SOME things get better with age - like a good vintage and, it seems, the Volkswagen Golf. The seventh generation of this compact hatchback may not look particularly exciting because of its evolutionary styling, but what should titillate is its revolutionary construction.
The new Golf is based on the VW Group's Modular Transverse Matrix platform and shares engines and body sections with other front-wheel-driven models. This efficient production method employs a new and lighter aluminium 1.4-litre turbocharged engine tuned to produce either 122hp or 140hp. The twincharged option with both a turbo and supercharger working together is no longer available for the Golf.
The higher-powered version with both variable intake and exhaust camshafts is called the Volkswagen Golf Sport 1.4 TSI. Extensive efforts to cut kerb weight have resulted in this model weighing 100kg less than its predecessor, or just under 1,300kg with an improved seven-speed dry dual clutch gearbox. Yet the new hatch is longer and wider with more equipment. The wheelbase is stretched 59mm to 2,637mm, although the 1,452mm high car is now 28mm lower.
Two technologies that come standard are the XDS electronic differential lock and multi-collision brakes to reduce residual kinetic energy in the event of multiple collisions. Also new is the driving profile selector, which offers four driving programs - Eco, Sport, Normal, and Individual.
In Eco mode, attaining optimum fuel economy is key, so the engine, gearbox, and air conditioning are controlled accordingly. In Sport, it is the opposite with engine and steering response heightened; even the bi-xenon headlamps swivel more quickly.
Together with XDS and the weight savings, the new Golf is significantly nimbler than before. XDS brakes the inside front wheel in a corner for sharper "turn in", while the electric steering has more feel. The latter manages to combine lightness with a rare connectedness for good weight and feedback.
From stationary, the Golf Sport accelerates adequately, with 250 Newton-metres of torque summoned from just 1,500rpm. But it is its elasticity that is impressive. VW says the power and flexibility of this new engine allows the Golf Sport to be one second faster when accelerating from 80kmh to 120kmh.
The improved in-gear acceleration is matched by an improved interior. The cabin looks and feels more premium, with nice materials and a centre console angled towards the driver. The driving ergonomics are even better - taller drivers can now sit slightly lower with pedals set farther back, while the gear lever's Audi-like feature (the VW Group owns the premium brand with the four rings) only requires a nudge to toggle between D and S.
An electric parking brake frees up the lower centre console area and there is a large eight-inch touchscreen with clever functionality. At the back, some nice touches include a simple "ridge" which prevents the seatbelt from slipping under the folding seat back, and a height adjustable boot floor that allows the parcel shelf to be stored underneath when transporting bulky items.
Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of this new model is its styling - such a well-engineered car deserves less tepid looks. Then again, the last couple of Golfs have been equally boring, so it's hardly a tragedy.
Only the Golf fan will appreciate visual cues like a flat C-pillar because the crease line now ends at the rear door instead of continuing into the rear lamps like on the previous car. Or front fenders which slope down from the hood towards the wheel arches instead of wings that used to be higher than the bonnet. Still, there is no denying that this near-premium model is brilliantly designed. The more than 300 people who have booked one in the last month must certainly think so.
Volkswagen Golf Sport 1.4 TSI
Engine 1,395cc turbocharged
Transmission 7-speed dual clutch
Max power 140 hp @ 4,500-6,000 rpm
Max torque 250 Nm @ 1,500-3,500 rpm
0-100 kmh 8.4 secs
Top speed 212 kmh
CO2 emissions 116 g/km
Price $158,300 (with COE)
Distributor Volkswagen Group Singapore