Thirty-eight years and more than 38 million cars later, each one better than its predecessor, Volkswagen have created a masterpiece - the Golf 7, which has only just arrived on local dealership but is already tipped as one of the hot runners for this year's coveted Car of the Year title.
The Golf 7 - scoring top marks in a number of areas.
Not only is the latest Golf the prettiest to date, it also rides and drives like a dream. It has more space, its interior is seriously classy enough to challenge many upmarket cars, it is light on fuel and emissions, and it is tech-tastic enough to outclass anything remotely in its range.
Of the car's many outstanding features I loved is its really zippy performance across the range. At the Media introduction I drove two models - a 1.4-litre 90kW/200Nm Comfortline armed with seven-speed DSG transmission and a 2.0-litre 110kW/320Nm model with a six-speed DSG box.
Something quite special
Whether you are a fan of oil-burners or not, this diesel is something quite special. Not only does it have amazing grunt right from take-off it also handles as well, if not better, than anything else in its class, in spite (or perhaps because of) the diesel flowing through its arteries.
Instantly recognisable as a Golf, but with a very stylish makeover.
Yet to me the real star (and my personal choice) of the two (and with the exception, of course, of the as yet not driven new GTI due to arrive here in mid-year) is the amazing 1.4-litre model. Not surprisingly, its award-winning engine sings like a sewing machine, whether you are idling along in commuter traffic or hot-footing it on the motorway.
Volkswagen says it will do the 0-100km/h sprint in 9.3 seconds and gallop all the way to 203km/h. But drive it sensibly and you could use as little as 5.0-litres/100km will emissions stay down below the emission tax level at only 116g/km. Wolfburg's latest handles with class, thanks to its longer wheel-base and shorter overhangs, plus the fact it is shorter, wider and lower than the previous model. The front wheels are positioned a little further forward to add to the cling and to add more space to the cabin. Steering is sharper than ever before (close your eyes and you could be in a GTI of a few models back) and is virtually on par with that of the hot hatch brood. It has shed over 100kg in weight which further improves its agility.
Like all VW transmissions the cog-swapping happens quickly and smoothly, even when you use the DSG box in tap-tapping manual mode. No matter how hard you stamp on the go-faster pedal, the cabin noises remain little more than a hush - unless of course, if you turn on the smart sound system.
At last! No biscuit!
On the more practical side the boot is now 30 litres larger and it houses a real-life spare wheel.
On the more practical side the boot is now 30 litres larger and it houses a real-life spare wheel, not one of those ghastly Marie biscuit liquorice strip things that more and more manufacturers are opting for.
When it comes to passenger protection it is one of the safest cars ever built. In addition to seven airbags and ABS brakes with ESP, it is armed with a Multi-Collision system which automatically engages when the vehicle is involved in an accident to reduce speed and to reduce the risk of secondary collision. It proudly carries a 5-Star Euro NCAP rating and has also won four other NCAP innovation awards.
The Golf also scores top marks for its excellent living quarters; tasteful, practical, user-friendly and top-notch quality, sans bling - from the use of soft touch materials, acres of space, gauges and dials angled towards the driver, upgraded aircon and comfortable ergonomic seating, to a gearshift knob customized to fit into a human hand and a clever touchscreen which senses your finger movement and reacts even before you touch it to connect to your tablet or phone. The screen also has wipe and zoom features.
Volkswagen says it will do the 0-100km/h sprint in 9.3 seconds and gallop all the way to 203km/h.
The sound system on our test car is even clever enough to flash up the name of a song being played on the radio. Standard on the infotainment system are features such as digital radio, aux inputs (including USB) and access to trip information.
Walter has done a vunderful job, ja!
All models except one have stop-start functionality which can (mercifully, many drivers will agree) be switched off.
In the looks department the clever German white coats, led by design guru Walter de Silva, have stuck to the basic boxy Golf shape but they have done a fine job of giving it a very stylish make-over. It is still instantly recognizable as the same name bought by more than 323,000 South Africans, but the latest model is easily identified by the sharp crease that runs down its sides, niftier lights and sporty alloys. In design terms it is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, yet it dresses the Golf in a much more elegant manner.
Beware of going overboard with the "optional extras", but other than that, enjoy the drive... and you will enjoy it.
The new range features petrol as well as diesel engines and are available in Trendline, Comfortline and Highline equipment levels at prices which compare very favourably with those of the outgoing models.
However, buyers should exercise caution when stepping into the minefield of "optional extras" even though the temptation of personalising one's car is always there. For example, the 1.4 Comfortline model I drove at launch sells for R279,400, but with the addition of metallic paint, Light Assist, Leather Seats, sunroof, Media with iPod adapter and a Composition Media Radio its price jumped to R304,900.
The new Golf 7 beats its predecessor in most departments, from safety and fancies, to performance and looks. Volkswagen says it has no competitors, only rivals and I am inclined to agree. The rest of the car world has a lot of catching up to do. Just to match the Golf is going to be difficult. To beat it in 2013, virtually impossible.
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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