OLBIA, ITALY?I have driven the new seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf. But unless you're planning on moving to Europe, I can't tell you much to help you decide if it's worth considering.
That's because the Golf 7 won't be coming to Canada until the spring of 2014, and the company has yet to decide what engines and equipment we will get, or even where our cars will be assembled.
One thing I can tell you is that the new generation still looks like a Golf. Why would you mess with a design that's as iconic as this?
VW designer Andreas Mindt said the objective was to make the Golf 7 more sophisticated, more upscale.
So the front axle is moved forward, making the hood longer. The hood is also quite a bit higher than the front fenders, reversing the theme of the former model.
In all, it is a clean, crisp, modern design that could only be a Golf. Mission accomplished.
Despite being larger and better-equipped, the car's weight has been reduced by up to 100 kg, thanks largely to greater use of high-strength steel, and aluminum blocks for the gasoline engines.
The age-old ?longer-lower-wider? mantra results in reduced frontal area for improved fuel consumption, and increased interior space, especially in the back seat.
Trunk capacity of 380 litres is 30 more than before, the trunk floor height is variable, and the lift-over sill height is the lowest in the segment, for easier loading.
Interior trim materials and fit and finish, long a Golf strong point, are upgraded yet again.
The centre console is oriented toward the driver, but the passenger can still work some of the features.
The watchword for Golf 7's dynamics would have to be ?refinement.? The longer wheelbase improves the ride considerably, and re-engineered MacStrut front and independent rear suspensions have been tailored for more comfort with no reduction in handling or sportiness.
Electro-hydraulic steering, often (and rightly) criticized for lousy feel, works very well in the Golf 7.
XDS, a further development of the electronic limited slip differential that's been around for a while, quietly and unobtrusively applies torque to whichever front wheel can best utilize it when you enter a bend a bit too quickly, essentially turning you into a better driver than you are.
The increasingly common electronic systems for lane-keeping, front-collision warning and fatigue-detecting are on offer, although sometimes you wonder if it isn't time to let Darwinism run its course.
One safety feature that's new to me is something VW calls the ?multicollision brake system.?
German crash research apparently shows that up to one-quarter of personal injury crashes involve additional impacts after the primary one ? as the car keeps rolling after being hit, and plows into something else.
If the Golf 7's crash-detection sensors indicate a collision, the brakes are automatically applied to reduce the severity of any secondary impact.
The car will also have Park Assist, which checks to see if the parking spot you're considering is big enough, you work the accelerator and the brake, and the car steers itself into the spot.
But since at least one carmaker who introduced this a few years ago has dropped it from the new model (Lexus LS), I doubt we'll ever see this in Canadian Golfs.
The parking brake is now electronic, too. I guess our kids will never know the joys of a handbrake turn.
The first of the two engines available to test here was a 2.0 L four-cylinder turbo-Diesel ? familiar specs, not far off what my lovely 2003 Jetta TDI Wagon has.
But this is an all-new engine that retains only cylinder bore spacing from the previous unit. It produces 150 horsepower and a tree-stump-pulling 235 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,750 and 3,000 r.p.m.
VW is the only mass-market manufacturer to have success with diesel engines in Canada ? we'll have to see how Mazda does with its upcoming SkyActiv Diesel.
Diesels make so much sense, as 300,000 trouble-free km on my TDI prove.
In my test car, it was mated to a six-speed manual transmission, which shifted smoothly and easily. It is also available with a six-speed DSG (Dual-Clutch manumatic).
We will get a diesel of some sort, probably this one.
My other test-mount had a 140 horsepower, 1.4 L direct injection Turbo gasoline engine, to which was bolted a seven-speed DSG.
Not too long ago, 1.4 litres would have been considered way too small for North America. Chevy Cruze proves that's no longer the case.
So does this engine. It pulls well as the turbo spools up rapidly, thanks to its small size, and turbo lag is imperceptible.
It offers cylinder deactivation ? unheard of in an engine this small. Under low-stress conditions, the middle two cylinders take a small break, improving fuel consumption substantially. It also features idle stop to save even more fuel in stop-and-go driving.
The DSG, as always, is a delight. No word as to whether we'll get this engine. If I read the hints correctly, probably not ? they'll likely borrow the ancient 115-horse 2.0 L from our Jetta, at least for an entry-level model.
Shame ? less power, and way worse fuel consumption.
It is difficult to sum up the Golf 7 without knowing exactly how our cars will be kitted out. Fundamentally, this is an excellent upgrade to a car that has been a worldwide top seller for decades.
I just hope VW does right by its long-standing ? sometimes long-suffering ? Canadian customers.
Travel for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email email@example.com.
Volkswagen Golf 7
ENGINES (speculative): 1.4 L four-cylinder, turbocharged direct fuel injection; 2.0 L four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
POWER/TORQUE: 140 hp/184 lb.-ft. for gas engine; 150/235 for diesel
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: (Transport Canada figures not yet available) European standard data, combined: 5.2 (manual), 5.0 (DSG) for gas engine; 4.1 (manual), 4.4 (DSG) for diesel.
COMPETITION: Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla
WHAT'S BEST: Iconic design, sophisticated interior, advanced technology, outstanding dynamics.
WHAT'S WORST: Touchscreen would be a deal-breaker for me; might be pricey in Canada
WHAT'S INTERESTING: Still wondering exactly what our Golf 7 is going to be like.
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