This is the 2015 Volkswagen Golf, the seventh-generation (or Mk7) of the hatchback. Doesn't look much different from the last, does it?
The Golf's understated, timeless style may not change much from generation to generation, but there's quite a bit new happening under the skin. For starters, the overall length from nose to tail has been stretched by 2.1 inches with 1.7 inches of that being occupied by an elongated wheelbase. This nets the Mk7 more shoulder and leg room for people and cargo -- VW claims that the new Golf's hatchback volume is now greater than any midsized sedan, even with the rear seats up.
Though it grows in footprint, the new Golf's height has decreased by 1.1 inches, which gives the hatchback a low-slung sporty look and keeps the car feeling compact. The Mk7's new MBQ (translated from German to "Modular Transverse Matrix") chassis makes increased use of lightweight materials with more high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel. The bare body-in-white is 51 pounds lighter than the previous model and curb weight is up to 82 pounds lighter, depending on trim and options.
The lighter MBQ chassis is also stiffer, which results in a more controlled ride and predictable handling.
Under the hood, you'll find any of a variety of engine choices, including gasoline, diesel, and even an electric option, but today we're talking about the new 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine of the base TSI model. Internally known as the EA888, the turbocharged engine is good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. This matches the power and exceeds the torque when compared to the 2.5-liter, five-cylinder that it replaces.
The smaller engine is also lighter than the old five-banger, more compact in the engine bay, and more efficient. VW reckons the new Golf TSI is good for 26 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway when equipped with the five-speed manual gearbox. Opt for the optional six-speed automatic transmission and you'll lose one mpg on the highway, but even then you'll be up 5 mpg when compared to the old model's highway estimate.
I was able to test the Mk7 Golf TSI with both transmissions and, while I'm a huge fan of rowing my own gears, I found the six-speed automatic to be to superior of the two choices. In either configuration, the engine's around town performance was pretty good, but I found the five-speed's gearing to be a tad too tall for any real performance driving. Over my chosen course, a twisty back road taken slightly extra-legal speeds, I kept finding odd dead spots between the gears where one ratio was too high, leaving the engine feeling bogged down, but the next gear down had me bumping the rev-limiter.
On the other hand, the automatic's shifts weren't DSG sharp or quick, but I was grateful for the better spacing of the gears and could have have just a bit of fun within more reasonable expectations. Neither TSI configuration can be called a true performance car, but the handling and ride quality were in keeping with this low-cost hatchback's sporty reputation. It doesn't carve a corner like the GTI or slingshot around an apex like one, but you can certainly tell the two models share DNA.
The interior features upgraded materials and visual textures. I was fooled momentarily into thinking that was real metal trim on the dashboard. A probing tap revealed it to be metallic plastic, albeit attractive plastic that I wouldn't mind staring on my daily commute.
The controls for the HVAC system and stereo system were logically laid out and clearly marked. The chunky steering wheel feels good in the hand, but I found the thumb-activated buttons to be a bit oddly organized. Then again, I only had a few hours behind the wheel to deal with that learning curve.
In classic Golf fashion, the instrument cluster uses simple white on black graphics that are easy to see in all conditions. Between the large analog gauges is a monochromatic multi-information display that puts everything from hands-free call information to audio source data at a glance.
In addition to that screen, all 2015 Golf models will feature a 5.8-inch touchscreen as part of the new MIB infotainment system, which stands for "Modular Infotainment" Something-in-German. The list of standard audio sources is admirable, including HD Radio, USB and SD card connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming and being a modular system, it's easily upgradable to add other features, such as GPS navigation. It would appear that the upgrading happens in the glovebox, where you'll find optical media slots and way more SD card slots and holders than you'll probably ever need.
Navigation was simple enough to use and featured decent graphics, but I couldn't help but think that the map imagery seemed oddly low-resolution, particularly when compared to the rest of the MIB system's crisply rendered graphics for menus and audio source display. The Mk7 Golf with its MIB system is also one of the first vehicles that we've seen with a native Apple Lightning dongle hanging out of it's center stack for fast iPhone connectivity. Our iPhone-toting Senior Editor was happy to see this addition, even if he poo-pooed VW's continued use of the awkward, proprietary MDI connection.
VW's Car-Net telematics system makes a return appearance for this generation, but we weren't able to spend a lot of time poking around for new features.
Driver aid and safety tech is limited to an available forward-collision warning system, rear camera, and park distance sensors, all of which are optional features. It's slightly disappointing to see the VW lacking a blind-spot monitoring system, which you'll find on its competitors, but the Golf's corner visibility is pretty good.
The most unique safety feature is one that you'll never hope to use: a post-collision braking system that automatically engages the Golf's brakes in the event of a collision to prevent secondary collisions after the initial impact.
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI and TDI will launch alongside the GTI Mk7 this year and be joined by the Golf R and Golf Sportwagen in 2015. Pricing for the TSI will range from 17,995 for a limited-edition, slightly decontented Launch Edition to $26,995 for the range-topping SEL model with stops in between for S, SE, and the new Sport trim levels.