First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Golf volkswagen first drives
2014 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s Website
Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt

Photo Gallery:
2014 Volkswagen Golf

Olbia, Italy – The introduction of the latest generation Volkswagen Jetta in 2010 threw the entire lower end of Volkswagen’s lineup in Canada for a loop. Whereas before the German-built compact Golf hatchback was the entry level offering of Volkswagen’s lineup, the cheaper-to-build Mexican-built Jetta gave up some of its premium interior quality and refinement for a $15K starting price. And sales took off, throughout North America.

All of a sudden, even hatchback-appreciating Canadians began flocking to the Jetta sedan, making it VW’s sales leader, the Golf now trundling on as an upscale compact car that starts at around $21K. Doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but it is to buyers, especially with some Golfs running up to and over 30 large after options – and that’s not counting GTIs or limited edition AWD Golf R models. While the Jetta is now solidly among the 10 bestselling cars in Canada, the Golf remains a more premium alternative to mainstream compact hatchbacks here, best known for its frugal TDI and sporty GTI versions, even though the Golf is the third-best selling car in the world behind the Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus.

For 2013, VW has brought down the price of the latest seventh generation Golf slightly, but made it even more refined and sophisticated – at least, that’s the case in Europe, the Golf’s largest market, where a serious economic recession is gripping most countries. There are rumblings that the Golf VII destined for North America early in 2014 may also be built at the same Puebla plant where the Jetta is made. If so, will this also mean a similar value and content shake up, and repositioning the Golf close to or even under the Jetta in base price once again? We’ll know better in early 2014.

Until then, we have the Wolfsburg-built Golf tested here to look for clues as to what’s to come from VW’s popular hatchback. We spent most of our time on the twisty backroads of Sardinia in a 2.0-litre TDI model that’s the superior of two diesel engines available in Europe, putting out 150 hp to its front wheels through a smoothly refined six-speed manual. This engine is rated at an impressive 4.1 L/100 km overall, although those are optimistic European efficiency figures, and garnered using the newly available seven-speed DSG automatic.

Six-speed DSG and five-speed manuals are also available, as are four gas engine options in Europe: a four-cylinder 1.2-litre TSI unit producing 85 horses, rising to a 1.2-litre TSI with 105 hp, a 1.4-litre engine making 122 ponies, to a 1.4-litre TSI with 140 hp that comes with cylinder deactivation technology that cuts power to two cylinders under light load. One of these latter two engines seems destined to arrive in North America to (finally) replace the aging 2.5-litre five-cylinder, which is relatively loud and coarse.

Stamping out such coarseness seems to be a key objective in this seventh-gen Golf, as both the TDI manual and a quick spin in a 1.4 TSI model proved that entry-luxe sophistication was the overriding engineering objective here. Both revved smoothly to redline, and handled curves with a confidently controlled composure.

First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Golf volkswagen first drives First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Golf volkswagen first drives
2014 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

Aided by the stop/start technology that’s standard in every Golf model, and a drop in curb weight of 100 kg, the 140-hp gas-powered Golf achieves a European average of 4.7 L/100 km (combined cycle, with DSG automatic). This despite the fact that the new Golf is a larger and roomier car, though VW execs pointed out that the weight savings didn’t come from using costlier materials such as aluminum and magnesium.

Looks-wise, there are few surprises here, as per usual with the Golf. VW design director Andreas Mindt says the Golf has an iconic design that will help it holds its value in 10 years. I say its conservative looks will hurt it in the race to catch up to sales of the more outgoing Ford Focus, though the Corolla’s perch at the top of the global best-selling cars list likely supports Mindt’s view.

The new Golf offers some other advanced technologies in Europe that help burnish its high-class Audi-like feel, such as an electronically adaptive suspension that offers Comfort and Sport modes, complete with Individual setting that lets you select the steering ratio from one mode with the suspension or transmission setting of another. An electronic ‘locking’ differential up front brakes the spinning inside front wheel is standard – currently marketed as XDS in the current GTI – sending more power to the outside wheel and reducing understeer, while adaptive cruise is also available.

First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Golf volkswagen first drives First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Golf volkswagen first drives
2014 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

However, a VW Canada rep said such advanced technology is unlikely to come to North America, without specifying which of these technologies wouldn’t make the trip over. Sounds like the adaptive cruise and electronic suspension will likely be saved for the upcoming Audi A3 sedan, which shares the Golf’s new “modular transverse matrix” (MTM) architecture, or MQB, to use its German acronym.

These are just some of the many questions VW fans will have about the new Golf before it arrives in 2014 on these shores. As it appears now, the next generation Golf will travel down the same road of a refined, premium hatchback experience; but how refined and upgraded it will be – and critically, at what price – is a question still to be answered fully.

Highs:

  1. Very refined, sophisticated
  2. Diesel engine—smooth, powerful and efficient
  3. More fuel efficient
  4. Lots of advanced technology

Lows:

  1. Looks identical to previous gen
  2. North American version not as high-tech
  3. Premium compact hatchback pricing