Few nameplates in the automotive world carry the same weight as the Golf. The Volkswagen hatch has been the segment benchmark since it launched back in 1974, but the seventh-generation model is up against increasingly tough competition from the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and Renault. To make sure it stays ahead of the game, VW has given the Golf a comprehensive refresh, with a new touch-heavy interior and a prettier face.
Although the design team in Wolfsburg has worked on the exterior, the biggest changes to the Golf are on the inside, so that's where we're going to start. Volkswagen has been using its recent concept cars to experiment with touchscreens and button-free interfaces, experiments culminating in the cockpit you see below.
Base model cars make do with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, but range-toppers will come with a whopping 9.2-inch display which can be controlled using voice inputs or, for the first time in a VW, gesture control. Drivers are able to scroll through menus, browse song lists and rearrange the home screen without actually touching it, with an audio prompt confirming things are working as they should.
Unlike BMW, Volkswagen won't let drivers answer calls or control the audio volume using gestures, so it'll be interesting to compare which system feels more intuitive and useful.
The refreshed Golf is now available with the full virtual cockpit system that debuted in the Audi TT. It replaces the traditional speedo and rev counter with a fully customizable 12.3-inch display, which can be set up to look like a regular instrument cluster, or put into modes prioritizing navigation and infotainment.
The tech-heavy overhaul extends to the range of active driver assists on offer. Hidden behind the big VW badge on the hood is a radar sensor, giving the Golf the ability to keep its lane and stay with stop-start traffic up to 60 km/h (37 mph) with no driver input. When the driver is in control, the car is able to sense when they fall asleep and, if a gentle nudge isn't enough to wake them up, will gently pull the car to a stop within its lane.
Underpinning the updated Golf is a range of cleaner, more powerful powertrains. The jewel in the new-engine crown is the four-cylinder TSI Evo, making 110 kW (148 hp) of power and 250 Nm (184 lb.ft) of torque. Peak torque is available from just 1,500 rpm and cylinder deactivation helps the TSI Evo return a claimed 4.9 l/100 km (57.6 mpg) on the New European Drive Cycle.
Moving up the range, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the GTI has been boosted from 162 kW (217 hp) to 169 kW (227 hp), while cars fitted with the Performance Package now make 180 kW (241 hp), enough to keep it competitive with upstart hot hatches like the Peugeot 308 GTi. There's also a hybrid GTE, good for a 7.6 second sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph) thanks to a 150 kW (201 hp) powertrain.
Regardless of which engine is fitted, the refreshed Golf has a prettier face than before. It's still not what you'd call beautiful, but the hint of extra flair applied to the front end does make it look a bit less Germanic and boring. Down back there are slimmer taillights, and the whole range sits on fancier wheels than the cars they replace.
The refreshed Volkswagen Golf will be up for preorder in December this year. A new version of the e-Golf will make its debut at the Los Angeles Motor Show, where New Atlas will be on the ground covering all the action.