Bumper, headlights, grille and valance are new, while the radar for ACC has moved from below the registration plate to behind the VW badge

Bumper, headlights, grille and valance are new, while the radar for ACC has moved from below the registration plate to behind the VW badge

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The updated Golf is now available in UK dealerships. As well as the facelift plus revisions to the interior which extend to class-first gesture controls, there are new engines too. The best selling individual variant is expected to be the GTD, powered by a 184PS version of the Volkswagen Group's 1,968cc four-cylinder diesel engine.

The battle for the C segment

Last year was an especially good one for the Volkswagen Group in Britain. Thanks to the combined sales of VW, Audi, Skoda and SEAT, the firm remained firmly in the number one slot ahead of Ford and GM Vauxhall, with the Golf being easily the group's best selling vehicle. Registrations for this C segment hatchback, estate and until recently convertible line-up reached 69,492 units in 2016.

Data for March were not available at the time of writing but as at the end February (see end of article for an update), the Golf was not only the country's second best selling vehicle behind the Fiesta but it was also the C segment's number one with 8,404 registrations compared to 6,767 for the Focus and 6,235 for the Astra.

The restyled range reaches the UK four and a half years since the seventh generation model was revealed to the media at an event in Berlin. The latest look cars were shown to the press last November, with sales in LHD European countries commencing from February. Cars for the UK, in dealerships since the end of March, cost an average of GBP650 (RRP OTR) less than the outgoing model.

The British market line-up is being rolled out in three tranches (available to order from Feb, March and May), with the range eventually consisting of the following variants: S, SE, SE Nav, GT, R-Line, GTE, GTE Advance, e-Golf, GTD, GTD BlueLine, GTI, GTI Performance & R.

The estate line-up offers the choice of S, SE, SE Nav, GT, GTD, GTD BlueLine, Alltrack and R. As noted above, the convertible is no longer manufactured, due to a steep drop-off in demand.

New tech from Passat & Tiguan

New equipment for all variants extends to larger and more sophisticated touchscreen controls, while gesture control can be used for the Discover Navigation Pro system which is also now on a 9.2-inch screen. Other new features include Trailer Assist, an option from the Passat and Tiguan which moves down to the Golf range. This makes reverse parking a boat or caravan much easier, and includes a swivelling towbar. The driver retains control of the pedals and simply engages reverse and pushes a button. The system then guides the vehicle into the desired space.

New 1.5 TSI Evo engines and 7-speed DSGs

An 85PS 1.0 TSI (turbo) is now the base engine, and there are various new units, each one turbocharged: a 1.5 TSI Evo available with outputs of 130PS and 150PS replaces the former 1.4 TSI, a 230PS 2.0 TSI for the GTI and a 245PS version for the GTI Performance, plus a 310PS 2.0-litre TSI for the R. The most powerful Golf can now reach 62mph in just 4.6 seconds.

Volkswagen has given some versions its latest DQ 381 seven-speed DCT and that can mean a reduction in the CO2 output of 10g/km. This dual clutch transmission, which was engineered for engines with torque in excess of 340Nm, is noticeably smoother in operation than the six-speed gearbox which it replaces. There are three other DCTs available in the Golf, each one optimised for different torque outputs: DQ 200 seven-speed (smaller engines up to 250Nm), DQ 250 six-speed (up to 350Nm) and DQ 400 E six-speed for the GTE.

Sequential LED turn signals

External changes include new bumpers and LED tail-lamps for all cars, halogen headlamps with LED DRL or full LED headlamps (standard on Performance cars and optional on others), reshaped front wings, redesigned wheels, fresh exterior colours and a different set of interior fabrics. Performance variants, which means GTI, GTD, R, GTE and e-Golf also now come with the same 'sweeping' indicators which we first saw on the original Audi R8.

To drive, the latest model feels just as you would expect: as good as the outgoing Mark 7 but with added refinement. The GTD has for me always been the best Golf variant and while the car I tested had a six-speed manual gearbox, I did also sample cars with DSG transmissions.

Digital dashboard

The Active Info Display which I first tried out in the Audi TT a few years back and which is also available in the Passat and Tiguan, makes its debut in the Golf. It gives you virtual displays for all manner of read-outs and you can customise what you want the default setting to be, or else scroll through various other options. You can dial up things such as phone contacts, CD cover art, or have the speedo and rev counter pushed to the sides of the display with the Navi system's map taking up the main part of what you gaze through the steering wheel at.

The base 'S' Golf, which comes with the 85PS 1.0-litre petrol engine, costs from GBP17,625, has a CO2 output of 108g/km but the 1.6 TDI betters this with an average of 106g/km. Both these engines are linked to a five-speed manual gearbox though if you pay for the SE trim, you get a six-speed manual with the 1.0 TSI. My favourite, and the best all-rounder, is the GBP27,720 GTD five-door manual, and you can have a lower emissions BlueLine version of this one for the same money, should you wish, or need to.

Could the Golf take segment leadership from the Focus in 2017?

The Focus is now over six years old and not due to be replaced until the fourth quarter. Also, the Astra is still unable to mount too much of a challenge, so it's certainly possible that the Golf, greatly helped by the newly updated model, could take leadership of the C segment in 2017. It was a close run thing in 2016 but Ford certainly won't give up easily.

5 April 2017 update: SMMT data for March 2017 show the Focus back in the lead of the C segment. Focus registrations last month were 17,119 and Golf deliveries numbered 10,819 so the Ford now has a year-to-date total of 23,886 cars versus the segment's number 2, the Golf, on 19,223. The Astra remains in third position with 17,915.