x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Road Test: 2013 Volkswagen Golf

The Volkswagen Golf is 38 years old and the launch of the seventh edition comes just four years behind the last, equally evolutionary model.

The interior of the new VW Golf. Courtesy Volkswagen
The interior of the new VW Golf. Courtesy Volkswagen

You don't have to be an athletic football player to deliver sustained excitement, just as long as you play a good, long game.

And there is no doubt that, more than any other car, the Volkswagen Golf has staying power. Now 38, it has again been under the surgeon's knife in an effort to remain young.

In 1974, the original car's designers hit on something amazing: Volkswagen created automotive democracy with a car that appealed equally to men and women, the wealthy and the working class, hipsters and rednecks, and so on. While you might hazard a prediction at the type of person driving the BMW in front, you could never do this with a Golf.

The launch of the seventh edition comes just four years behind the last, equally evolutionary model. But evolution isn't necessarily a bad thing, although those who like to see wholesale changes will always be disappointed. Given its pedigree, Volkswagen was never going to "throw an XJ" by wildly reshaping the vehicle while maintaining its age-old nameplate.

Indeed, this latest Golf is perhaps even more like the original than its predecessors, with many of the Mk1's design cues accentuated, such as the exaggerated chevron trail of the C-pillar, which more than anything heralded the car's signature appearance.

The new look consists mainly of designers' tweaks, meaning that observers will be hard-pressed to describe in detail the differences between this and the last model.

The addition of lower shut lines and higher wheel flares gives the new car a lower centre of gravity that is further enhanced by an additional 59mm of badly needed wheelbase - the previous model had the shortest in its class. A wider and lower frame also adds to this planted look.

While outdoor finish quality is a given with a Volkswagen, the new car's interior is a revelation. Gone are the days of boxy black plastics and fabrics as bland as a Russian breakfast. Indeed, Golf interiors have come a long way, to the point that even the base trim is decidedly premium. It's as if VW is trying to out-Audi with its inside appeal.

The fascia is as slick as the male protagonist in a bodice-ripping yarn, with plastics that look more like veneers, and buttons, switches and stalks that have both feel and thunk. Even the lowest trim line comes with a five-inch TFT screen and all sorts of electronic gubbins far beyond what you would expect.

Cars for the Middle East come with a high spec and, if you tick all the options, you'll find things like adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, fatigue detection, lane assist, auto park assist and progressive variable-rate steering.

At the moment, there is no 1.6L engine or GTI variant, but these will be coming next year. In the meantime, we tested the all-alloy 1.4L TSI unit, which weighs 40 per cent less than the old iron-block it replaces.

Indeed, VW engineers have reduced the Golf's weight by almost 100kg compared to its predecessor. The new single-turbo engine is simpler and lighter than the turbocharged-supercharged unit on the Golf6, meaning that the lower power rating of 140hp - 20hp down on the previous edition - only equates to a drop of 0.4 seconds on the 0-to-100kph dash, which it can make in 8.4 seconds.

The new Golf is not designed to be blistering to drive, and you'd be ill-advised to rev it high. On the flip-side, a sizeable well of low- and mid-range torque comes in reserve, to the tune of 250Nm, which gives plenty of pull.

The new, lighter, multi-link rear suspension is exceptionally polished and the optional Dynamic Chassis Control piles on additional sophistication to a ride that is already an improvement over the Golf6.

What's more, it is quiet, the steering is responsive and there is an excellent amount of room around the comfortable and supportive seats. VW has clearly focused on the things that made the Golf a success in the first place and then worked the rest.

Speaking as someone who was also born in 1974, the Golf certainly creaks less and is a whole lot more peppy for its 38 years. But even though the interior comes as a revelation, and the design and build quality keep getting better, this car doesn't offer much in the way of surprises.

That the Golf can maintain its appeal while piling on the years is quite a remarkable achievement. It is a master at playing the long game, and by doing so it has kept fresh while others age.

Sales in the Middle East have grown to give it 23 per cent market share within its segment in a very short time. And when it goes on sale in February 2013, the new Golf is bound to make an even bigger impact. Not bad for an old-timer.