Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde must have been some guy. Being landed with such a flamboyant name it was a fair bet the Irish writer and poet was going to make his mark on the world.
He certainly did that and crammed it all into just 46 years and a handful of weeks. Wilde by name and as far as we can gather by nature as well, old Oscar had a biting wit and some glittering conversation, including his time-honoured quote “There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about” which is even more relevant now in these PR-minded days.
Having been around for almost as long as Oscar lived and breathed, you’d think people would have stopped talking about the VW Golf a long time ago. When the first one rolled off the production line in Wolfsburg in March 1974, few could have imagined that it would not only overtake the legendary Beetle’s total sales of 21.5 million to do almost a third as many again and become the world’s most successful car. It’s responsible for a third of the company’s total sales in Britain and even this year with a new model on the way, more than 58,000 have been bought to bring total UK Golf sales to an amazing 1.6 million.
So far from being seen as just another new car, the seventh-generation of the Golf has certainly got people talking… and they’re saying all the right things about the most important new car to appear this year.
The most remarkable thing about the latest version is how it manages to be brand new and yet reassuringly familiar at the same time. From a distance, it’s obviously a Golf but move closer and you then see the clever detail which the designers have introduced to create something sharper, crisper and more modern while holding onto the winning formula which has proved so successful over the years. It’s longer, wider and lower than the previous model and the front wheels are set further forward but it still has the same profile to make it instantly recognisable.
Creases on the bonnet, boot and side panels give it a more determined look and they’re coupled with flowing lines which take the eye round the car, connecting the front end bumper, headlights and grille in one clean move.
But like every new car, it’s what you don’t see that makes the biggest difference. It is 100kg lighter, for a start, and has more interior space to offer more legroom and boot space. It is also crammed with innovative technology such as the eight-inch touchscreen (a misleading term, because the screen has a sensor which detects your finger moving towards it and brings up the range of options before you even touch it). That gives you access to everything from audio settings to sat-nav, trip information and the range of driving profiles from Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual and with the superb DSG auto gearbox of the test car, a fifth, Comfort setting. Each one alters the throttle response, engine management and in the case of the Sport, stiffens the suspension. It’s very effective, very useful and very clever.
All the usual safety systems are included as standard but on the higher-specification models there’s an array of extra equipment such as adaptive cruise control, city emergency braking, driver alert, lane assist and light assist to automatically dip the headlights and alter the beam according to the road conditions and layout. The designers and engineers have pulled out all the stops to make the new Golf one of the best cars I’ve driven this year.
It feels brilliant on the road, whatever the conditions and the engines – two petrol and two diesel to begin with – are remarkably perky, yet cleaner and more efficient than ever. Not just that, but the car is quiet on the road too, the result of a lot of work on sound insulation. Apart from the improved performance, the technical people have also developed some seemingly small details which nonetheless make a significant difference to the driving experience and set you wondering why no-one had thought of them before. For example, the front doors have a special stepless catch system which allows them to open to any point and hold, rather than the conventional two settings which often leads to door bashing in car parks. The optional tow bar stays hidden in the rear bumper and is released by pulling a catch in the boot. It drops down and clicks into place with a flick of the foot which means you don’t have to fiddle around in the dirt when hitching the trailer. The seats are “back friendly” and I can confirm they are superbly comfortable and supportive and the boot sill is lower for easier loading and less strain.
As you’d expect, the build-quality is first class, inside and out. The first right-hand-drive versions won’t be here until January. Until then I’m sure everyone will be talking about it. Old Oscar would have been proud.