The best getting better: VW Golf 7.5 road test and review
AND you thought cooking shows were competitive.
There are more companies trying to sell you a small car than there are people trying to make the perfect chocolate fondant for five minutes of TV fame.
The small-car class is the most competitive automotive category in the world - and represents the largest slice of the pie when it comes to sales.
A new Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy might come out once a year, but there is a fresh selection on the small-car menu almost every month.
In the past six months alone we've seen the arrival of an overhauled Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, all-new versions of the Subaru Impreza, Holden Astra and Honda Civic, and a refreshed Kia Cerato. The next generation Hyundai i30 is just around the corner.
Europe's top-seller, the Volkswagen Golf, hasn't been sitting idle either, enjoying a makeover four years after this current generation went on sale.
Among Volkswagen aficionados the current model is referred to as the "Golf 7", as it's the seventh generation since 1974.
What we have here is the "Golf 7.5", a mid-life update before the next full model change - common practice in the car industry to keep the range fresh.
In with the new
In most cases, car companies use the opportunity to add technology and/or make improvements to how the car handles the daily grind.
In the case of the Golf 7.5, Volkswagen has added a heap of optional technology, given the car a nip and tuck, and adjusted the model line-up.
The exterior visual changes are subtle: new headlights, front fenders, tail-lights and bumpers.
When the update arrives in Australian showrooms in July, the current $22,990 drive-away base model - the awkwardly named 92TSI - will be dropped.
More power for the base car is the consolation for Australia not getting the new super frugal 1.5-litre turbo petrol introduced in Europe.
The $22,990 starting price of the range is not expected to change radically - especially as Golf sales were down by roughly 12% last year - but if you tick all the boxes on the extensive list of optional technology you will likely eclipse $40,000.
Every model in the new line-up will come with automatic emergency braking (with pedestrian detection), a wider audio display screen with "pinch and swipe" functionality and 16-inch alloys rather than plastic wheel covers.
This is in addition to a standard rear-view camera, remote entry and Apple Car Play and Android Auto phone projection that will continue from the current car.
Optional traffic jam assistance (which will brake, accelerate and gently steer the Golf automatically up to 60kmh) is said to be a first for the small-car class.
Radar cruise control will continue to be optional, but the sensor is now hidden behind the VW logo in the grille rather than a behind a blank piece of plastic in the lower bumper.
Automatic lane keeping - cameras monitor line markings and make sure the car doesn't wander - is also on the options list.
A super-wide audio display (9-inch versus 8-inch) with gesture control (eliminating the need to touch the screen for certain functions) will also be available.
Its big party trick is the option of a digital widescreen that replaces the instrument cluster. Taking advantage of VW's family connections, it's the same type of screen used in Audi and Lamborghini supercars - and an option on the latest VW Tiguan SUV.
There are two grades of LED headlights: a basic design and a dearer option with intelligent high beam that doesn't dazzle oncoming cars but still illuminates the road around them.
Tech geeks will likely go gaga over the strip-thin horizontal indicators in the new LED tail-lights which scroll outwards as they illuminate - just like they do on the latest Audi and Lexus luxury cars.
It all adds up to the biggest midlife facelift in the Golf's history. VW says it's a sign of the competitive market, rather than a plan to extend the current model cycle.
On the road
Volkswagen seems to have subscribed to theory "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". The Germans haven't turned a spanner on the suspension on the Golf 7.5. They didn't need to. It was already the class benchmark, seeing off newer competition in every comparison test over the past four years.
Whether this is enough to stop the Golf from being overtaken by newer rivals over the next three years or so - before the new model arrives - remains to be seen.
It's hard to pinpoint what makes the Golf so sublime to drive. It's also hard to explain why the best brains in the car business are yet to ace Volkswagen at its own game.
The Mazda3 may have sharper reflexes but is not as plush over bumps, the Astra is a big step up but still not as polished as the Golf, and the Toyota Corolla comes close but lacks the VW's refinement.
The Golf feels sure-footed on patchy surfaces, and is the best in its class at pampering you during the daily grind. Inside, the cabin materials and presentation are also upmarket and of higher quality than the average fare.
The engineers fought to keep the volume dial, but the designers lobbied to delete it. The designers won.
And that possibly explains just how good the Golf still is. The only thing I could criticise was the lack of a volume dial.
Volkswagen has inched the bar forward, rather than raise it by any significant margin.
However, when you're at the pointy end of the field, it's harder to make giant leaps.
The Golf is still the benchmark in the class. Let's just hope VW doesn't get greedy on price.
GOLF GTI NEWS
THE Golf GTI 7.5 arrives in August with a new nose and a power boost for its turbo 2.0-litre (from 162kW to 169kW, although torque is unchanged at 350Nm).
It retains a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch auto while less powerful Golf models have a seven-speed. In Europe the GTI Performance edition is boosted to 180kW and the Golf R has 228kW, but these outputs are yet to be confirmed for Australia.
In the past, the power figures were down slightly compared to Europe because the engines have been de-tuned to suit our hot climate.
Model: Volkswagen Golf 7.5
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small hatchback.
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four cylinder with 110kW and 250Nm.
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto or six-speed manual.
Fuel economy: 5.4-litres/100km.
Bottom line: TBA, but estimated from $22,990.
On sale: July 2017.