MAJORCA, Feb 17 — Cars are made of metal, plastic and glass, but some parts of the new Volkswagen Golf must be composed of dark matter. Those would be the parts used in the car’s facelift, for they are completely undetectable.
A mid-life refresh for the seventh-generation Golf has given it new lamps and redesigned bumpers, but even the car’s most ardent fans would struggle to tell. Do not rely, then, on the neighbours to coo over the fact that you have the latest Golf in the car park.
If you really want to impress them, you could invite them to sit inside.
Fancy tech for the masses
You know how passengers sitting in Business Class have huge entertainment screens while you and I must squint at a tiny one in Economy? The Golf’s new 9.2-inch touchscreen system could have been plucked straight out of a Raffles Class seat.
The Discover Pro infotainment option, as VW calls it, adds plenty of poshness to the cabin, and the crisp graphics from its high-resolution display are among the best in the business.It does, however, take a step back in functionality here and there, though. Previous systems were ringed by physical buttons giving you direct access to specific functions.
Now you have to press “Menu” first to call up virtual buttons, which adds a step.
It also has a gesture control system that lets you control certain functions by moving your hand in the air.
Why is this so? Probably because the BMW 7 Series has it, and the Golf has always been about the democratisation of fancy technology.
Whatever the reasons, the system is utterly superfluous but nice to have.
Beneath the sheets
The real improvements to the Golf are under the bonnet. The facelifted car will be sold with the 1.2- and 1.4-litre engines that currently power the Golf range in Singapore, but will eventually be replaced by a new series of 1-litre and 1.5-litre engines.
The one we tested, a 150hp version of the new 1.5-litre engine, could hit showrooms here around National Day by our reckoning (Volkswagen would not tell us when), and appropriately enough, it brings some fireworks to the Golf.Paired with a new seven-speed DSG transmission, the engine belts out power willingly, and sends the Golf from a standstill to 100kmh in only 8.3 seconds.
VW plays up the engine’s eco-friendliness, because it can shut down two of its cylinders during light cruising to save fuel. Still, the new engine feels more like it has been designed to celebrate how much fun it is to burn fossil fuels willy-nilly.
It pulls with satisfying vim, and the new transmission works beautifully, offering smoother and faster shifts than the previous one. It uses a wet clutch design, which should aid reliability, according to Dr Holger Blume, a powertrain engineer for the new Golf.
“With a wet clutch, you have better performance in conditions that produce high thermal loads in the gearbox,” he said.
Conditions like heavy city traffic, which are common in Singapore, tend to produce just such heat. “With the oil around a wet clutch, you can transfer heat energy from the clutches to a cooling system,” said Dr Blume.
If you escape the city, you will find that the Golf is as frisky to drive as ever.
The suspension masterfully straddles the line between composure and eagerness, giving you a comfortable car in most situations, but one that can attack corners the way a puppy chases after a stick.There’s a fluidity to the way it changes direction, along with the way it offers the driver plenty of feedback. Hit a bump in the middle of a corner and the VW is unflappable, shrugging off the intrusion coolly, and refusing to be deflected off-line.
For all the driving pleasure the Golf delivers, it is inching towards the day when cars drive themselves. One new option is Traffic Jam Assist, which takes over the steering, acceleration and braking in a traffic snarl.
Whether it makes it to Singapore is still an open question. If it does, it could make the morning commute on the Central Expressway almost bearable.
With features like that (hopefully) on the way, the minor improvements only emphasise how the Golf has elevated the hatchback to an art form.
It continues to deliver features and technology that you only expect from larger, pricier cars, and it delivers the sort of driving experience that gives you a reason to start your day with a smile, particularly with the new 1.5-litre engine.
It is a perfect example of how some cars transcend metal, glass and plastic, and deliver what matters.
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI
Engine: 1,498cc, turbo in-line four, 150hp, 250Nm
Performance: 216kmh, 0-100kmh: 8.3s, 5.1L/100km (est.), 115g/km CO2 (estimated)
On sale: Third quarter — TODAY