Driven: VW’s Golf TSI Mk7 – lucky number seven?

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CW_VWG7TSI (10)We all know that certain someone who lives for the thrill when it comes to playing the game of chance. With the stakes involved, combined with the uncertainty of risk and reward, it’s not difficult to see why gambling can be addictive. Some go by truths and logic while others prefer to trust their instincts. But one thing is for certain, and that is you should only play when the cards are right.

In fact, a lot of decisions made in life take the form of a gamble when you least expect it – you order frankfurters and sauerkraut instead of your usual chicken teriyaki. You bought yourself a Mont Blanc over your tried and tested Bic pen. You walk into an Aldi for a change, despite knowing Lotte Plaza is on a clearance. You fork out good money for a Volkswagen, instead of a tried and tested model from other well known marques.

It is only human nature to learn from past experiences. And yes, the mk6 Golf TSI was not the reliable car that most expected it to be. But going by logic, that should also mean the mk7 Golf TSI should have seen significant improvements to meet customer’s expectations. Here in Malaysia, Volkswagen’s brand image has had to deal with a lot of negative press, and surely the German car-maker would not allow another fiasco to repeat itself. Right?

CW_VWG7TSI (9)Our test car this time around is the mk7 Golf TSI in Highline spec for the Malaysian market, announced early of March this year. Since it was first introduced back in 2013, VGM (now Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia, VPCM), have further differentiated the Golf range with the Comfortline and Highline variants. There have also been subtle tweaks, instead of a full blown facelift, and now it comes with more – and for less.

Under the hood is the now familiar EA211 powerplant: a turbocharged 1.4 litre that puts out 150PS of power and 250Nm of torque. There’s start-stop tech, but does without Active Cylinder Management (ACT). Briefly speaking, ACT deactivates two of the four cylinders – when conditions permit – to improve on fuel efficiency. Personally, I believe that this would not go well with the typical Malaysian mindset, where more power for less Ringgit is the way to go. The EA211 mill is paired with the lightning quick 7-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission – tried and tested to be smooth, refined and responsive in almost in every daily driven scenario.

CW_VWG7TSI (15) CW_VWG7TSI (12)Exterior-wise, the rear lights have been swapped out for a set of untinted Golf R lights – and that’s a plus. The previous incarnation was rather plain, and fitting on LED lamps with chrome-strips doubling as signal indicators makes up for a handsome posterior, without being entirely overbearing. It’s a real shame though that the daylight running lamps on the front were removed. What was in place of those attractive rectangular light rings are now less attractive sets of chrome. The R rears and the DRL fronts would have made the mk7 Golf TSI the definitive design, but alas it was not meant to be.

The changes in the interior are minute, but with tact. Gone are the old seats from the previous model and in are new seats with an extended base with bolstered side and thigh supports, adorned with a Mel Stripe at the center. The fabric seats, although adjusted manually, provides good adjustability with the usual seating height and depth levers, backrest recline, headrest height and lumbar support for the front. At the rear, the single-piece seats have sufficient valley depth to keep passengers secure with a center-drop armrest for added comfort. Overall, the seats strike a great balance well between comfort, support and ease and it’s a solid point for the Golf.

CW_VWG7TSI (6)The infotainment system is carried over with no changes, but is pleasant to use as ever. The 6.5″ screen is well-lit with great visibility from different angles and has far deeper integration to the car’s systems than just playing media and syncing to your mobile phone. In fact, most of the configuration previously located on the MFI have been conferred to the new system, including the capability to view live fuel consumption figures or warning/error messages forming a single control hub from the infotainment system. Menus are logically placed which aids in searching for the intended option, and utilizes a very clever feature which displays more options on-screen when your hand is placed within reach. The eight speaker configuration promises a great dynamic range from one genre to the next, although I would have loved to see more audiophile options such as a wider band equalizer to take advantage of such a setup,

Convenience with the Golf is also the name of the game here. With KESSY, or Volkswagen’s keyless access system, all is needed to enter the cabin would be the key in your pocket and to touch the front doors, which automatically locks and unlocks the vehicle. Once seated, the push start button is easily found the center console which a confident tap brings the engine to life.

Slot the gear into reverse, and this activates the car’s ParkPilot system which displays a top down view of your car on the infotainment system. This gives you a 360 degree view of any object and its proximity to the vehicle, even when turning – an excellent feature to have. And if you’re doing an extended drive on a stretch of the highway the Rest Assist kicks in with a loud alert, recommending you to take a quick break; with a cup of coffee as the icon suggests.

