Volkswagen Golf Mk7

2 Oct, 2012 1:00pm Jack Rix

Is the seventh-generation VW Golf still the car to beat? We get behind the wheel to deliver our verdict


In isolation, the new Golf is predictably fantastic. In many ways, it’s the iPhone of the car world – it’s well designed and built and does everything you could ask of it. Its biggest test will come when it faces its sister cars – the good-looking SEAT Leon and plush Audi A3 – and our class current class leader, the BMW 1 Series. But from where we’re sitting, the Golf looks like a good bet.

If ever there was a test that should be a foregone conclusion, this is it. The current VW Golf is still competing at the top of its class (only in August, four years after its launch, did it lose its crown in a group test to the BMW 1 Series). And sales are showing no sign of slowing down: the Golf was the UK’s fourth best-selling car in the first half of 2012.

But this is the brand new Mk7 model, revealed at the Paris Motor Show, and the data suggests another giant leap forward. There’s more space for passengers and a bigger boot than before, it’s up to 100kg lighter and 23 per cent more fuel efficient, and thanks to a stronger body structure and a dazzling array of new technology, it’s safer than ever, too.

On paper the competition doesn’t stand a chance – but nothing can be taken for granted, and this new Golf will need to earn its stripes on the road like everyone else.

Let’s start with the styling. It’s still a conservative car to look at, but you wouldn’t expect VW to change a winning formula. Take in the details, though, and a much more taut, modern shape begins to emerge. The outlines of the headlights and tail-lamps are now all angles, instead of curves, giving the car a sinister rather than surprised look from the front.

Creases running down the bonnet and along the sides have been sharpened up, too. The new Golf is 56mm longer than before (with a 59mm longer wheelbase), plus 13mm wider and 28mm lower – unless you choose the 85g/km BlueMotion, due next summer, which drops the suspension a further 15mm. These are subtle changes, but the overall effect is 10 per cent less air resistance and a more dynamic stance.

There’s a cheaper (by around £650) and lighter (by around 20kg) three-door – previewed by the 217bhp GTI concept – which cuts a more dashing shape. But as 90 per cent of Golfs sold in the UK are expected to be five-doors, we’re focusing on this more practical version. And inside, designers have made the most of the Golf’s larger footprint.

Rear legroom is up 15mm, the front seats are mounted 20mm further back – important for taller drivers – and boot capacity is 30 litres bigger, at 380 litres. There’s certainly plenty of head, leg and shoulder room in the front and back, while seating three across the rear bench shouldn’t be a problem.

As you’d expect, the quality is exceptional. Details like the thin chrome trim around the air vents and glossy piano black plastic on the centre console and wheel give the whole car a lift, so it looks more interesting and feels more upmarket than before. Helping that is the eight-inch touchscreen, with clear graphics, a superb voice control function and a sensor that detects your finger moving towards the screen and brings up a range of options. Clever stuff.

By reducing production costs, the Golf now comes with more standard equipment for roughly the same price as the old car, and there’s some high-end options to choose from.

Adaptive cruise control is included on all SE trim cars and above, while a DAB radio and at least a 5.8-inch screen are fitted across the line-up. Options range from autobrake to lane keep assist and alloy wheels up to 18 inches in diameter.

Not including the BlueMotion and GTI, due next year, there are two petrol engines and two diesels at launch (see opposite). All have stop-start; we drove the 2.0 TDI, with a six-speed manual box.

How VW can produce an engine as effortlessly powerful and refined as this, while keeping CO2 down to 106g/km, is remarkable. Only five years ago, the original Golf BlueMotion did 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds, with 62.8mpg economy. This standard 2.0 TDI beats those figures by 2.7 seconds and 6.1mpg respectively. Now that’s progress.

Acceleration is strong and smooth, and it does a passable impression of a petrol engine, revving freely to the red line. The 1.6 TDI will be more popular, but if you’re a keen driver the 2.0-litre offers extra power for only a small cut in efficiency. Noise isolation inside is improved, too – open the door with the engine on, and close it again, and you realise just how well insulated the interior is.

