It’s perhaps a little sad that the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf (plus, in a roundabout way, also its hot brother, the GTI and in an even more roundabout way, the four-door coupe CC) will be remembered as much for being the car that saw an ugly leadership tussle at the top of the VW Group in early 2015 and the subsequent ‘Dieselgate’ emissions cheating scandal later that year, as much as for being the most comprehensively complete mass-market car since probably the original Mini.
Indeed, when we first drove the Golf VII back in early 2013, we said the question you should ask if you were in the market for a compact hatchback is not “why should I get a VW Golf”, but rather “why should I not get a VW Golf”.
Its superiority over its segment rivals was palpable—with the levels of build quality, engineering and technology even rivalling some premium competitors. In short, it felt like a car a good generation-and-a-half ahead of the pack.
And nowhere is that fact more apparent than in 2018 with this, the Golf VII post mid-life refresh. While some post-facelift cars tend to look and feel their age, this patently doesn’t. In fact, if you told us the Golf VII was launched this year, instead of five years ago, we’d have believed you.
If you want to be cynical about it, you’ll no doubt point to its inoffensive, pedestrian exterior design and how the variant on test here is the aptly named Highline, which comes with just about every bell and whistle you could want.
The Golf Highline here has an all-LED headlight/taillight cluster (an equipment highlight of the facelifted model, says VW Singapore), full-length glass roof, 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system, an all-digital dashboard and autonomous parking assistant. Wahey.
Suffice it to say, Volkswagen is charging a pretty penny for it. The Golf Highline costs $131,900 (though at press time, there's a promotion going on which drops its purchase price to $125,900), which isn’t too far off, or even slightly more than an entry-level Audi A3 Sportback, BMW 1 Series or Mercedes-Benz A-Class. And considering a base model Golf could be had for $94,400, the Golf Highline is scandalously expensive.
But whether or not you think 130 big ones is far too much money to be spending on something with a VW badge on its nose (you’ll no doubt recall the $350,000 and up Phaeton, but anyway), but it’s hard not marvel at the how expertly judged everything is.
It would be unfair to say the Golf encourages you to drive it hard, not so much because it feels bad doing so but more because its 1.4-litre engine produces just 125bhp. The century sprint takes a leisurely 9.1 seconds, which is an eternity in a time when a hot hatchback like the Mercedes-AMG A45 will do it in a little over 4 seconds.
But it would also be unfair to say the Golf discourages silly behaviour. Of course, its hot sibling the Golf GTI is more powerful, undeniably more entertaining and has higher handling limits, but the regular Golf will match it (somewhat) for composure.
Driving the Golf hard doesn’t result in fireworks of any sort, but it also doesn’t feel ill at ease doing so. We found ourselves marveling at how hard the Golf corners, limited only by the comfort-biased tyres and relative lack of grunt in the motor.
This, mundane as it sounds, isn’t a given. You’ll only have to cast your mind back less than a decade or so when thrashing a workaday car was asking for a one-way ticket to the scrapyard or the morgue.
This speaks volumes about the competence of the car’s MQB mechanical underpinnings. Modular underpinnings that could be used in anything from a subcompact city car to a full-sized SUV that took some four years and $90 billion to develop.
If there are any flaws in the Golf, they’re so small as to be easily missable. There is the small annoyance of the sports suspension, which in tandem with the big(-ish) 18-inch wheels introduces some unnecessary choppiness to the ride.
The caveat here being the Highline variant’s generous spec. Here you won’t have to deal with the ignominy of titchy 16-inch wheels, analogue instruments, single-zone air conditioning, or quelle horreur, actually having to turn a key to start the car instead of pushing a button.
Jokes aside, though, while those niceties in the Golf Highline are welcome, they certainly aren’t necessary to make the car acceptable—it’s merely the icing on what is already a pretty tasty cake.
Is the Golf the car of the year?
Well, not quite. It’s to modern automobiling what the Ford Model T was in the early 1900s; to bread when it started being sold pre-sliced.
Car of the year? More like car of the decade.
ENGINE 1,395cc, 16-valves, inline-four, turbocharged
POWER 125hp at 5,000-6,000rpm
TORQUE 200Nm at 1,400-4,000rpm
0-100KM/HR 9.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 204km/h
TRANSMISSION Seven-speed dual-clutch
FUEL CONSUMPTION 5.5L/100km
VES BAND B (No rebate/surcharge)
PRICE $131,900 (including COE, excluding options)