Honestly, what can be said of the Volkswagen Golf that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? With seven model generations, over 29 million sold and numerous accolades conferred upon it, you know that this is about as significant as cars get.
In order to fully appreciate its significance, we have to go back forty years in time. Had the original Golf not happened, we might not have Volkswagen today; we therefore wouldn’t have the mighty VW Group with its impressive stable of marques, and the world’s second-largest carmaker would be someone else.
As Ford proved in the early days of motoring with the Model T, you can’t ride on just the one model’s wave of success forever. Sure enough, Beetle sales were falling by the early 1970s (after having been in production since the war ended), and the company needed something other than that rear-engined, air-cooled platform if it wanted to survive.
Thanks to Audi, VW got the platform it needed, resulting in the Volkswagen Golf of 1974. It wasn’t Wolfsburg’s first water-cooled, front-engined, FWD product – but it was given the arduous task of replacing the Beetle (and today we have both Golf and Beetle on sale). How has it done so far?
Well, the Beetle took 60 years to reach global sales of 21 million units. The Golf surpassed that number in half the time.
Of course, all this was happening in a different time and place, but still, if its ancestors are anything to go by, this must be quite a car. We now arrive at the Golf Mk7 1.4 TSI, which officially went on sale in Malaysia yesterday. You know the car, you know the price, and you know how it performed in Sardinia. Let’s see how lucky number seven fares on Malaysian soil.
The day after the preview party on Tuesday, Volkswagen Malaysia held a media drive for the Golf Mk7 to Georgetown, Penang, the route of which comprised long motorway blasts, twisty and hilly B-roads, as well as stop-and-go urban driving (not to mention the constant dealing with potholes, ruts and bumps we’re all too familiar with).
Everyone can be their own judge in terms of looks. I’d call the Golf Mk7 handsome, but unassumingly so. It doesn’t say very much to me and there are certainly more striking designs to be had in this segment, but then again, there are also people who prefer their cars mature and understated like this.
There are some interesting styling details though, even if you have to concentrate before you notice them. I particularly like the side-on view, which I think shows the car’s balanced proportions to its best advantage.
A kink in the C-pillar panel is a clear nod to the original Golf, and the fuel filler cap is shaped to emulate the angles (the Mk6’s is circular), emphasising that kink even further. The overall effect is one of restrained dynamism, and U-shaped LED DRL bars add presence.
Slimming the body are two swage lines, deeper and more pronounced than those on the Mk6, making the new car look sharper and tauter. Working to similar effect are more angular head and tail lamps, bumpers, wing mirrors and lower intake, as well as defined bonnet creases. You still wouldn’t mistake it for anything other than a Golf, would you?
So the new car may not look worlds apart from the previous Mk6 on the outside, but to VW, clearly it’s what’s inside that matters. The biggest change is an all-new MQB platform. It’s a flexible one – designed for transverse-mounted engine applications, its variable parameters include track width, wheelbase and overhangs both front and rear. Only the distance between the front axle and the bulkhead is fixed.
The EA211 1.4 TSI powerplant is also new, with 140 PS from 4,500 to 6,000 rpm and 250 Nm of torque from 1,500 to 3,500 rpm. This engine loses the supercharger from the previous EA111 twincharged unit, which developed 160 PS at 5,800 rpm and 240 Nm of torque from 1,750 to 4,500 rpm.
Granted, the new car is slower to 100 km/h than the one before by about half a second, but as you can see, although there’s 20 PS less where peak power is concerned, all 140 horses kick in a full 1,300 rpm earlier and are sustained over a 1,500 rpm band. Peak torque, up by 10 Nm, also enjoys a wider spread over the rev range, making the numbers, if anything, more accessible overall.
Also, the Golf Mk7 is longer, lower, wider and lighter than its predecessor, resulting in more all-round cabin and boot space, and better fuel economy. Add to that various other improvements here and there, and you can appreciate how, on paper at least, the new car is a little better than the old one in every area that matters.
Step inside and you’re greeted by a cockpit that’s arguably more function than form – but its minimalist appearance belies its well-thought out ergonomics. Buttons and switches are exactly where you’d expect to find them, and are within intuitive reach. No qualms where switchgear quality is concerned, either.
The centre stack, housing the 5.8-inch proximity sensor-equipped “Composition Media” colour touchscreen system (with swipe functionality) and dual-zone climate controls, is angled ever so slightly towards the driver. It’s not the cosiest place in the world to be in, but at any rate, it’s a lot cleaner than the Mk6’s dashboard. A case of less is more, then.