A major change is the move to variable-ratio steering on all Golfs, to make low-speed manoeuvres easier and give a more direct feel at speed. The difference is barely detectable, but the Golf feels just as at home in town as it does on fast B-roads, where the weight reduction is most evident. There’s plenty of front-end bite and a natural balance in corners, which bodes well for the GTI.

A driver profile selection lets you choose between Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual modes (there’s also a Comfort mode if you add our car’s £800 Dynamic Chassis Control). Each setting alters throttle response and engine management. Plus, the suspension feels firmer in Sport mode, although it doesn’t spoil the well cushioned ride. And whichever setting you select, the Golf strikes a superb balance between comfort and control.

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Sorry, a little edit for you...

If ever there was a test that should be a foregone conclusion in the VW biased world of Auto Express

Much better

Funny enough, I was about to make my own modification along the lines of "in the AE world, any review of a VW group product is predictably fantastic". You are certainly very undemanding where it comes to stylistic flair. Does this apply to other aspects as well? I couldn't possibly comment!

That was pretty underwhelming first drive. Did they just let you go forwards and backwards for 10 yards? This tells me virtually noting I cannot read on VW's own website.

Well it seems to be another Golf, just like the other Golf etc etc...

SOOOOOOO BORING!Looks like a Maestro in your pictures - and the front is the same as the 6 .... only uglier! I had a 6 and think that the front was crisp and smart! this one is too rounded!

Yep - it looks like a Golf. So what's wrong with that? It looks like one of the most successful and desirable cars ever built. It lacks gimmicks, chrome, and naffness! It looks understated, neat and smart. That'll do for me!

In my experience, it also lacks quality and effective dealer support. The VW marketing machine is the best in the business, but the cars themselves leave rather a lot to be desired.

why change a winning formula

Not my experience. I run 2 VWs (one on 140K miles) and have had 2 previous VWs. No problems with cars or dealer.

If the seventh revision production lines turn out a single lemon like my MK6 - then IMHO VW can kiss the Golf goodbye. Had mine for three years, nothing but problems I never expected to get from a Golf. It goes next month and I can't wait to see the back of it.

Agreed - dealers are dire! Ostrich approach in my experience: if it ain't on a TPI or the car's diags, it ain't a problem. MOT in 2 weeks - that will be a revelation...

Quality is nothing to write home about in the instrument dial area. It is worse than almost all of its competitors and the VW vento like design looks cheap and I wonder why the Polo -worse than the mk VI- instrument layout isn't mentioned. Smallish screen. The iphone of the car world. Yep, you got the overcharging for less hardware right. Torsion bean axle on the less powerfull cars also.

Wow, that's a new Golf! I only realized when I got half way through the comments. Thought its only new edition of mk6 (yep, i didn't read headline close enough)

It looks very good, again class leading in many ways. But the motorjournalists must be honest, they test the top spec version(s), equiped with all the gadgets. This car will easily cost a lot more than the estimated 23.000. They should mention the actual price as tested, this version of the Golf with all the equipment cost as much as a 3 series BMW. The base versions of the Golf VII are much criticised in the German press at the moment (German press!!!), AutoMotorundSport and Autobild, because of the (very) cheap interior materials (of the base models, like they do with the less expensive versions of the Polo) and very high prices of several options (most of the time only available when you choose an expensive package).

Why do i get the feeling that if this car was built exactly the same, but had the Vauxhall badge, it would be rated far, far lower?
Journos are a like Sheep

Grandma' s car, it is hard to belive that this company makes Bugatti Veyron

Correct your spelling before mouthing off about something you cannot appreciate.

Evolving through incremental changes is better for long term survival than evolving too quickly for a short term benefit.

Please think about it. If all you can do is to criticise someone's spelling or grammar (not a very nice thing to do in itself) then that person's argument is conceded.