CW_VWG7TSI (21)Another trick up its sleeve is the Park Assist, where you drive up to a parallel parking spot and the car takes over to aid you into entering that spot. By pressing the Park Assist button on the center console, the MFD indicates the said mode is active which you now have to slowly make your way right past the vacant space – if all goes well. If it actually does, the car informs you that it is ready where you would put the car in reverse, which your only input from you is the gas and brake pedal; the steering automatically steers and counter steers until it enters the lot.

The first time was an edgy affair, given you might accidentally bump the curb or the unfortunate fellow behind – and personally, while being a cool party trick to amaze your passengers the spot detection is rather a hit and miss, with the Golf not being able to get into the said mode despite the amount of space. Another issue is that it only works on the left, which means you’re left (no pun intended) to fend for yourself if your intended spot is on the other side. Combine these minor matters and how particularly impatient Malaysians can be, especially with the unwritten rules of ‘securing’ a parking, unfortunately overshadows its usefulness and it becomes an ability quickly forgotten.

Safety-wise, the Golf boasts a five-star ANCAP rating with three-point seatbelts for all five passengers, the every-car-must-have anti-lock braking system with traction and stability control and a more-than-sufficient amount of airbags located at the front, side, curtain and knee for the driver in the unfortunate event of an impact.

CW_VWG7TSI (8)Yet another new safety feature recently introduced on the MQB platform which the Golf is built upon is multi-collision braking, which the vehicle automatically applies the brakes to stop the car and ultimately prevent a second collision. With all these safety attributes in place, Volkswagen Malaysia certainly did not cut any corners with convenience and safety in mind, and that’s one great way to appeal to buyers looking for such a car in a market in which safety isn’t given top priority.

Let’s get down to how the Golf drives. Given that the 1,395cc force-inducted engine does a great job of bringing all of its 1,350kg weight to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds, it’s certainly spirited enough from the get-go. When it comes to cruising speeds, the EA211 engine does an excellent job in masking out shakes and noise, in symbiosis with the well-known trait of effortless shifting with its DSG. It’s not perfect all the way though; towards the redline, vibrations become much more apparent, but never excessive.

As impeccable as the Golf can be, there’s a few matters which have to be contended to. One major gripe with the car was the throttle response to get the car moving from standstill, because the pedal appears to be sloth-like during then. You could have your foot in at 1/4th of the entire travel and it would still not budge at the rate it should when at cruising speeds. Setting the gear selector to S mode does not seem to improve things either, and this peculiarity further rears its ugly head in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Such a laggy response was never present on previous models and it’s my suspicion that Volkswagen deliberately designed this to prevent gear judder; itself a major concern for owners. Delaying the throttle input is a solution, although not exactly an elegant one – and it goes without saying that the rapid response from the previous TSI models will be sorely missed.

CW_VWG7TSI (16)Volkswagen have tried to work out the middle ground with the suspension and wheel setup, and the result is everything in between. The Highline model comes with 17″ Madrid wheels, with a design largely reminiscent of the Santiago wheels featured on the Golf R – and looks great. The rims establish a sportier look over the 16″ Dovers, but come with a slight disadvantage to ride quality as every imperfection on the road is easily felt while driving.

Thankfully, the relatively soft springs with appropriate travel do a great job of dampening the larger nuisances on the road, but on the other end is a noticeable amount of body roll and a reduced response in driving dynamics. Not all is lost though – despite the minor quibble with body stability, the Golf never falters and keeps to the line, especially with Dunlop’s Sport Maxx RT tyres in 225/45/R17 and XDS, a cleverly crafted method of simulating a limited-slip differential by applying brakes on the inner wheel to maintain its trajectory on corners. The Golf TSI doesn’t promise all out handling and performance, because that’s a job better left for its GTI and R brethren.

CW_VWG7TSI (1)At RM159,888 the price is a little exceptional compared to similar segment offerings but what is offered in return is a car with a bloodlines of a Continental, while having astute safety fittings with performance and comfort more than a family man of five could ask for. Sure, the next thing that’s on everyone’s mind is reliability considering the events that unfollowed – fool me twice, shame on me as the proverbial term goes. But if it’s one thing a player at the poker table sees, it’s opportunity, and the mk7 Golf TSI could just be the gamble worth taking.

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Having a penchant for cars since youth, he firmly believes that speed and stature go hand-in-hand. He enjoys the occasional spirited drive and can be found personally grooming his cars from time to time.

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