For GPs, this new version of the Volkswagen Golf is probably the most important new car of 2013.
Ever since the original VW Golf Mark I reached our shores in 1974, it has been a firm favourite and there is good reason for this.
There is no other compact family hatchback that combines high build quality with excellent usability and value.
Whereas the 2008 Mark VI was basically a face-lifted version of the 2004 Mark V, this latest model is a totally new car from the chassis up.
Not that you would know it from looking. Volkswagen has remained conservative with the styling to create a car that is evolutionary in appearance. You could argue that VW has missed an opportunity here, but why mess with a great product that has many loyal fans?
The new model is available with a range of petrol and diesel engines in S, SE and GT standards of trim and I have been driving several versions.
|Fast facts - Volkswagen Golf Mark VII|
Body - Choice of three- or five-door hatchback
Engine - 1.2 litre and 1.4 litre four-cylinder petrol and 1.6 litre and 2.0 litre diesels (GTI with 2.0 turbo petrol available later this year)
Power - 85bhp up to 150bhp (GTI will have 220bhp)
Claimed economy (combined) - 57mpg to 74mpg (GTI 47mpg)
Price - £16,285 (three-door 1.2 litre S) to £23,430 (five-door 2.0 litre TDI DSG).
Bigger in external dimensions by only a couple of inches, the interior is roomier than ever. The boot is bigger and has a lower entry lip and a false floor for easier loading, and expands effortlessly. A simple flick of two levers lowers the 40:60 split rear seats to provide a flat space.
Even the entry level S model impresses. The Golf has always featured high-quality interior materials, but this latest version has raised the bar even higher. Soft-feel plastics on the dashboard surround an up-to-date control layout.
The optional central colour touch screen for entertainment and satnav measures 5.8 inches (a super-clear eight-inch screen is available in the SE and GT models).
A really impressive feature of these displays is their proximity sensors. As you move your finger near to the screen, it automatically displays the function menu. A neat trick.
Something GPs will strongly approve of is the adoption of 'comfort' seats across the range. These have been designed specifically to support the low back and upper spine and they are very comfortable. Firm without being too hard, I expect a lot less aching after a long drive.
This will also be helped by the improved smooth ride and quietness of the new model. It really does feel like a car from the luxury class.
The Golf has also been on a diet.
We all know losing weight improves efficiency and Volkswagen has managed to shave 100kg off the new model. In car terms, this is impressive and makes it drive and handle with a revived nimbleness, even with the lower-powered engines.
These engines are clever, too. The four-cylinder petrol TSI can shut down two of the cylinders during cruising, significantly improving the fuel economy.
Diesel units are always popular in the Golf and the 1.6 TDI I tried, with 105bhp, performed perfectly reasonably and will return up to a thrifty 74mpg on the combined cycle. The GT 2.0 litre TDI I drove, with 150bhp, felt really sporty yet can still return up to 68mpg.
Newly available on this Golf are several useful high-tech driving aids. They include voice-activated control systems for the navigation, CD and DAB radio functions, automatic radar distance control with the cruise function, high beam assist to dip your headlights, lane assist to stop you drifting on the motorway and even park assist to park in a parallel space or reverse into a space without your hands on the wheel. I tried this last function and although initially unnerving, it works well.
So VW has done it again. It has regained top spot in this sector and managed to create a superbly refined car to appeal to all tastes. Any GP will find a model to suit and if like me, you enjoy driving, there is always the new GTI to look forward to later this year.
- Dr Rimmer is a GP in Guildford, Surrey