THERE aren’t a huge amount of cars that have a long shelf life.
Off the top of my head I can think of four versions of Ford’s best selling Escort, and a Mk5 incarnation of the ubiquitous Cortina. So it’s something of a major achievement when a car hits the roads in its seventh guise, some 38 years after the original set the benchmark for small family cars.
Doff your cloth cap, then, to the Volkswagen Golf Mk7.
No ordinary car, this. With over 29 million sold worldwide since 1974 (that’s 28 million more than Slade sold copies of Merry Christmas Everybody, if you’re interested) it’s been the benchmark for more than the lifetime of many of the people who now drive it.
It’s grown in size over the years, and even though the latest model is new from the ground up – literally every component has changed – that distinctive profile that has been the Golf’s hallmark over the years remains. You don’t fix what isn’t broke in this business.
Comfortable, practical, safe and efficient have been its bywords and in 2013 that’s not about to change. What you will notice, though, is a definite step upwards in terms of quality to a level that puts much more expensive cars to shame.
The new Golf has a grown a bit more, but it’s also become a highly adaptable car. It’s built on the VW Group’s new MQB platform (Modularer Querbaukasten if you speak German), which briefly has the same engine and gearbox mounting points for a wide variety of engines from 1.2 through to 2.0 litre. It will be increasingly used across the group for a variety of cars of all shapes and sizes, such is its adaptability.
It helps to make the car something like 20 per cent cheaper to produce, and that means that every new Golf now has a lot more standard equipment on board, like stop-start technology and a 5.8 inch colour touch screen in every model. Even with the extra kit, there’s still a cost saving over the outgoing model.
Prices kick off at £16,285 for the entry level S 1.2 85ps, and rise to £24,880 for the current range topper – the GT 2.0 TDI 150ps with DSG six speed and five doors.
It went on sale on January 7, the day we first got our hands on one at the UK media launch.
One of the keys to its success lies in its continuity, and VW’s ability to make each successive model just that bit better than the one it’s replacing.
No less true here than in the past, and this time first impressions are of a roomier cabin, with better legroom for tall drivers. That’s me catered for, then. There’s more room for your luggage too, with a low 665mm sill to make loading it a bit easier.
Glance around and you’ll notice another leap upwards in the quality stakes, almost Audi-esque in standard, fit and finish. Golfs have always been classy, but now they’re edging towards a level that the makers of some of the four wheeled white goods on our roads must only dream of producing.
The centre console angles more towards the driver now, and on SE models and above (the trim levels are S, SE, GT) you get driver profile selection, allowing you to choose from four settings – ‘Eco’, ‘Sport’, ‘Normal’ and ‘Individual’. Add in Adaptive Chassis Control and ‘Comfort’ mode is also offered.
Each alters throttle mapping and engine management, so Eco mode will give you maximum fuel efficiency, and Sport – well, a click up the fun factor dial. Certainly far more complex than the matching Mk1 GTIs that two farmer friends turned up in our village pub car park in the mid 70s.
And so to the open but highly congested roads of West Sussex to sample the new model.
We’ll start with the 1.6 diesel powered S spec five door (£19,565), expected to be the best seller but in SE guise, and the performance is more than acceptable. It’s remarkably serene and unflustered, its 105ps engine with 250Nm of torque a willing worker without encroaching on the peace of the interior. So little in fact, that all I could actually notice was the wind whistling over the door mirrors and around the B pillars. Its 10.7 second 0-62mph time and 119mph top speed is more than adequate for everyday use around the UK.
The only external hint that this is the entry level model comes from its wheel trims, which are something of a novelty these days when even the electric shopping trolleys in Asda look like they’ve got alloys.
Next up was a GT spec 1.4 TSI 140ps with active cylinder technology that de-activates two of the cylinders when they’re not needed. It’ll tell you on the dash display when you’re doing it, allowing you to drive with a bit more economy in mind. Combined figure can be 58.9 – or you can explore its 131mph top end and 8.4 second 0-62 time.
We tried a variety of guises and sizes during the launch, and there were no obvious disappointments.
The steering is in the main pin sharp, the car always feeling well planted on the road. The gearbox itself is a precision piece of smooth shifting perfection and the Golf has a flat bottomed steering wheel and an electronic handbrake among its standard kit.
For those who struggle to get in and out of cars, note that the doors open wide and its increased dimensions gives everyone just that bit more room.
Surely the classiest family car you can buy. And you will.
FASTFACTS: VW Golf S 1.6 TDI 105ps five door; £19,565; 1598cc, 250Nm torque; top speed 119mph, 0-62mph 10.7 secs; CO2 99g/km; fuel – urban 61.4, extra urban 85.6, combined 74.3; warranty – three years/60,000 miles.