The steering wheel gets a flat bottom, revised buttons and a classy chrome surround around the hub. There’s an electronic parking brake with Auto Hold, and underneath both front seats are pull-out storage trays. Manual seat adjustment is the order of the day, and a sunglass storage compartment sits over your head. Another cubbyhole is located on the driver’s side, just under the headlamp switch – pull the handle to reveal.
The practicality doesn’t end there. There are two cupholders on the centre console and bottle holders in the door pockets. The rear armrest houses a storage ‘trough’ with two little detachable pieces that allow one to alter the size of the cupholder opening to fit the cup or bottle snugly. With the pieces set at the smallest openings (furthest from each other), the clever contraption can hold two cups and a mobile phone in between, for example.
Right, with all that out of the way, let’s get down to the drive. On the highway, the Golf Mk7 is suitably quiet and refined, with wind noise detectable only at speeds in excess of 140 km/h or so. At a constant 110 km/h in seventh gear, the engine spins at a low 2,000 rpm and is therefore aurally indiscernible, not to mention economical.
Venture further across the speedometer and the Golf remains sure-footed and stable, with minimal steering effort required to keep it on the straight and narrow. It has a reasonably high natural cruising speed too, which means you can amble along at a respectable rate with relaxed ease, for mile after mile.
Comfort levels are high at such speeds, thanks in part to the 205/55 R16s, but more of it due to the suspension, which at the back employs an independent multi-link setup. Bumps are absorbed well by relatively long spring travel; rebound can result in one or two body oscillations too many, particularly when going over nastier ridges, but only if you’re going very fast indeed.
A significant degree of fun is to be had in the twisties. With this TSI now bestowed with the XDS differential lock from its hot GTI sibling, the deliberate scrubbing of the inside wheel under hard cornering to induce a bit of schoolboy chuckle is harder than ever, if not nearly impossible. XDS brakes the inside wheel to curb understeer and improve traction, affording more confidence in the bends.
Also encouraging you are good brakes, meaty in feel and progressively linear in action. Steering is quick and direct – although a tad more high-speed feedback would be nice. Body roll isn’t absent, but it isn’t excessive either – at any rate, the Golf Mk7 can briskly sweep from turn to turn without drama, all the while maintaining its composure.
Demand Sport mode and things get markedly more immediate. Gears are stubbornly held on to for longer and engaged more urgently. The engine, which is pretty inaudible most of the time, now emits a thin, clean sporty note that’s still somewhat muted, even in the upper echelons of the rev range.
A reduction though it may be, let it be said that 140 PS is not to be scoffed at – the Golf Mk7 can carry a decent turn of speed, aided by the quick- and smooth-shifting seven-speed DSG. Initial lag is present at the lower end – most evident when moving off – but otherwise, the power is pretty usable in most conditions.
Now you arrive in town, and the inevitable stop at traffic lights cues the start-stop system. Some of you may be wondering if starting off again produces an unwelcome jerk – it does, only if you step on the throttle too soon after releasing the brakes, without allowing the DSG to engage the clutch first. But it’s really a second’s wait, at the most.
Even with non-start-stop-equipped VWs with DSG, for a smooth and jolt-free move-off, one waits for the car to creep forward before addressing the accelerator pedal, so this is no different. Engine vibration and shake at start-up and shut-off is not intrusive, but could be improved.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about traffic jams, the system can recognise erratic stop-go movements and will keep the engine running as necessary. In any case, during prolonged traffic light waits, the engine starts itself after a while anyway, to minimise load on the electrically-driven air-con compressor and other such ancillaries.
Visibility is good all round, and I found the steering at city speeds to be more communicative than on previous-gen VWs. Ruts and potholes were also sufficiently absorbed at these speeds. I even rode in the back for a while – due to a less-steeply raked shoulder line (and therefore window sill), there is a reasonable expanse of glass area to keep claustrophobia at bay. Contributing to the comfort are rear air-con vents and a decent amount of space at the back.
The “Composition Media” touchscreen unit is intuitive and easy to use (you’ve seen how the proximity sensor works, albeit in its larger 8.0-inch form). The smooth scrolling works well, but the animated page flips, although cool-looking, can be a little slow. However, the graphics are attractive and legibility during the day is good.
When all is said and done, the Volkswagen Golf Mk7 is more of an evolution than a revolution. At RM157,888, it will remain the aspiration of many young professionals, and is still a practical, refined, economical, quick and well-built offering in its segment.
It’s a choice you make more with your mind than your heart though, but then again, it is hard to argue with 29 million people.