VW launches its most disappointing Golf (VIII) model in years
While happy to accept a designation of Mark 7.5 for the current version of the ever-popular Golf model, reports Iain Robertson, apart from some pointless slats, leaner headlamps and more digitalisation, does the new model have a point to make?
When the new VW Golf makes its debut in a couple of months’ time, I hope that budding owners/users take a long hard look at their notional investments. Volkswagen has been playing a ‘con-trick’ for the past few years, which many observers may level at the dreaded ‘dieselgate’ drama. However, they would be wrong.
The real finger pointing needs to be directed at the firm’s most abundant product; the Golf. Naturally, it has changed significantly since its mid-1970s introduction, when it replaced the Beetle with its ‘revolutionary’ front-engined, front-wheel drive technology. However, instead of being the ‘people’s car’ that it should be, it has become a technological showcase for the rest of the Group’s products, although neither its styling, nor its sense of purpose have moved on even a jot, while prices continue to escalate.
The ‘Golfate’ is quite simply the most tediously boring midfielder that has ever existed. It is abundantly clear that VW’s design team is stuck in a Bischoff-managed rut, from which it will never emerge. In some respects, Herr Bischoff’s recent promotion to Head of Group Styling is like the final nail in the coffin. There was a time, when I could excuse VW from making ill-judged decisions but, as the world’s largest carmaker, no excuses are valid for its stuck-in-the-rut stance, or the fact that ALL of its Group models are starting to look alike. This smacks of unwarranted laziness at best.
Of course, as a ‘world automotive leader’, VW is now politicised. When the American government decided to politicise the diesel scandal, the German carmaker took it to heart…kind of. It reached out to its customers, as only a star of the people might do and suffered not a single indignity (as it should have, for such atrocious treatment of exhaust emissions standards). In fact, whatever fines, levies and punishments have been meted out to it, have been long amortised by upwards spiralling price tags…remember, the UK and Europe have also been treated quite differently to the litigious US market.
The Golf Mark VIII is actually very little different externally to its 7.5 predecessor, apart from those aforementioned skinnier headlamps, some strange ‘strakes’ in the lower front bumper (with which the forthcoming R version dispenses) and a slenderer radiator grille. Even the rear-end of the car is all but identical to the current model.
However, inside, it is all-change. The centre touchscreen (10-inches) is driver configurable and matched by a 10.25-inch digital display ahead of the driver. Gone are the clear analogue instruments, replaced by a dizzying array of information screens. Granted, the driving position (always a VW Group strongpoint) is as good as ever but the driver is now confronted by banks of switches that no longer possess positive qualities, as they are of a touch-sensitive type, which demands some form of re-gauging by the driver.
In fact, the only conventional switch operates the hazard warning lights. To be fair the usual replication of some controls is carried onto the steering wheel spokes but finger swipes are seldom practical in a moving vehicle, despite the marketing interpretation given to the ergonomicists’ insistence that ‘this is the future’. There is as much interior space within the 8, as exists in the 7.5, because nothing much has altered and that includes what is available in the boot, or extended load deck (when the rear seats are flopped forward).
The early engine line-up is of turbo-petrol and turbodiesel units of 1.0 and 1.5-litres displacement, or the customary 2.0-litres respectively. A 48V mild-hybrid unit collaborates with them to provide stop:start facilities and an extra 16bhp punch for acceleration. Otherwise, the power range is from 89 to 148bhp for the petrols and either 113, or 148bhp for the diesels. The petrols can be mated to a DSG 7-speed gearbox optimised for fuel economy and emissions. The EV aspects are catered for by VW’s ID range.
There is a standout model, the plug-in GTE hybrid, which uses a 148bhp, 1.4-litre turbo-petrol, allied to a punchier electric motor/battery pack, for a total output of 242bhp. Of a denser battery construction, it is said that it can cover 43-miles in electric-only mode. The MQB platform used for the Golf is already designed to accommodate as much semi-autonomous technology as the company can muster at present and self-steer is now incorporated. The rest of the Golf is packed with safety and connectivity options, which even go to the next stage of car-to-car communications.
Initial driving impressions suggest that its handling remains safe but uninspiring, a factor that supports the genuine lack of effort directed at the newcomer. When you look at the Golf’s rivals, the latest Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, the Ford Focus and even the aging Vauxhall Astra, each of them costs less than the like-for-like model of the Golf and all are significantly more drivable and enjoyable to live with.
Volkswagen needs to wake up. It needs to recognise that it has a lineage, beyond mere body design, or its ‘new’ badge (in case you had not noticed), up to which it must live. When Toyota was the world’s biggest carmaker, it relied on the exceedingly tedious and unchanging Corolla as its ‘world car’. For VW to step into Toyota’s shoes demonstrates a similar lack of intuition and style consciousness, at a time when moving the game on is an essential attribute.
Conclusion: If you can state that you are happy with the new Golf 8, fine; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To my eyes, Golf should have moved on but it should also be more keenly priced than ever, after all, it has Audi in its Group for the classier aspects that warrant a steeper price tag. Just increasing prices does not equate to a better product.