Yeah that is what punches a huge hole in my logic and nullifies my argument, a hasty spelling error. I'd punch a hole in your a** if you were here though.

"iphone of the car world" - best comment I've heard. Unfortunately, Golf "is something magical", even though it actually isn't. Most of the competitors are way in front in reliability (Hyundai in particular), they look better, have more space, etc. but Golf is still some sacred cow.
I really don't understand why would you buy Golf if you love cars. Its the most average car you can buy. :/

Looks are personal, but I love the calm, clean lines of this one. I never repeat the same wheels twice, and haven't had a Golf since my GTi Mk I (terrific apart from the squash-'em-hard brakes and drip-down-your-neck sunroof) but this Mk 7 might persuade me to break that habit.

So Volkswagen make it a marvellous 100kg lighter, make it uber-refined, ( watch Autocars video review ), give it clean, classy handsome looks, an interior from the class above, more space and safety, and all people can do is criticize it? Some of you are constantly moaning about how BMW and VW always do very well in group tests ( more often than not winning ) , and blame it on them them bribing AE, and yet almost none of you consider the fact that maybe, and this is just a tiny posssibilty, their cars are better??? Why do you think BMW is the worlds leading premium car manufacturer, and Volkwagen is a company people in any field of business would murder to be as successful as. Reading the un-educated, blind-sighted, prejudiced sh£te on this is just sickening.

The electronic handbrake will put a few buyers off. Wait a few months and buy a Skoda Octavia (out 2013)

Just read the unfortunate experiences of owners elsewhere in this thread, to which I can add those of colleagues. Remember Wolfsburg has a large advertising/promotional budget and devoted "fanboys" to push the party line.

"In many ways, it’s the iPhone of the car world" What so its over hyped and under spec'ed and stupidly over priced? I can agree with that ;)

As ever with VW's I'm sure it will be very reliable and safe to drive but its more typical lazy German design. Bland to look at and bland to sit in. If AE had just said the ride is the best, the power delivery is the best it would be believable but to claim its well designed is just BS I'm afraid.

So many people comment about how 'boring' the Golf looks, sure it is more conservatively styled than most; however they age better than practically any other car in the class (with the possible exception of the mk3). I also think the way VW have evolved the Golf over such a 32 years is remarkable; look at the c-pillar panel on the second photo - it carries its DNA from every generation of golf made, over each generation they have retained the best details of previous models and added new; who else does that? Sure other manufacturers may wipe the slate each time, however I think there is something to be valued in design evolution.

Any links with the base versions? It cracks me up just thinking of a golf with hard dash and torsion beam axle!

Visit the german volkswagen site, they have the configurator already online, see yourself how dull the base version looks like if you choose, for instance, the trendline version and see yourself what the costs are of some extra gadgets. If you however configurate a top spec VW the price easily go over the Euro 40.000 (in Germany!) thats full in BMW 3 series territory. In Holland a top spec Golf will cost significantly more than Euro 45.000.
But I have to say a top spec Golf VII with 18"rims and a panoramic sunroof, looks great. But so does a top spec V40, A-class or Beamer.

I've had my Mark IV Golf for 10 years. Keep meaning to change it for a newer model (not necessarily a Golf). But I haven't yet found any reason. Still goes perfectly, never caused me any problems, cheap as chips to run, looks good inside and out - just can't justify it.
If that's a Golf, then I'll eventually get round to replacing it - with another Golf.

great in so many ways but looks BORING

I see the image riddled Audi/BMW/Merc snobs (probably sitting in rattling rep-mobile 320 Diesels... laugh) are out in force again. Take your sunglasses off and get over it! A VW golf is a fine quality car (thankfully without notoriety), and with the hatch superbly practical. Someone noted below that you could have a 3 series for the same money.... so?... why not? When spending their own money, there are so many reasons why people consider buying similar priced Golf over, say a 3 series, a bone shaking A3/A4 or the cheap feeling interiors of Mercs. That's why you see many expensive Golfs on the road. Look at the interior (far superior to a 3 series), look at the engineering. A Golf is a good buy by any measure. They are a brilliant drive, particularly the performance models and the styling is subtle, understated, and to many people very pleasing on the eye, particularly as most of the rep-mobiles are quite ugly these days... and yes, I've owned 2 BMWs in the past (a 328, replaced with a 330 Ci), that were great cars in their day... but time has moved on!

