Volkswagen Golf 7 facelift. Another Hole-in-One

“What’s new?” the uninitiated might ask when first spotting the latest iteration of the Volkswagen Golf 7.  The answer is simple – “More than meets the eye.”  This unequivocal statement is made in the aftermath of a two-day press launch starring South Africa’s favourite hot hatch – the GTI – which has accounted for no less than 55% of all Golf 7 sales.

When it comes to all-round competence, the GTI is unrivalled so its makers would be extremely stupid to make wholesale changes to a winning formula. Therefore evolution prevails – thankfully.

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In a way, the widely used descriptor “hot hatch” is not wholly accurate in the case of the GTI because pace is just one of its many virtues. To ‘outright speed’ you can add ‘easily accessed speed’ which in simple English means that this Golf always has plenty of urge on hand in all situations thanks to the fact that the motor is not highly strung.  Let’s just say it’s “brawny,” a characteristic which makes for exceptional drivability.

That drivability extends to the overall relaxed feel of the GTI in terms of handling and steering  responses, not to mention refinement.  The reason for all this feel-good stuff rests with the astonishingly effective MQB platform the Golf is built on. I won’t worry you with what those letters stand for, suffice to say that a platform in car terms is the equivalent of a skeleton in human terms.

With the revised Golf 7  GTI just announced, that skeleton remains in-situ which comes as no surprise so the changes can all be found in tweaked engine outputs, in subtle styling tweaks centred around the bumpers and lights and in the availability of high tech information and instrument displays together with the introduction of perforated leather seat coverings.

What this means is that owners of existing models won’t feel they’ve been discarded while new buyers will benefit from sufficient changes to justify a purchasing decision.

In mechanical terms, the new GTI now gets the 2.0 169kW motor previously available in the Performance Pack upgrade but the most significant change is the universal adoption of the acclaimed DSG twin-clutch transmission. To the uninitiated who believe there is no alternative to manual gearboxes in a performance application, this may come as something of a surprise but previous purchasing patterns indicated virtually no off-take so VWSA’s decision is wholly justified.

The launch test route primarily encompassed rural A-roads with a variable mix of surfaces and sweeping bends to test fully the underpinnings of the new GTI. The test unit was fitted with the optional and wholly worthwhile DCC system which allows individual tuning of the steering, engine and chassis responses. Personally, and given this car was riding on ultra-low profile 225/35R19 tyres, I prefer the chassis in Comfort mode and the steering in Sport. Responses to the helm remain sharp and faithful while the ride is beautifully cushioned with absolutely no sense of sloppiness. Having said that, a colleague who chose to drive some 700km home rather than fly, reported that in more sinuous sections of the route, he ran the chassis in Sport and was enthralled by the GTIs’ sharp responses and amazing grip.

Anyone who tells you 169kW is not enough in an application such as this clearly hasn’t driven a GTI. You see, that peak power arrives at an unusually low 4 700 rpm but just as importantly, the peak torque output of 350Nm is accessed all the way from 1 500rpm to 4 600rpm. Collectively, such outputs make for very, very energetic performance which is available without massive applications of throttle. In everyday motoring, all out performance afforded by high power outputs simply cannot be accessed all the time or you’d be spending your days in jail. How that power is served up is all-important and this is why the GTI excels in the real world.

As I’ve come to savour over many years of personal experience, that DSG gearbox, complete with paddle shifters, works at lightning speeds with no slippage and even when left to its own s devices , it reads your driving pattern and changes the shift points accordingly. If the driver wants complete control, move the shift lever across the gate to the S position and enjoy the fact that the sweet motor is allowed to rev into the upper reaches and unleash a few exhaust pops in the process.

If the driving experience is so sweet, how do the facelifted bits and pieces stack up? Externally, unless you’re a Golf 7 aficianado, the changes are certainly subtle. New standard-fit LED headlamps (optional on other models) lurk underneath mildly re-shaped lenses, the front bumper and apertures, together with trim elements, have been re-modelled and the front fenders are mildly re-shaped. The overall impression is of a slightly wider, lower stance that’s still unmistakably Golf.

Down the back, the (standard across the range) LED rear lamp detailing is massaged along with the bumper and most obviously, the indicators (on the GTI) are now of the sweeping variety and are a visual treat which may get noticed more readily by other motorists.

Open a door and the first thing that catches the eye is the perforated leather seating surface, the “holes” of which are subtly infused with red highlighting that does quite a bit to lift the somewhat pervasive charcoal greyness of the original interior. Those front seats are nothing less than superb, offering just the right amount of lateral and thigh support with a pleasantly-soft surface padding. In my book, there is no better seat available at any price.

Pride of place though in terms of revisions must go to the (optional) Active Info Display which in today’s lingo is a “virtual  instrument display” as first introduced in the Audi TT. This is linked to the (optional) Discover Pro radio/nav system which is now presented in a gorgeous 9.2in display, with gesture control , that makes the free-standing units employed by others look like an afterthought.

Moving to the Golf 7 range as a whole, all models now feature Bluemotion Technology with auto stop/start system (not my cup of tea!)  as well as a mode for storing braking energy. Further, a host of assistance systems is available, not least Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking. There’s even Trailer Assist with Park Assist available for those who like dragging wheeled devices behind them. It’s amazing what this safety/convenience aid can do so pay a visit to  if you’ve had problems negotiating trailers in tight spaces.

As with the GTI, the interior trim in other models has also received a freshen-up which lifts the already high class ambience to new levels for the class. And all models now feature new alloy wheel designs and bigger media displays even when Discover Pro is not selected.

Those models now consist of an 81kW 1.0 TSI with manual transmission and the familiar 92kW 1.4TSI now with DSG transmission. I’ve sampled this new engine in the Polo and was amazed by its willing get up and go, a characteristic confirmed by a colleague who drove the new Golf over some 240km with this new motor. He reported very favourably on its open road performance and economy, doubtless a function of the impressive 200Nm torque peak which comes on song at just 2 000rpm.

Anyone who remains unconvinced should take the trouble to check out the torque figures of normally-aspirated 1.4 or 1.6 litre competitive engines and then prepare for a surprise. For the record, the 1.0TSI will top out at 196km/H and scuttle to 100 in just 9.9s.

At launch in May 2017, the SA prices are as follows:

  • 1.0 TSI 81kW Trendline Manual                          R289 900
  • 1.0 TSI 81kW Comfortline Manual                      R304 200
  • 1.4 TSI 92kW Comfortline DSG                           R356 400
  • 2.0 TSI 169kW GTI DSG                                       R545 800

The pricing of the 1.0TSI is certainly keen but for those with a penchant for more shove, hold on until late July for the arrival of the 213kW Golf R and the 130kW Golf GTD.

In the meantime, VW has successfully massaged the hatchback that’s defined the class for so many years and added new tech to a formula underpinned by solid engineering, practicality and pleasing  driving characteristics. Let’s just say they’ve scored another hole-in-one which is a most unusual achievement.

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Dirk Gallowitz

I am passionate about cars (fast ones particularly!), planes, boats and Arabian horses. (For a good name I opt to leave women out of this!). Been involved in advance driver training from middle eighties and is a full member of the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists - the guys who annually nominate, vote and announce the prestigious Wesbank SAGMJ car of the Year. From March 2017 I will also host a weekly motoring and motorsport program on Sunshine Radio 100.6 every Saturday between 1 -2pm.

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