PORT ELIZABETH – Ride quality, performance, versatility... the qualities needed to set the benchmark in creating a great hatchback. VW not only sets the bar for premium hatches but raises it with each generation of its Golf. Since its launch in 1974 more than 29-million have been sold globally; South Africa has been home to 323 100 sold since its local introduction in 1978. The seventh-generation, first shown at the Paris auto show in 2012, is now here.GOLF SEVEN NOW IN SAThe Golf remains instantly recognisable, though discerning which generation you’re viewing is best left to VW aficionados, and the newest version comes, in SA, with a choice of three engines: 1.2 and 1.4 TSI petrol with varying outputs and a two-litre TDI turbodiesel. Each will be offered in three spec levels: Trendline (base), Comfortline and Highline.In short, the new Golf ticks all the right boxes so it’s sad when you’re left criticising a superb car and struggling to form an opinion another than “it's great but at that price...?”.The arguably expensive prices and the Volkswagen/Audi group's often repetitive designs (by their own admission) are elephants in the room and before the barrage of comments along the lines of “it’s just a re-badged 6” begins, let’s just settle this once and for all:a) Yes, the Golf 7 bears a strong resemblance to the outgoing model. You may (me included) mistake the two from a distance. b) No, it is not a “re-badged 6” – far from it, as VW’s popular hatch brings new levels of luxury and refinement usually found in higher market segments. Image galleryThe new Golf is built on VW’s MCB platform (seen in the 2012 Audi A3) and as a result has grown by 56mm in length (4.2m) over its predecessor with a 59mm longer wheelbase at 2.6m. 'PEOPLE SAY WE ARE LAZY'The front wheels are 43mm forward, the new model is 13mm wider (1.7m) and 28mm lower at 1.452m. It's shed the wedge shape of the Golf 6 and becomes more elegant with a longer bonnet. I’m not sold on the rear; the angular lines running from the rear lights to the roof give it a trapezoidal shape. The sides sport lines splitting the car into two segments “light and dark” making it appear lower.Unsurprisingly VW has aimed for evolutionary over revolutionary design. To the undiscerning eye it might appear that not much has changed – and you would be right as design changes are subtle in most areas. As one Wheels24 reader put it “it’s a VW with Audi headlights and front end”. The trouble is even minor design tweaks here and there require a lot of effort from designers and engineers. As VW designer Andreas Mindt explained: “Many people say we at VW are lazy with design elements. The truth is a lot of work goes into each element to make it ‘new’ yet recognisable as one of our models.“There’s so much precision and connectivity in the design. Every line is connected. Technology and design work hand-in-hand. To do all this is incredibly hard and the product is really special.”ENGINESThe entry-level 1.2 TSI, which replaces the 1.6 MPI 75kW, produces 77kW at 5600rpm and 175Nm from 1550-4100rpm. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual and fuel consumption is given as 4.9 litres/100km with CO2 emission of 114g/km. The 1.2, compared to the outgoing 1.6, uses of 2.2 litres/100km less yet will accelerate to 100km/h in 10.2sec and reach 192km/h.Judging from the comments in the launch preview in January 2013, the numerals 1.2 seem to anger many readers, especially when saddled with a R233 000 price tag. Viewing the engine as a fuel-efficient 77kW unit makes more sense, considering the advancement in engine technology. Judging an engine purely by its displacement is becoming an outdated principle (e.g Ford’s 1.0 eco-boost).The 1.4 TSI is capable of 90kW at 5000rpm and 200Nm from 1500-4000rpm, drives through a six-speed manual and consumes 5.2 litres/100km with a CO2 emission rating of 120g/km. Fuel consumption is 1.0 litres/100km less than the previous model. The basic turbocharged version can sprint to 100km/h in 9.3sec and reach 203km/h. A seven-speed DSG gearbox is available as an option which reduces fuel consumption, VW says, to five litres/100km with a CO2 emissions rating of 116g/km CO2. The 1.4 TSI is, however, also available as a twin-charged that's capable of 103kW and 250Nm (from 1500-3500rpm) which take it to 100km/h in 8.4sec and on to 212km/h. It replaces the 118kW 1.4 TSI and has a combined fuel consumption of 5.3 litres/100 km and CO2 emissions of 121 g/km. DIESEL GRUNT The 2.0 TDI is available in two states of tune: 81kW and 110kW. Peak torque figures are 250Nm and 320Nm