Swift. Sublime. Sweet.
Those three words define the all-new Volkswagen Golf, which is finally picking up speed in Australia as the born-again benchmark in the compact hatch class.
Hatches are losing – fast – to compact SUVs in local showrooms, but the arrival of a new Golf is always good news.
This new one, officially Golf 8 because it’s the eighth generation, is even better than before. It’s slightly roomier, a lot more refined and quiet, and promises to be frugal – even without a trendy petrol-electric hybrid package.
Golf 8 is, though, slightly costlier with prices starting from $29,350 and the arrival of a new electronics package behind the dash means some deeply-embedded changes that take learning.
Compared with its closest rivals in the baby hatch battle, the Mazda3 and Hyundai i30, Golf 8 feels more premium and more enjoyable in more conditions. It’s a car that will work just as way in day-to-day commuting as a long interstate trip – one of these days – while always delivering a relaxing and enjoyable driving experience.
Volkswagen has followed the latest safety trend by loading all of its 8-cars with a full suite of safety equipment, from auto safety braking to radar cruise control and excellent LED headlights. Like Toyota, which has sprung a series of significant price rises on everything from its baby Yaris, it’s buyers who are paying the price for the latest 5-Star ANCAP safety rating.
The mechanical package in the new Golf is much the same as the old one, with a 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine that is solid without being outstanding. It has been switched to an old-school torque-convertor auto with eight speeds, not because of the lingering questions over its troublesome early DSG autos but because there are new-found efficiencies in the old way.
Anyone who wants more go and show can easily upgrade to the Golf GTI, although it’s not a cheapie and closer in price to the rampaging Mercedes A250 than a locally-tweaked Kia Cerato.
My Golf is the mid-level Life, with a showroom sticker from $34,250 but closer to $40,000 with options including a heads-up instrument display, and you really could not want more in a compact car.
This 8 is quiet, rides smoothly, gets along well – helped by shift paddles behind the steering wheel and a Sport mode for the transmission – and easily returns fuel economy of 6.5 litres/100km during my test.
Complaints? It takes too much time to learn the new electronics, particularly the operation of the infotainment system, and VW needs a whack for the silly volume control, which is hard to find and doesn’t even have any lighting. It’s all, apparently, about trying to mirror the look, feel and operation of an iPad.
Never mind that there are no easily-tweaked knobs or dials for the aircon system, or a simple way to move through the sound system . . .
But the car does come with wireless charging and an excellent CarPlay interface that doesn’t need a cable connection.
The Bridgestone Turanza tyres on the test car also generate too much road noise, particularly on concrete freeways, but that is also because the rest of the car is so quiet. And the boot is not particularly big.
I like the new control for the transmission, a small switch in the centre console that frees space for nic-nacs and is easy to find and use.The dash layout is simple and classy, with big screens for both the driver and infotainment. The controls are light with good feedback and the seats feel slightly sporty with good support, although perhaps a bit firm for some people.
So the Golf 8 is a car I could easily live with, and for a very long time. It’s the new – or new again – benchmark in its class and is not likely to be challenged any time soon. So now I’m looking forward to time with the GTI …
Price: from $29,350
Engine: 1.4-litre turbo petrol
Transmission: 6-speed DSG, front-wheel drive
Safety: 5-star ANCAP
Position: benchmark compact hatch
Plus: refined, safe, classy
Minus: not cheap, noisy tyres
THE TICK: clears the bar easily