More Than Meets the Eye: VW Golf VII First Drive

Car makers like motor shows because they give them the opportunity to exhibit a new model to tens, or often hundreds, of thousands of people in one place. It’s a convenient and, despite the inflated cost of a berth at the major shows, worthwhile investment for those who can afford it. Using a combination of lighting angles probably dictated by algorithms, beautiful display stands that provide an ideal canvas and a healthy supply of Autoglym, they can also present vehicles in the most effective and flattering manner possible. This is exactly what Volkswagen did with the Golf VII at Paris last year, and unfortunately this hyperreality is often misleading.

VW have taken advantage of the increased dimensions afforded by the MQB chassis

Up on the stand, Walter de Silva’s latest iteration of what must be the most iconic car ever built looked as though it could cut glass. The car’s fantastically taut panels were separated by the crispest of starched creases, it didn’t carry an ounce of fat yet was anything but emaciated. The metallic Bluemotion model,  which due in the summer emitting just 85g/km carbon dioxide, looked as clean as it actually is.

Nothing about the Golf VII has changed since Paris; it just doesn’t translate onto the road as well as it might have. However, it still possesses a clean, focused attitude with a core assurance that has characterized recent Golfs, and Klaus Bischoff, VW brand design boss, was right when he described the car as ‘pure and precise’ and ‘more confident than ever before’. Built on the adjustable Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) chassis, the Golf is longer and wider than its predecessor, but crucially it’s also lower – considerably lower – and this is what the new design capitalizes on. The design team has not squandered these increased dimensions, and the Golf has a well-balanced stance, sitting very comfortably on the road. Broad horizontal graphics like the chrome bumper inserts at the front and the rigid creases across the rear graphic only emphasise this visual width and robustness. The VII is certainly a good-looking car, and furthers the Golf’s inherent classless appeal, but this iteration is about more than aesthetic. The VII has been comprehensively reengineered on the inside.

Acute angles and horizontal lines dominate the rear graphic 

After 38 years of building the Golf, VW have finally reversed the trend of increasing weight, and the new Golf is on average 100kg lighter than the car it replaces. The other headline number is that fuel economy is improved by 23% across the range, due to improvements in aerodynamics, rolling resistance, and the efficiency of the engine and electrical systems. 

In typical Teutonic fashion, no stone has been left unturned, and as the VI was in many ways a heavily face-lifted V (a car that went on sale in 2004) changes for the VII have been widespread. Up to 40kg has been shaved off the weight of engines, and 37kg for the body structure, which is forged from thinner but stronger steel. Even the electric network that acts like a nervous system for the car has seen a 6kg saving – that’s a lot of wiring loom. Further savings include 400g from the dashboard, 2.7kg from the air condition system and 7kg from the seats. 400g may seems like a trivial amount to save, but it’s this exhaustive philosophy that allows greater weight savings to be made overall. Just remember that you could order the crest that adorns the bonnet of the your Porsche GT3 RS as a plastic sticker rather than in more traditional enamel. It’s a mentality, and one that’s in short supply amongst the major OEMs.

Unlike the modest design, all these changes translate well onto the road. Despite the disconcertingly light steering feel (which is changeable, yet never entirely reassuring, depending on your driving mode), the VII drives and feels the same as it looks: intelligent, dependable, proficient. The now common-place stop/start technology is faster, smoother and quieter than in the VI and the smooth 1.4 TSI is the first four-cylinder car to feature cylinder deactivation – the two central cylinders cutting out when not needed. This useful feature is sure to make it into other models and can improve fuel economy by 23%.

Inside, the centre stack turns slightly towards the driver, like in a BMW, and the raised gearstick mount is a reference to the latest Porsche models, which is part a growing trend that works well in the VII. The cabin feels suitably premium and the ergonomics are just right, but the truth is that VW have played it safe, too safe, with the interior design and the VII shares the same monotonous user-experience as the otherwise excellent SEAT Leon. Unfortunately, no amount of electric parking-brakes or touchscreen LCDs will remedy this.

To focus on the aesthetic of a car that has to play it safe because of its lofty status in the market would be to do VW an enormous disservice, though. The cold facts are that the VII is longer and wider yet considerably lighter than the VI as well as being noticeably more refined to drive and sit in. The ingenious MQB platform, which looks set to transform the way cars are built, also enables the mounting of different drivetrains onto the same chassis, so the plug-in electric Blue-e-motion Golf due later this year won’t need a new production line. This is saves time, money and energy. It’s a superb innovation.

Interior feels very premium for the C-segment but is inert

For the first time in its forty-three year history, the seventh Golf is more revolution than evolution, despite what the conservative exterior design might suggest. The VII doesn’t excite, but significant weight savings and extensive platform sharing mean that emissions and energy wastage are reduced both during the manufacturing stage and at point of use. The combination of a lower base price than the VI but higher standard equipment levels won’t hurt sales either. VW have raised the bar impossibly high, whilst continuing to push emissions and fuel consumption lower.  

Golf 1.6 TDI

Engine: 1598cc 4-cyl diesel Power: 105PS @ 3,000rpm Torque: 184lb ft @ 1,500rpm Top Speed: 109mph 0-60mph: 10.7s Economy: 74.3mpg combined (manual) Emissions: 99g/km CO2 Price: £18,910 OTR



6kg has been saved from the VII's electrical systems

You may also like...

Volkswagen up! BlueMotion Driven

Mercedes A-Class BlueEfficiency First Drive

VW Golf Blue-e-Motion Gallery

Seat Leon First Drive

World Exclusive Interview with Klaus Bischoff