Volkswagen Golf in seventh heaven

Volkswagen's Golf Mark VII is a quality product that defines what a compact family hatchback should be, says Matt Kimberley, PA motoring writer.

A new Volkswagen Golf launch is always much more significant than this seventh-generation model's visual changes would have you believe.

Aside from a little Audi-style squaring-off of some of the car's corners there's not too much that's different at a glance. But look closely and you'll see a more radical set of changes than any that have passed under the Golf banner before.

If you think it looks longer you're right. There's an extra 56mm in the middle, mostly due to the front wheels being shunted forward on the all-new MQB chassis. That's Modular Transverse Matrix, or Modularer Querbaukasten if your German is up to scratch.

It's a little wider too, with thinner doors for significantly more shoulder room. It's lower, though, repositioning the seats to compensate for any reduction in headroom and provide better aerodynamics. Meanwhile, weight has been shaved off – or rather it's been brutally chopped off. Around 100kg is the saving, or the equivalent of two young teenagers. Efficiency is the name of this Golf's game, and lighter is better.

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We've already seen a BlueMotion concept capable of 88mpg or so thanks to a new 1.6-litre TDI turbo diesel engine, but since that's not available yet – nor is the GTI, again just a concept for now – the Golf VII's initial range is made up of the bread-and-butter models.

There are two versions of the excellent 1.2 TSI turbo petrol, with 84bhp and 104bhp. Almost identical in terms of fuel consumption and CO2, the extra oomph of the 104bhp option on demand makes it the one to buy. Two 1.4-litre units, one with 120bhp and another with 138bhp and a clever cylinder deactivation system (ACT) complete the petrol line-up.

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For diesel devotees there's the familiar 1.6-litre 104bhp engine and a new 148bhp 2.0-litre. The former can achieve 74.3mpg, the more powerful one 68.9mpg. Impressive stuff.

The most powerful of the petrol and diesel options both do an admirable job in their own ways. The 2.0-litre diesel is impressively tractable and quiet in normal use, while returning big fuel economy numbers given half a chance.

The pick of the pair is probably the 138bhp 1.4 petrol. Capable of around 59mpg if you're an eco-driving demon, it uses only cylinders one and four under light engine loads, shutting off the fuel supply to numbers two and three in the middle. It swaps between two and four cylinders with anything from a moderate thump to a seamless switch depending on what you're doing with the throttle.

There's not much to choose between the two engines for smoothness, but the petrol is hundreds of pounds cheaper and benefits from less costly fuel at the pumps. On the other hand, the entry-level 1.6 diesel is road tax-free under the current rules.

On the road the Golf has many attributes and a few niggling flaws. The new body gives good visibility all round, even approaching roundabouts where some A-pillars get in the way. The door mirrors are too small, though, and don't do a brilliant job.

On smooth surfaces the new Golf is whisper quiet – it's a thoroughly refined thing. It's not the quietest over bumps or typical broken British roads but it's much the better for the significant weight loss. It feels longer on the road, its 59mm wheelbase increase sometimes rearing its head around corners, and it feels larger inside. But it feels a little livelier and more willing than before.

Build quality is what buyers will expect, with many materials making the generation jump from the Golf VI. On the high-spec test cars the plastics, dashboard layout and displays will be familiar to last-generation Golf owners but colour displays have been given a welcome update.

There are excellent practical touches like a lower boot sill to make loading easier, and a boot floor that can conceal the parcel shelf if needed when it not being used. The doors, too, are designed to sit at almost whatever point you open them to without moving, to make it easier to avoid hitting neighbouring vehicles in car parks.

As standard the new model comes with a genuinely impressive array of kit, but key things like alloy wheels and a leather-trimmed steering wheel are omitted to encourage upgrading. The list prices aren't cheap, but it's a quality product that – like the Mark V and Mark VI before it – defines what a compact family hatchback should be. British buyers will love it.

Robinsons Volkswagen is urging people to make an appointment during its 10-day Golf test-drive event from January 4 to 14. Everyone taking a test-drive will be entered into an exclusive prize draw to win an iPad. You can configure your Golf online at You can access it on one of the showroom iPads and discuss it with the sales team when you go for your test drive. Book your test-drive in Norwich on 01603 612111, Lowestoft on 01502 516831 and North Walsham on 01692 500900.

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