Automotive history may show that the most important part of the new seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is the few centimetres from its front axle to its firewall.
That's a distance that from this car on will be a fixed dimension in just about every vehicle manufactured by Germany's
VOLKSWAGEN GOLF 7
POWER PLANT: TSI Comfortline: 1.4-litre FSI direct injection turbocharged petrol four, 90 kW at 5000 rpm, 200 Nm at 1500-4000 rpm. TSI Highline: 1.4-litre FSI direct injection turbocharged petrol four, 103 kW at 4500 rpm, 250 Nm at 1500-3500 rpm. TDI Comfortline: 1.4-litre common-rail turbocharged diesel four, 77 kW at 3000 rpm, 250 Nm at 1500-2750 rpm. TDI Highline: 2.0-litre common- rail turbocharged diesel four, 110 kW at 3500 rpm, 320 Nm at 1750-3000 rpm. All engines have BlueMotion technology incorporating automatic stop-start and brake energy recuperation.
RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. TSI Comfortline available with six-speed manual, all the rest have DSG automatic. MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link set-up at the rear. Electric power steer, electronic stability and traction control.
HOW BIG: Length 4255mm, width 1790mm, height 1452mm, wheelbase 2637mm.
HOW MUCH: TSI Comfortline manual $32,250, auto $34,750, Highline auto $39,750. TDI Comfortline auto $37,250, Highline auto $43,750.
WHAT'S GOOD: Larger but lighter, more fuel efficient but more power and torque, Corolla prices.
WHAT'S NOT: Narrower wheels and tyres on the entry models mean handling is slightly compromised.
OUR VERDICT: The new seventh-generation VW Golf has the potential - and the price - to really put the proverbial cat among the pigeons in the compact hatch segment of our new car market.
It's at the epicentre of a new vehicle platform design strategy called MQB, which the group has invested more than $70 billion on developing - and which is seen for the first time on this Golf 7.
MQB stands for Modularer Querbaukasten - essentially German for modular transversal toolkit - and the concept involves all of the group's transverse- engined vehicles having common engine mounts.
Every other vehicle platform dimension - width, length, wheelbase and track - can be changed to suit the particular requirements of individual vehicles, but VW Group says massive savings in engineering and parts costs can be achieved by ensuring that all vehicles have their engines and transmissions installed in exactly the same place on those common mounts in the fixed area between the front axle and the firewall.
The company claims that the time taken to build a car can be cut by as much as 30 per cent via this standardisation of design and the fact parts will be able to be shared by an enormous number of vehicles - the future is likely to see at least 50 Volkswagens, Audis, Skodas and Seats built on the MQB platform.
Will it also mean that the VW Group vehicles will cost less to buy?
It will, if this Golf 7 is an indication - because the five- model range has been launched in New Zealand with prices below most of the RRPs of the country's most popular hatch, the Toyota Corolla.
The range starts with an entry TSI Comfortline manual for $32,250, which is more than $1000 less expensive than the entry Corolla GX manual, and it goes through to $43,750 for a TDI Highline auto, a price which is just $60 more than the top Corolla, the Levin ZR auto.
In between them are models which are up to $4000 less expensive than the Golf Mk 6 models they replace.
At a media function in Auckland last week, the importer European Motor Distributors claimed that new technologies and improved specification result in value improvements of up to $8000 with this new car.
"Volkswagen has worked hard to deliver a new Golf that is more advanced and more affordable - this is all part of our mission to offer a car for every Kiwi," said Volkswagen NZ general manager Tom Ruddenklau.
He claims the new model has the pricing and the goods to at least double the 864 sales it achieved last year. If this happens, it will potentially move the Golf up into second place in the vitally important hatchback market, well behind Corolla but in front of such product as Ford Focus and Mazda3.
And there's another big reason why the new Golf 7 has the potential to do very well - it's an excellent new hatch.
Golf has traditionally been one of the world's foremost front-drive hatchbacks, with 29 million of them sold since the Mk 1 version was launched in 1974. In the 39 years since that ground-breaking first model was released, the VW has developed a formidable reputation for the quality of its drive.
