FROM the outside, not much has changed. Get on the road and the seventh generation Volkswagen Golf has the goods to be the benchmark setter.
Available in showrooms next weekend the new Golf is accompanied by an aggressive pricing strategy.
The range has been rationalised from nine models to four, with the entry-level price dropped by $500 to $21,490. Buyers can be assured of good value right up to the range-topping diesel at $34,490.
Armed with advanced technology, including a new fatigue warning system like we've seen on top-end prestige offerings, the new Golf is poised to cause some grief for the likes of the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla with a range boasting more fuel efficiency, lower emissions and improved ride dynamics.
With more internal space, the Golf's functional appeal has been strengthened. Good materials, soft touch finishes across the dash and door-tops, it's a tight package with limited flaws.
The cloth trim doesn't look anything spectacular, but feels hard wearing, while the pews are nicely supportive.
With average-sized passengers up front there is reasonable space in the rear for two adults courtesy of excellent head, leg and knee room. Three across the back bench seat can be done but is a stretch.
A cool feature with the touch-screen is a sensor which detects when you hand is near, and instructs a small pop-up menu to appear.
On the road
The Golf is one competent thing. Even the entry-level offering has responsive punch and performance which would offer suitability for most drivers.
There are three engine options, a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol with two levels of tune (90 kilowatts and 103kW), along with a 110kW turbo diesel. Transmission options include a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual clutch automatic.
Composed with a remarkably quiet cabin, there is little to fault with this versatile hatchback.
Its road manners are impressive, with little noise entering the cabin. Our only minor complaint was some tyre noise from the rear.
Most surprising was the 90kW model's performance. It can pull 100kmh in second gear with the manual box offering slick shifts, while the auto is equally adept.
Software and mechanical tweaks deliver a more linear performance with the 103kW petrol, while the diesel offers the typical burly strength typical of the modern-day diesel.
The steering has a well-weighted feel which helps exert the most from a responsive and taut chassis.
What do you get?
Three trim levels are available, including the basic Golf which comes with a 14cm touch-screen, leather multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth audio steaming and phone connectivity, along with CD stereo with USB and SD card slot.
Pay an extra $3500 and it takes you into the Comfortline range. That adds 16-inch alloys, auto wipers and lights, a good-looking brushed metal finish on the dash and doors, dual
zone air con, parking sensors front and rear, as well as a rear view camera.
The Highline is the range-topper which also gets fog lights, 17-inch alloys, sports seats with suede inserts, sat nav, glossy interior features, LED ambient lighting and carpet floor mats.
Highline is only available with an automatic transmission in the 103TDI and 103TSI.
The Golf has a five-star safety rating in Australia and Europe with seven airbags standard, along with stability control and its associated gizmos, as well as the fatigue warning system which analyses the driver's steering input to advise when to take a break.
A driver assist package is available with Comfortline and Highline models for $1300, which includes radar cruise control, a choice of driving modes (including sport, eco and individualised) and an automatic parking system
Servicing is capped for six years or 90,000km. Average price for annual servicing of the petrol models is $352, diesel is $395.
Fuel consumption is close to the best you can get, and the petrol versions, at just above five litres for every 100km, are good enough to nearly take the frugality of diesel out of the equation.
Reliability has been of concern for Volkswagen in Australia, but the company is working hard on addressing that issue this year.
Number one in this realm is the Mazda3 (from $20,330), also among the key players are the Toyota Corolla (from $19,990), Ford Focus (from $21,990) and Hyundai i30 (from $20,990). There is also the "super smalls" like the Kia Cerato hatch (from $19,640, new sedan $19,990) and the Holden Cruze hatch (from $19,490).
Boot space has improved by 30 litres (to 380), and the back seats have a 60-40 fold to expand the cargo carrying area. The seats can fold flat to make for a handy space.
Two child seat anchorage points are located on the outside pews, while the middle one is behind the headrest.
There are some good storage spots up front, a great space just in front of the shifter for phones and MP3 players, while there are two cup holders in the centre console and each door can accommodate a bottle.
While the looks won't inspire envy nor will it win a beauty contest in the ultra competitive small car environment - that's not what Golf buyers want.
They expect it to have similar lines and interior space.
The writer was Volkswagen's guest in Victoria.
What matters most
The good stuff: Strong engine line-up, slick manual, smoother DSG auto, well-weighted steering and balanced chassis.
What we'd like to see: Some design pizzazz options inside and out, alloys on entry level model.
Warranty and servicing: Three years, unlimited kilometre warranty. Capped priced servicing for six years or 90,000km.
Model: Volkswagen Golf Mk7.
Details: Five-door small-size front-wheel drive hatchback.
Engines: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 90kW @ 5000-6000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm @ 1500-3000rpm; 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol 103kW @ 4500-6000rpm and 250Nm @ 1500-3000rpm; 2.0-litre turbo diesel 110kW @ 3500-4000rpm and 320Nm @ 1750-3000rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic.
Consumption: 90TSI - 5.7 litres/100km (combined average, manual), 5.4 auto; 103 - TSI 5.2L/100km; 110TDI - 4.9L/100km.
Bottom line: 90TSI $21,490 (m), 90TSI $23,990 (a), 103TSI Comfortline $24,990 (a), 103TSI Comfortline $27,490 (a), 103TSI Highline (a) $31,990, 110TDI Highline $34,490 (a) plus on-roads.