by Brian Byrne
The new generation Volkswagen Golf which has just gone on sale in Ireland has managed to get significantly sexier looks without changing the overall size in any significant way.
Eight iterations in, it is still recognisably a Golf, but with more svelte, more swish, and more visual character than has been typical for the nameplate down the decades.
Volkswagen Ireland introduced it last week to journalists with a comparison of other technologies. When the first one was launched in 1974, the big personal tech was the Sony Walkman cassette music player. More than 35 million units of the Golf sold later, the equivalent is the ubiquitous smartphone.
The message is clear. The Golf is personal. Always has been. Runs with the icons, quickly became an automotive icon itself. I had a friend as a teenager and his life ambition was to own a VW Beetle and earn a thousand pounds a year. He achieved both, and much much more.
In my later years, it was another generation, and many of those looking towards their first car declared the Golf as their ambition. It’s not often that the replacement of an icon will get its own icon status, but that’s what happened.
Nobody ever bought a Golf for its beauty. It has always been a no-frills hatchback style, but also always had recognisability. The trademark enduring style cue has been the shape of the C-pillar. Otherwise it has never been stylistic standout. Which was no bad thing in one respect, because a simple style doesn’t get dated as much as a strong one.
This time, there’s a much more distinctive look to the front. A narrower grille. High-design headlights — look across the nose from the side and you have an almost-Egyptian god head to it (try it, I’m not joking).
There’s sculpting on the bonnet which has the effect of adding width and length, though both are perception rather than actual dimensional differences. Stronger creasing on the side panels does the same with perceived length. But all dimensions are as they were in the Mk 7 car, apart from an imperceptible softening of the rear end roofline.
At the back there’s more shaping, and also an elimination of protruding tailpipes, so it’s an overall cleaner look.
It’s on the inside that regular Golfers will find the biggest improvements. An all-digital driver’s display and control panel brings the model right into the 2020s. The centre display is large, with big graphics. There’s significant scope for personalisation, including instruments style and colour. And for all this, you don’t have to go to higher grades, its standard from entry.
For the smartphone age, Apple Carplay connection is done wirelessly, though you have to use a tether for the ‘Droid equivalent.
A new head-up display is an option on some grades, but standard on PHEV and GTE versions. The previous pop-up plastic screen is gone in favour of display on windscreen.
The standard LED headlight matrix has a smart function which dips lights in variable ways depending on roads and on approaching traffic. It offers the best distance vision possible in whatever circumstance.
The driver assist technologies include smart travel assist for the upper grades, which works best with a DSG auto and helps assisted handling of moving traffic. The Car2X communications system will interact with similarly equipped cars to provide real-time local traffic information. Standard on all models, it also warns of local hazards where operable, including accidents.
Under that new shapely hood there’s a mix of powertrain options, ranging from mild hybrid energy regeneration and boost — producing better fuel savings that does stop/start — to plug-in hybrid. Needless to say, there’s still diesel, this time with improvements that offers up to 17pc lower fuel consumption. Underpinning the range are 1.0 and 1.5 petrols, with 2.0 diesels in two outputs. The PHEV car has a 1.4 petrol at heart, and a total output of 204hp.
There are now just four grades in the standard Golf, respectively incorporating many of the tech and comfort ‘packs’ which were a feature of the Mk 7 car. The top grade can be ordered in either Style or R-Line, the latter costing a tad more.
Performance models in GTI, GTD and GTE variants are rolling out later in the year.
The new Golf starts at €23,950.
(In the strange times, the launch was virtual, so no first drive impressions. But we’ll get those later.)