Volkswagen Golf 7 First Drive
The new Golf is a case of more of the same, only different. It should be more than enough to continue its record-breaking run, says Paul Murrell.
When the new Golf replaced the seemingly eternal Beetle in 1974, it changed the market forever. Of course, VW had the Beetle soldier on for a while longer, just in case the Golf didn’t win over buyers. They needn’t have worried. The Golf was an almost immediate success and spawned dozens of lookalike hatches.
But like the Beetle that preceded it, the guidelines that were established with the original eventually became something of a straightjacket. Veer too far from the established design and it’s no longer a Golf. Stay too close to the previous design and existing owners have no pressing urgency to replace their current model with a new one.
The new Golf is the seventh generation. As with all evolutions, the relationship to the original can be difficult to see. The Golf’s sharp styling in 1974 was by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign, about as far removed from the bulbous Beetle it replaced as could be imagined.
The 2013 Golf is a very different proposition and unlike the Golf 6 that was an evolution of the Golf 5, this one is an all-new design. Cars, like many of us, have put on some weight over the years and the Golf is no exception. The first Golf was a svelte 800-odd kilograms, compared to the current model’s 1200-1300kg. It is, however, some 100kg less than the car it replaces. Granddaddy Golf was 162cm wide, 372 cm long, 139cm tall. Seven generations later, it’s grown 18cm wider, 63cm longer and 10cm taller.
The Golf 7 is offered with a choice of three different engines: a 1.4-litre petrol unit producing either 90kW or 103kW, and a 110kW 2.0-litre diesel. In 1976 (it took new models a lot longer to arrive back then), Australians could only buy a Golf with a 1600cc petrol engine producing just 55kW. Of course, the first Golf was much lighter, so those kilowatts had fewer kilograms to shift, although it took 8.5L/100km to do it. The new Golf uses much less: 5.7L/100km (combined cycle, 90TSI manual). The diesel is even more frugal at 4.9L/100.
Buyers of the first Golf wouldn’t comprehend the multitude of choices or level of sophistication in the current model. The model range starts with the 90TSI petrol, moving up through the 90TSI Comfortline, 103TSI Highline and 110TDI diesel Highline. Even the entry-level 2013 Golf puts the original to shame: 5.8-inch colour touchscreen with intuitive swipe and zoom functions (in 1974, the television in your home was still in black-and-white), trip computer, cruise control, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, daytime running lamps, air conditioning, electric mirrors and windows, outside temperature indicator, tilt and reach adjustable steering column, height adjustable seat, remote central locking, electronic parking brake with auto hold, dust and pollen filter, start/stop function, battery regeneration mode, fuel economy display, multi-collision braking system, tyre pressure monitoring system and heat-insulating windows. The 1974 Golf buyer counted himself lucky to have an AM/FM radio as standard.
Move up the scale to the top-of-the-range Highline and you can add 17-inch alloy wheels, LED ambient light package, sports seats trimmed in Alcantara with fabric bolsters, auto headlights and wipers, chrome trim accents, LED reading lamps front and rear, heated windscreen washer jets, heated front seats, xenon headlamps with washers and front cornering lamps, rear view camera and dual-zone air conditioning.
But there was one thing about the original Golf that the current model cannot match: it was distinctive. Giugiaro created an iconic two-box design that looked like nothing else on the road. The current model is easily confused with earlier Golfs and, even worse, other modern hatchbacks. There are sharper creases on the bodylines that no longer extend all the way back, and a slightly revised nose. It’s stylish, taut, eminently practical and, unfortunately, somewhat anonymous. On the upside, it should, like Golfs that went before it, age gracefully.
Importantly, the new Golf is an immeasurably safer place to be than a Gen 1 Golf. There are seven airbags, electronic stability control, ABS, EBD and brake assist, and even a fatigue detection system. In the ’70s, Golf drivers would have relied on a sharp prod in the ribs by the passenger if they started to nod off. Lane assist actively steers the car back into the correct lane or away from the side of the road (providing there are clear line markings – not always a given on Australian roads). City Emergency Braking up to 30km/h is another great advance as is crash anticipation and preparation. Adaptive cruise control, as usual with these systems, is not completely satisfactory. Like most other systems, it had a tendency to pick up vehicles in the left lane when you are taking a right hand curve (or the right lane on left hand curves) and apply the brakes, sometimes quite aggressively. Then the poor sod in the car behind you wonders why you have braked suddenly when your lane ahead is completely clear.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
The Golf 7 costs from just $21,490 ($500 less than the entry price of the previous model, and that was the 1.2-litre 77kW car that has been deleted from the range). In 1976 (when the first generation Golf finally arrived in Australia) the price was $4228. Convert that to 2013 dollars and it’s equivalent to around $24,000, despite the wealth of luxury items, safety equipment and technological improvements in the new Golf. Golf sales are closing in on 30 million and that’s a heck of a lot of cars. The new Golf looks set to take the nameplate well past that milestone.