respectively.The 81kW version can manage 4.5 litres/100km (119g/km) and is offered with a five-speed manual, the 110kW 4.5 litres/100km and 119g/km of CO2 with a . six-speed DSG gearbox. The 110kW 2.0 TDI has a top speed of 212 km/h and accelerates to 100 in 8.6sec.All engines bar the 2.0 TDI 81kW are equipped with stop/start and a battery regeneration mode.DRIVING IT The new model claims a major improvement is ride quality not just in terms of its predecessor but also compared to rivals. It’s far more comfortable and agile courtesy of its wheelbase being stretched by 50mm. There’s a noticeable amount of lean through corners but still the Golf hugs the road superbly. There’s not much driver feedback from the steering.The Golf doesn’t exactly blow you away but the combination of sprightly engines, superb handling and driver comfort, means the new model will find many happy owners.INSIDEDifferential lock from the Golf 6 GTI (Standard), high beam light assist from the CC, auto parking assist (now with alley docking) from the Tiguan... VW has filtered its tech down to the Golf. Standard kit includes aircon, 12.7cm touchscreen, electronic parking brake (with hill-holder), tyre pressure monitor, front power windows, power side mirrors, multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel, seven airbags and 15” alloy rims.The Comfortline adds cruise control, under-seat trays, auto headlights and 16” alloy rims. The Highline adds ambient lighting, heatable sport seats, 13.9cm touch screen, eight-speaker audio system, cornering lights, heatable windscreen and 17” alloys.As you'd expect from VW, there's a host of optional kit, including park assist with rear camera, sunroof, xenon headlights, satnav and leather upholstery.The new Golf introduces touch-screen displays with proximity sensors (available on the 14.7cm and 20cm displays). When the system detects a finger near the touchscreen, it automatically switches from display to input mode.It’s not surprising that the interior of the new Golf is conservative despite the upgraded tech and metallic finishes to the controls. Despite its utilitarian feel it is superbly put together. VW targeted the premium hatchback market with its quality and updated interior and they’ve managed to hit the bulls-eye with the new Golf.The longer wheelbase provides plenty of legroom and overall the cabin is a great space to be in. The Golf retains it practical hatch reputation and builds on this with a larger boot rated at 380 litres.One minor gripe about the interior is the cumbersome way one has to remove cables from the tiny stowage area in the centre console. After struggling for a few minutes, it wasn’t until another journo with lithe fingers managed to pry the cable out.Volkswagen’s eco-friendly Blue Motion tech is featured in the Golf in the form of start/stop and brake energy re-cooperation.OVERALLLike the outgoing model and the one before that, bar pricing, it’s very difficult fault the new Golf. It handles superbly well, the engines are great, DSG box seamless and it feels like a premium vehicle. The Golf takes on rival such as the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra and i30. Another alternative to consider would be Volvo’s V40.Judging from our launch preview, there's been quite a bit of grumbling about the Golf’s price. Yes, it could be perceived as being expensive against rivals. The fact is you’re receiving more kit, new tech and a refined vehicle for marginally LESS than the outgoing model.Take the base 1.2: the outgoing 1.6 75kW retailed for R240 600, the new 1.2 costs R233 800.Volkswagen is so confident that you’ll love the Golf 7 that its ad campaign reads: “Is this the one?” and asks customers “If you could drive one car for the rest of your life what would it be?” to which some joker at back screams out “Aston Martin DB9, Maserati GranTurismo, Fiat Multipla”...Of course it goes without saying if a manufacturer created the “perfect” car I'd be redundant. As for the customer, I think VW has created yet another special product and that those who buy one will be smitten - it will be "the one” for them.PRICES1.2 TSI BlueMotion Trendline - R233 800 1.4 TSI BlueMotion Trendline - R246 700 1.4 TSI BlueMotion Comfortline - R264 900 1.4 TSI BlueMotion Comfortline seven-speed DSG - R279 4002.0 TDI Comfortline - R282 300 1.4 TSI BlueMotion Highline - R293 600 2.0 TDI BlueMotion Highline six-speed DSG - R334 800 All models are sold with a five-year or 90 000km service plan, a three-year or 120 000km warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. Service intervals 15 000km.