs. These sit above the basic car in either Comfortline or Highline levels, although the diesel car is only available to Highline standard.

Even the basic Golf comes with cruise control and aircon, as well as a 5.8-inch colour touch screen for the infotainment package, and there is also a driver fatigue monitor and an extended differential lock for better grip and safety.

The best things about stepping up to Comfortline are the rear-view camera and automatic parking system, as well as dual-zone aircon, while Highline brings sports seats, upgraded infotainment with satnav, and more bling in the cabin including an LED lighting package.

But the starter car only has steel wheels, and a space-saver spare - a deal breaker for some Aussie buyers - is fitted to all models.

As an offset, still very welcome but long overdue, Volkswagen has finally added capped-price servicing for the Golf that provides a package for 90,000 kilometres or 72 months with an annual fee pegged as low as $272.

TECHNOLOGY

Everything about Golf 7 tracks back to Volkwagen's new small-car platform, which provides better suspension design, more space in the back seat and a quieter cabin - thanks partly to an 'acoustic' windscreen. There are also big weight savings from the body through to the dashboard and aircon.

That's the basics.

But it's the tech tweaks that are built up from the platform that make life better for buyers.

That's everything from an electronic parking brake to lots of extra safety equipment, including automatic braking, blind-spot detection, parking radar and a lot more.

There is even an Eco Tip function which gives advice on saving fuel while you drive.

The arrival of Golf 7 brings a different engine lineup, with turbos all around on both the TSI petrol and TDI diesel power plants. There is a six-speed manual on the starter car, but afterwards it's six and seven-speed DSG transmissions depending on the torque output of the engine - which means only six slots for the diesel.

Power kicks off at 90 kW on the basic 1.4-litre petrol turbo, with 200 Nm of torque and fuel economy from 5.4 litres/100km, rising to 103/250/5.2 for the next step from the same capacity. Both have stop-start for fuel saving.

The diesel is a full 2.0 litres and makes 110kW/320Nm for economy of 4.9 litres/100km, and its 0-100km/h time of 8.6 seconds is only marginally behind the better petrol motor at 8.4.

DESIGN

It's easy to walk past the new Golf in the parking lot at Volkswagen headquarters in Sydney, which is loaded with all sorts of other Golfs and Tiguans and the classier new Beetle.

That's because a Golf is always a Golf and always looks like a Golf.

So the basics haven't changed, with a two-box hatchback layout, since the seventies.

Golf 7 marks the change with sharper creases in the bodywork and a more elegant and, dare we say it, upmarket impact. It's just that little classier in the bodywork, from the shape of the nose to the LED trinketing.

Inside, it's more of the same and more with the same, from the touch-and-feel plastics through to the way it all fits together. It's more like a Benz than a Hyundai, let's say.

The highlight is the new infotainment package, which will even satisfy a tech-savvy Gen Y driver without putting a Baby Boomer outside their comfort zone.

SAFETY

Golf 7 has just had its five-star ANCAP tick, thanks to the strength of the basic body, a seven-airbag cabin and standard safety equipment that runs to ABS, ESP stability control, the tricky differential, fatigue detection and what Volkswagen calls 'multi-collision brake', that applies the brakes automatically to minimise the chances of knock-on impacts.

As you move up the line the safety package expands to include parking radar at both ends, a rear-view camera, and automatic wipers and headlamps.

For people who put safety first, the best deal is the Driver Assistance Package that bundles adaptive cruise control, city emergency braking, driving profile selection, top-level parking assist, automated reverse and parallel-parking and proactive occupant protection. But it costs more and is not available on the basic Golf 7.

DRIVING

If you were picking a small car to drive from Sydney to Melbourne you would take the Golf every time. It's quieter and more cosseting than anything else in the class, including the Benz A at one end and the new Pulsar at the other.

And you could rely on the anti-fatigue system and punchier new infotainment to keep you going on the boring interstate bumble while driving a car that is more than capable and comfortable at a 140km/h motorway cruise in Europe.

After driving all the Golf's rivals, I'm convinced that it is the best of the bunch and has raised the playing field to a new level. The A-Class has a classier badge, and you can get a Korean car with more for less, but the Benz is too harsh for our roads and the Koreans don't have finesse and refinement of the Volkswagen.

The 90 TSI gets along plenty well for almost anyone, short of a Golf GTI fanatic, and the 103 doesn't bring much more. The diesel will be best for long-distance drivers or people who need the torque for a fully-loaded cabin.

The most enjoyable thing about Golf 7 is the all-round enjoyment. It doesn't have much visual impact, but once you're inside you can see and feel the added class.

On the road, the suspension is both controlled and compliant, a rare combination in a small car. So it absorbs bumps and keeps noise down, but doesn't flop or wallow in corners.

DSG transmissions have been a sore point with many Volkswagen owners, and a source of lots of complaints to Carsgsuide, so we're hoping the new Golf finally gets it right. I tried the worst test of the double-clutch controls, holding it with the accelerator on a very steep grade, and it help without giving up the way we've experienced in earlier cars.

I wasn't tempted to trial the safety systems, but it's good to know they're keeping a watchful eye. Especially for emergency braking.

We're planning a lot of extra rounds with Golf in coming weeks and months, but the initial impression in Australia has just reinforced what we already knew. Seven is a lucky number, especially for people who want the best in a small car.

VERDICT

Have we found our Car of the Year champion for 2013? Almost definitely.

Pricing guides

$15,990
Based on 271 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$9,888
Highest Price
$31,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
118 TSI 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $12,500 – 18,040 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 118 TSI Pricing and Specs
103 TDI Comfortline 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $9,500 – 14,300 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 103 TDI Comfortline Pricing and Specs
103 TDI Comfortline Bluemotion 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $9,500 – 14,300 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 103 TDI Comfortline Bluemotion Pricing and Specs
103 TSI Highline 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $11,600 – 16,940 2013 Volkswagen Golf 2013 103 TSI Highline Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
10
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.