THE VW Golf has been a poster child for Volkswagen since it burst on to the scene in the early 1970s, perhaps even more so, dare we say it, than the iconic Beetle.
Named for the German word meaning Gulf Stream, from a time when most Volkswagen vehicles were called after prominent winds and currents, this award-winning number is much desired with more than 29 million sold worldwide by the end of 2012.
The Golf's appeal lies in its tempered looks, quality build, sporty nature and an ability to convey a sense of fun. It is a winning formula that needs little tampering with, and this seventh edition Golf does much to further entrench its already strong brand.
The quality interior is certainly one of the highlights of the Golf 7 with Volkswagen obviously paying attention to style and comfort. Texture seems to be the buzzword here with even the out of sight cheaper plastics boasting a finer less floozy feel.
The cockpit - nicely organised and clear to operate - is cleverly angled slightly to the driver keeping all the necessities within reach. The console is dominated by a 14.7cm touch- screen that is easy to operate and responds without hesitation when it senses your hand near.
The seats are surprisingly supportive offering encouragement in all the right places. Occupants in the rear are well looked after too although a high centre tunnel will make it quite cumbersome to carry three adults on a long journey. The boot is fairly spacious and deep enough to add value expanding from 380 litres to 1270 litres with the split back seats dropped flat.
On the road
This new Golf may not look much different than its predecessor but hidden within there are changes galore. Volkswagen has done away with the 1.2-litre 77TSI and the twin charged 118TSI.
You can choose from the 1.4-litre 90TSI mated to a six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed DSG and the 1.4-litre 103TSI and turbo-diesel 110TDI available in seven-speed and six-speed DSG respectively.
The engines are quieter, more powerful and have greater fuel efficiency.
We put the 103TSI and 110TDI through their paces and it is difficult to drive these cars without a smile. Performance is excellent with a good mix of power and precision.
The Golf feels firmly planted on the road, it takes direction efficiently showing poise into corners, verve along the straights and guts up steep climbs. It doesn't hold second far too long down a rapid decline and gear selection is slick and no-nonsense.
There is power when you need it and delivery comes smoothly rather than in sharp bursts. The diesel is only throaty when pushed but we found its start/stop system not as effortless as the one delivered by the petrol.
What do you get?
Volkswagen has stepped up its game in the past five years, the stingy cousin now offering an embarrassment of riches. Our top end Highline models included among others, 17-inch alloys, heat insulating glass, dual-zone climate control, push-button start, electric park brake, auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, LED lights, reverse camera, parking sensors and an infotainment system with Bluetooth, SD slots, USB input and a CD slot in the glovebox. Safety is five-star and comes courtesy of seven airbags, stability and traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist. A driver assist package including fatigue detection and automatic emergency braking comes at an extra cost.
The Golf has hardly put a foot wrong in a segment full of high flyers like the Mazda3 (from $20,330), Toyota Corolla (from $19,990), Ford Focus (from $20,290), Hyundai i35 (from $20,990), Kia Cerato (from $19,460) and even the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 (all three are from $35,600).
Golfs usually find favour with young professionals, small families and retired couples.
A wider wheelbase gives this version slightly more space and that is a boon in a small car and all in all this Golf will impress. It is sporty and zippy, easy to drive and park.
Volkswagen promises the new engines are rather more efficient increasing the time between fuel stops with official figures for the 103TSI at 5.2 litres/100km and the 110TDI at 4.9L/100km.
We found our test cars close to that mark which was a pleasant surprise. Volkswagen offers a three years/unlimited kilometres warranty with three years roadside assist and a six year/90,000km fixed-price servicing plan.
Servicing costs range from $272 to $791 with intervals at 12 months or 15,000km.
Volkswagen seems keen not to repeat the chance they took in changing the looks of this car with the Golf 5 which saw car buyers vote with their feet and sales drop. But there is such a thing as being too cautious.
Sure this Golf 7 achieves the brief of looking like a golf but what limited changes there are perhaps too subtle for us to get excited about.
Model: Volkswagen Golf Highline 103TSI and 110TDI
Details: Four-door front-wheel small hatch
Engine: 103TSI is a 1.4-litre turbo petrol generating maximum power of 103kW between 4500-6000rpm and peak torque of 250Nm between 1500-3500rpm. 110TDI is a 2.0-litre turbo diesel generating maximum power of 110kW between 3500-4000rpm and 320Nm between 1750-3000rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG for 103TSI and six-speed DSG for 110TDI.
Consumption: 5.2 litres/100km combined average for 103TSI and 4.9L/100km for 110TDI.
Bottom line: From $31,990 for 103TSI and $34,490 for 110TDI.
What matters most
What we liked: Superior cabin feel, sporty drive, all-round package.
What we'd like to see: Reverse cameras across the range, more interesting exterior.
Warranty and servicing: Volkswagen offers a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty with three years roadside assist and a six year/90,000km fixed-price servicing plan.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.