This new model continues the tradition. It's the biggest Golf yet, with an overall length extended by 56mm and with a wheelbase that is up 59mm. However, not only is it lighter than the previous model, but it comes with a choice of two petrol and two diesel engines that all now feature the fuel-saving BlueMotion technology.
As such, they all offer fuel consumption figures that are up to 19 per cent better than before - one of the diesels' official average consumption is just 3.9 L/100km, and the worst is 5.2 L/100km for one of the petrol models - and most of the models also boast better overall performance.
The exception is the most powerful of the petrol Golfs, the 103 kW TSI auto, which now takes 8.4 instead of 8 seconds to get to 100 kmh, primarily because its 1.4-litre engine is now single rather than twin turbo-charged.
This has reduced maximum power from 118 kW to 103 kW, although the torque has improved from 240 to 250 Newton metres. And the fuel consumption is now better too, at 5 L/100 instead of 6 L/100km.
Stand in front of the Golf 7 and squint, and you may not notice a lot of change from the previous generation model - or even the two models prior to that, for that matter.
But there are changes to the exterior.
The difference is almost as if Volkswagen has done the equivalent of taking a suit to the drycleaners, because the Golf's bodyshell is now sharper than before with fresh creases down its flanks, over the bonnet and across the boot.
It looks nice, and it's comforting to know that the German manufacturer continues to prefer to simply improve on already excellent hatchback visual design rather than indulge in any dramatic changes.
The bigger vehicle dimensions have freed up more room inside.
This is particularly the case for those in the back seats, where there is now more leg, shoulder and elbow room, and in the cargo area where the capacity has grown by 30 litres to 380 litres with all seats in use.
The cargo room can be increased to 1270 litres with the rear seats folded down, and a special design feature is what can be done with the tonneau cover. Usually these rigid covers have to be removed from a car entirely when larger items need to be stowed, and there's always the risk they will then become lost or misplaced.
But in the case of the Golf 7, the cover can either be stored under the load area's floor when the rear seats are in use, or slipped into special slots that allow it to be part of the load area itself by helping provide a flat load surface when the rear seats are folded down.
Up front, the dash area and various controls are now angled more towards the driver, and there's a infotainment touch- screen which is pretty swish for a car of this price because it senses the proximity of your hand and readies itself for whatever instruction is to be received.
And during a shortish drive programme out of Auckland last week, I quickly came to love the front seats, which have got to be among the best around.
This new Golf 7 continues Volkswagen's strategy of downsizing engine cubic capacity in the interests of better fuel economy and lower exhaust emissions, and this means that it is available with a choice of 1.4-litre petrol or 1.6 and 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines.
The entry car is the 90 kW/200 Nm petrol-powered TSI six-speed manual specified to what VW calls Comfortline, which means it gets such things as 15-inch alloys and cloth seats.
For $2500 more, the car can be purchased with a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic transmission.
The same engine is aboard the third petrol Golf in the range, the TSI Highline, but the turbocharging wick has been turned up a little so it develops 103 kW of power and 250Nm of torque. For its $5000 more than the Comfortline TSI with the DSG, this model gets 17-inch wheels, parking sensors, reversing cameras, and satellite navigation.
Two diesel versions are on offer.
A Comfortline model is powered by a 1.4-litre turbodiesel mated to the DSG and develops 77 kW of power and 250 Nm of torque, while a Highline version has a 2.0-litre 110 kW/320 Nm engine under its bonnet, which is mated to a six- speed DSG.
Naturally, that top diesel model is the pick of the Golf bunch, primarily because of the dollops of torque available. But the petrol models are very good in a different, revvy sort of way.
Handling is also excellent, particularly with the Highline models with their bigger wheels and tyres.
Perhaps most notably, all models in the new Golf 7 range continue the tradition established long ago by this Volkswagen hatchback of refined motoring that borders on the luxurious.
But thanks to such initiatives as MQB, this time around it all comes with pricing that sits the car right in the meat of the mass-market compact hatch segment.
- Taranaki Daily News
There is a proposal for a $28m sporting complex at New Plymouth's TSB Stadium. Is that a want or a need?Related story: (See story)
Get Taranaki's frequent news and sport updates
Choose an iconic Taranaki photo as wallpaper for your computer