Volkswagen Golf 7.5

World’s best small car raises its game for the infotainment age

ASH WESTERMAN

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE whistling OVERSEAS IF THERE’S one sure way to lose your grip on a leadership position, it’s by sitting around on your backside, doing little, whistling whatever ‘Dixie’ is 32 whistling whatever ‘Dixie’ is in German, while rivals steadily, quietly, raise their game.

Clearly VW has had this thought front of mind, as this is the first time in the history of the Golf that the company has seen fit to update a model comprehensively enough to declare it a ‘point-five’; that is, a specific mid-point in the model cycle, rather than a full model change. But while the updates are mostly worthwhile and welcome, the question can’t be avoided: are they enough?

Let’s start where it matters least: the exterior styling. There was nothing wrong with the Mk7’s taut, pert proportions, and the updates don’t mess with that by any significant degree. It’s the usual bumpers, grille, and headlamp/tail-light tweaks, with the most practical change being the shift to LED headlights, from xenons, on up-spec variants.

Given the carryover of powertrains, the most significant movement comes at the entry point of the range. The line-up now opens with the 110TSI, powered by a 110kW version of the 1.4-litre petrol turbo from the outgoing 92TSI, with either a sixspeed manual or, more commonly, a seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) transmission. The jump of 18kW is significant, but more noteworthy, in terms of general driveability, is the torque leap: the 92TSI engine made 200Nm; the 110TSI cranks out 50Nm more.

Standard equipment has risen, while the top-spec 9.2-inch touchscreen is a thing of beauty; big, glossy, wonderfully detailed resolution, and super responsive to the touch. However, gesture control is less convincing (see sidebar, right.)

Golf 7.5 also brings Active Info Display on up-spec models, which is VW’s version of what Audi terms Virtual Cockpit. Again, it’s a cool bit of tech that makes Golf feel even more grown-up, with a level of class quite separate from rivals such as the Ford Focus and Mazda 3. It’s at its most useful when configured to the sat-nav mode, reducing the size of the speedo and tacho dials, and giving prominence to the map display.

As for pricing, VW Australia is still crunching its numbers. But our estimate would be around $24,000 (plus on-roads) for the base manual, around $30,000 for the Comfortline DSG, $35,000 for the Highline 110TSI and around $37,500 for the Highline 110TDI. The latter’s 2.0-litre diesel (110kW/340Nm) also carries over, but now comes hooked to a sevenspeed DSG rather than a sixer.

This prunes a few drops from the fuel number, now a claimed 4.6L/100km. Refinement remains excellent; high-speed cruising is even more hushed and relaxed.

Shortly after the hatch, wagon and Alltrack lob here, we’ll see the revised Golf GTI (power up to 169kW) and Golf R (now cranking out 213kW) and both feeling even more premium and better equipped than the current Mk7s.

At the launch, Christian Bauer, project boss of VW’s small car, claimed “We’ve digitised the Golf”, but that may be a slight stretch. What VW has done is introduce some features that were genuinely needed, and added others that will allow customers to take their Golf into previously uncharted upmarket territory for this class.

Fortunately, all the Golf’s more analogue qualities – its pliant, comfortable ride, responsive, obedient chassis, and frugal, refined powertrains – remain as they were. Which, for now at least, is enough to keep Golf sitting in the position to which it’s accustomed.

PLUS & MINUS

Gesture control questionable; GTI a case of once-over very lightly New tech and infotainment make for an even more mature small car Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline 1395cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 110kW @ 5000-6000rpm 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1245kg 8.3sec (claimed) 5.1L/100km $35,000 (estimated) Now

No-show Evo

The launch of Golf 7.5 did reveal one disappointing fact: that Australia will not get the new-generation ‘Evo’ 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four being rolled out for most other markets. This engine, making the same 110kW/250Nm as our carry-over 1.4, features cylinder deactivation (allowing it to run as a twin) and the ability to run on the Miller combustion cycle, dropping combined cycle consumption to 5.0L/100km. However, VW Australia claims its complexities make it unviable for the price structure of the new range.

OR TRY THESE...

Holden Astra RS $27,240

Not quite as sophisticated as the Golf, but well engineered where it counts, and the zesty performance of the turbo 1.6 and engaging handling make a persuasive case for anyone who enjoys driving. Great seats too.

Peugeot 308 Active $27,990

A former COTY finalist and recent Megatest bronze medallist, the 308 is the true embodiment of je ne sais quoi. The outputs of its turbo sais quoi. The outputs of its turbo triple (96kW/230Nm) may seem unremarkable, but it’s a superb unit.