The design of the Golf 8 has changed very little. The biggest changes are some sharp folds in the hood and LED headlights. Photo: dpa

One of the world’s favourite cars just got an upgrade. After 35 million sales and 45 years, VW is launching the eighth generation of the Golf.

Despite being the best-selling car at home in Germany and in many countries abroad, the Golf is finding it increasingly difficult to hold its own against the SUV and the up-and-coming electric car.

But by combining old strengths with some new features, VW wants its prized model to regain its lead — and that starts with the price. Because despite a host of new features; the price tag is hardly changing. The first buyers in Europe will be able to get the car for just under US$22,000.

For that price you get a car that could not be more Golf if it tried. As with the six previous generational changes, this upgrade isn’t cautiously iterative at best.

Indeed, the price isn’t the only thing that isn’t changing. In shape and size, you’ll have to squint to spot major updates. If it weren’t for a few sharper edges in the body and new LED headlights, you probably couldn’t tell the difference from the old one.

The design of the Golf 8 has changed very little. The biggest changes are some sharp folds in the hood and LED headlights. Photo: dpa

A smartphone on wheels

Step inside though, and you’ll suddenly start to notice changes as VW brings the Golf into the smartphone generation. The Golf does without buttons and switches, instead relying on a digital user experience. In fact, it does so more consistently than any other compact car and even than some modern electrics.

Virtual instruments, a fairly freely configurable touch screen, sensors for lights and other controls, touch-sensitive sliders, voice and gesture controls: Even if VW doesn’t go quite as far as Mercedes with its MB UX system or Peugeot with the i-cockpit, few cars give the driver a more modern feel.

To keep it that way in the future, VW is, for the first time, doing large-scale updates “over the air” and adding “functions on demand” – justs like with a Tesla. This means drivers can essentially download new features like navigation helpers, swishing turn signals and apps from your phone.

Intelligent assistants, conventional engines

You’ll also find more digital assistants in the car’s new operating system. For better visibility and less distraction, buyers can order matrix headlights and a head-up display for the first time. Meanwhile the so-called Travel Pilot can handle most of the motorway driving up to 210 km/h.

Behind the scenes, the Golf automatically networks with other cars in its vicinity and uses their sensors to send faster warnings.

There’s plenty more changes under the hood, too. With the Golf, VW is arguing that a combustion engine is by no means out of place on a high-tech car like this.

The manufacturer behind dieselgate is trying to make you forget they cheated emissions tests by stressing environmentally friendly sounding figures like up to 17 percent less fuel consumption and 80 percent less nitrogen oxides.

But even if it still runs on diesel, it must be said the Golf has one of the cleanest diesel engines around.

The Golf will first go on sale with a dozen engines with 90 to 221 horsepower, eight of which are new to this line, including three petrol engines with mild hybrid technology and two plug-in hybrids with an electrical range of over 60 kilometres.

A familiar driving experience

Despite all the technical updates, if you’ve ever driven a Golf before, this one will still feel quite familiar. Even the completely revamped controls won’t leave you puzzled. The handling is as smooth as ever.

Designed to balance consistency with responsiveness, the new Golf is just that little bit better at meeting the expectations of a demanding driver.

It accelerate a bit more comfortably, steers more precisely, shifts more smoothly and is quieter overall. And as easy-going and good-natured as it is, it still shows plenty of enthusiasm on the road. In other words, you won’t have to wait for the GTI.

With the new 150-hp petrol engine, you can get an adequately sporty ride with a sprint to 100 km/h of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 224 km/h.

Tried and tested meets modern features

If you’re looking for mobility revolution, the Golf isn’t for you. Instead, this car is staying true to its old, tried-and-tested approach.

At the same time, the Golf offers a high-tech ride. SUVs will continue to put the pressure on this car and if the electric car ever manages to go fully mainstream, the Golf may have to make room on the throne for VW’s ID3.

But until then, old faithful has what it takes to stay a world bestseller. – dpa