WHEN Volkswagen decides to play the drive-away pricing card with a new Golf then you know things are tough.
The German hatch is still the classy leader among small cars, with a raft of extra safety and technology in the Mark 7.5 update this week, but it's playing in a league where value comes first.
Despite consistent success in motoring awards worldwide - including Carsguide Car of the Year - the Volkswagen badge needs polishing after the heavy hits of its DSG automatic and Dieselgate farragos. Tougher challengers include a fresher Mazda3 and new Hyundai i30.
The Golf's starting price is now $23,990 on-the-road for a 110TSI manual, a car that replaces the former 92kW model and gains alloy wheels and front assist with city emergency braking. Top of the range is the $42,490 drive-away Alltrack 135TDI wagon, the only addition to the 7.5 range and the first Alltrack with a diesel in Australia.
Volkswagen Australia is not making any outrageous sales predictions for the latest Golf but believes the car is solid in fourth place in class after the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and i30. It's relying on a claimed $2000 value boost to win sales.
VW boss Michael Bartsch says the Golf will never be a $19,990 drive-away price fighter here. He makes no excuses for a car that is almost impossible to pick from the Mark 7 - there are tiny changes to the bumpers, grille and lamps, including LEDs at the front.
"It's a heart transplant, not Botox. It's typically German, with evolution not revolution," he said.
"But if you look at the technology it's a new model.
"We (won't) compete on price but we can compete on technology, engineering and emotion. It's the driving experience. Korean cars are still a commoditised transport capsule."
The 110TSI gets an eight-inch infotainment screen, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear air vents and LED tail-lamps. The parking assistance can now handle parallel and perpendicular chores, with rear or front entry.
On the safety side, city braking joins seven air bags, rear camera and fatigue warning.
VW Australia is having the 7.5 crashed again to verify the top ranking for a car it now claims has "the most compelling safety package in the class".
Comfortline is the pick, as it's effectively the package from the superseded Highline flagship, with the eight-inch screen enhanced by smartphone touch tech, 17-inch alloys and dual-zone air-con.
"We expect one in four to choose a Comfortline," product marketing manager Jeff Shafer said.
VW keeps up the anti-SUV push with its wagon in front-drive and high-riding Alltrack, fitted with roof racks and claiming 605L of luggage space.
Driver assistance adds $1500 and R-Line trim (main picture) adds $2500. Coming performance models include the GTI, R and Wolfsburg Edition.
ON THE ROAD
Can I pick any difference driving the 7.5? Nope. That's not a bad thing, because the Golf still sets the pace on quietness, comfort and refinement. In mixed weather conditions in Melbourne, from dry freeway to slushy forest tracks, it is never less than good. The basic 110 has sharp performance with the seven-speed DSG auto, although it wants to cling to the high gears for economy above 80kmh.
The Alltrack diesel, with its chunky feel on the road, provides more proof that SUVs are not the only solution for a family car. It's roomy with a very big boot and gets along well with the security of on-demand all-wheel drive.
Inside, the infotainment screen is bigger in each car than its predecessor - the top-line model's truly impressive eight-inch job has incredible clarity and is easy to use. The loaded Alltrack gets the excellent digital Active Info Display that puts everything, including maps, in front of the driver.
Overall, there is more to find and enjoy in the Golf 7.5, with a driving experience that's as good as it gets. The bonus for savvy shoppers is VW's $2000 bonus extra for the outgoing Golf Mark 7 - that makes it the real bargain in the update for 2017.
VW Golf 7.5:
Starting prices are up across the board but disguised with drive-away deals that start at $23,990. VW claims at least $2000 of added value, depending on the model.
More standard safety, improved infotainment - even the parking assistance has more ability. Each model gets more as features trickle down the range.
The dozy 92kW base engine is gone, leaving 110kW and 132kW turbos and a 135kW turbo diesel with 380Nm. Six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG auto depending on the model; front-drive except in the AWD Alltrack.
Same as it ever was, with a Benz-style feel on any road and impressive quietness and comfort.
You will never pick the difference from outside. Bigger infotainment screens are the giveaway in the cabin.
VW GOLF 110TSI
PRICE: From $23,990 drive-away
WARRANTY: 3 years/unlimited km
CAPPED SERVICING: From $1223 for 3 years
SERVICE INTERVALS: 12 months/15,000km
SAFETY: 5 stars
ENGINE: 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 110kW/250Nm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed man, 7-speed dual-clutch auto; FWD
THIRST: From 5.7L/100km
DIMENSIONS: 4258mm (L), 1799mm (W), 1452mm (H), 2620mm (WB)
WEIGHT: From 1241kg
SPARE: Space saver
TOWING: 1500kg (640kg unbraked)
0-100KM/H: 8.2 secs
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