Has Volkswagen done enough to distinguish the new Golf from its predecessor? That’s the question we kept asking ourselves during our time with the 1.5 TSI in Spain this week.
Initial impressions are that the new optional Active Info Display and Discover Pro infotainment system certainly add to its appeal, although the lack of a rotary dial on the latter is somewhat counterintuitive, forcing you to adjust the volume and scale of the maps used by the navigation either through a button on the steering wheel or on the face of the display itself, in a much more time-intensive process than before.
The styling of the dashboard continues to appear a little demure next to some more contemporary hatchback rivals, but there is a premium feel to the interior of the Golf that remains unchallenged in its class. Like its predecessor, the new 2017 model is superbly easy and uncomplicated to drive, whether tooling around town or punching along the motorway. It is this undemanding and straightforward nature that endeared it to almost one million buyers worldwide in 2016. So to answer our question, there was really no need for any major changes in the first place.
The new 1.5-litre engine is extremely flexible with a very linear delivery and real underlying determination from around 1500rpm onwards, providing the facelifted Golf with relatively strong and appealing on-throttle properties.
It also provides sufficient resolve and verve to execute B-road overtaking manoeuvres with a good deal of confidence and conviction when conditions permit. It needs at least 3000rpm before delivering its best, but with a smooth delivery and a noticeable but never overbearing timbre from the engine itself, it’s no hardship to run the four-cylinder around the dial in the search for greater performance.
The ratios of the Golf 1.5 TSI’s standard six-speed manual gearbox are perfectly suited to the characteristics of its engine, and its action is crisp and defined with weighty springing and a positive feel to the way it engages in each gate. Buyers can choose an optional seven-speed dual shift DSG unit, which brings automatic shift properties, although not significant improvement in accelerative ability or economy.
With the DSG, buyers get a new Traffic Jam Assist function. It uses a camera mounted within the windscreen and the lane keeping properties bundled in the earlier Lane Assist function to allow you to drive hands free semi-autonomously up to 37mph while providing automatic braking to allow you to stop and start off again.
Volkswagen claims 0-62mph in 8.3sec, which is actually 0.1sec slower than with the old 1.4 TSI. However, its engineers say in-gear acceleration has been improved thanks to the longer stroke and what they describe as more flexible nature of the new engine. Top speed, like that of its predecessor, is put at 134mph.
As with the older 1.4-litre unit it replaces, Volkswagen's new 1.5-litre engine receives Active Cylinder Management. On part throttle loads between 1000 and 4000rpm, and at speeds up to 80mph it shuts down the middle two cylinders by switching off the operation of fuel injectors and employing actuators to lift the camshaft lobes and close the valves, thus cutting combustion to save fuel.
The switch from four-cylinder to two-cylinder running is so seamless as to be imperceptible. The only indication of the change in operation is an indicator in the middle of the instrument display. With claimed combined consumption of 55.4mpg, the new model beats its predecessor by a scant 1.1mpg, endowing it with average CO2 emissions of 116g/km.
The new 2017 model year Golf continues to deliver sound and reassuring handling. It is not the most dynamic car in its class, but its direct steering, taut damping and excellent body control see it deliver tidy and dependable qualities over more challenging roads. The ride is firm by class standards but never harsh. However, there is some annoying tyre noise on less than smooth surfaces.
Tick the right option boxes and you get a so-called Driver Profile selector that allows you to alter throttle response and weighting of the steering in three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. Choose the optional Dynamic Chassis Control, and you also receive adaptable dampers that serve to change the stiffness of the suspension in three stages.