I can never understand why so many folks are so spellbound by the VW Golf? I had one, a Mk5 and it was truly awful, unreliable, uncomfortable, unrefined, poorly equipped and expensive to run/maintain etc. I could accept that I was perhaps unfortunate and had a "Friday afternoon" car which isn't representative. However, I've a number of friends and colleagues that have similar tales of woe. Frankly, I'm amazed that the motoring press continues to perpetuate the lie that the Golf is a prestige quality machine. It doesn't perform particularly well in reliability surveys and if it was that special then surely VW would provide a better warranty? Their 3 years 60K miles warranty is only average and ain't that special when compared with what other marques are now offering on vehicles that don't make any pretentious claims to be prestiguous quality products.

I will still have the Alfa Giulietta over this.....

It's gross to say golf is an iphone in cars. It's a well built old school Eurobox. Boring, at best.

The Golf is a car for the shrinking middle class of the Western world. It used be the BMW 3 series, but because middle classes wages have decreased steadily, they have had to move to this delusion of luxury!

You'll see Golfs of all price ranges being driven by the seriously well healed, by the middle classes and by people who just appreciate a quality, unpretentious machine. People are getting increasingly fed up with the BMW's Chav image these days and so are swapping to VW when spending their own money on a new car.

Strange how the image changes according to country. In the U.K. the VW is seen as a middle of the road (hopefully not literally) rather boring machine whilst half brother Audi is supposed to be the machine of choice for the tailgating chav. In France it is rather different.
Apart from confirmation that driving standards in France have improved and are, as a generalisation, rather better than in the UK now, a recent trip suggested that, across the channel, Audis are driven discreetly. Such tailgating as experienced was at the hands of VW drivers to the exclusion of all other makes!

I've been counting cars broken down (not counting flat tyres) on the hard shoulder during my trips up and down the M6. Top position with 9 in the last month - VW Golf (9), 2nd BMW 3-series (5). Thank goodness not everything in life is as unreliable as a Volkswagen...

Actually I'd lump VW snobs in with the Audi/BMW/Merc snobs. Certainly on the roads they are driven similarly.
All buying into some marketing myth that germany produces the be-all and end-all of motoring.

Exactly! But then GM doesn't have VW group's marketing / advertising budget.

I see where you're coming from, and to an extent I'd agree with regard to all German cars. However, a true car lover will buy any worthy car regardless of the badge. Few would argue that most (not all, as some are car lovers) Audi/BMW/Merc drivers these days know very little about cars.. they just "must have the badge" in the naive thought that it impresses others in some way, even though there may better cars on the road. They need to try pretend that they have more money than other people, anyone with any sense knows is unlikely to be true - most are either your bog standard 2 litre diesel company cars, or second hand - and when they get home and check the value, will find they're not worth more than £5k - £15k... certainly not £40k!.. and yet they feel they can look down on someone who has just bought themselves a nice £20k Toyota. How ridiculous! I like to feel I'm a true car fan, and bought the Golf because of all of it's qualities, but I'd happily buy any car if I felt it suited me. Unfortunately there will be VW snobs on the road, I would hope not too many, because if they were real snobs, then they'd have bought an Audi/BMW/Merc instead. Hopefully VW will never have that awful reputation.

Key specs

  • Price: £23,000 (est)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
  • Power: 148bhp
  • Torque: 320Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
  • Top speed: 134mph
  • Economy: 68.9mpg
  • CO2: 106g/km
  • Equipment: Adaptive cruise control, electronic parking brake, eight-inch touchscreen, climate control, USB input, Bluetooth
  • On sale: Now