Mallorca, Spain - Something jarred me during a media briefing at the launch of the facelifted Golf in Spain this week, and it wasn’t the new Turmeric Yellow paint option.

It was said that in the Golf’s 40 year history, which includes seven generations and close to 40 million units sold, it has never once been given a mid-life update. Until now. Really? Did I hear right?

When I finally pinned down the VW staffer who made the remark, she confirmed it. Yes, some previous models were treated to very mild enhancements over the years, but this is the first time a Golf has been revised to an extent where the changes were worthy of a reintroduction. VW’s hyperbolic press material calls this the "digitalisation" of the Golf, but let’s simplify and call it Golf 7.5.

What does it all mean? As expected there are some slight exterior alterations, but let’s not dwell too much on these. On upper derivatives with full LED headlights fitted, the daytime running light accents take on a new eyeliner-like appearance, and LED tail lights (standard on all versions) get Audi-style dynamic indicators which scroll with a cool sweeping animation. And, oh yes, that in-your-face Turmeric Yellow paint. You can’t miss it. Pictures don’t do it justice.

At the heart of this "digitalisation" is a range of three new infotainment touchscreens, each larger and with better resolution than the ones they replace. The biggest and most wow of these comes in a new Discover Pro package, and features a 23.3cm display with programmable home screens, and five softkeys on its left side for functions such as volume and menu call ups.

It’s a vivid explosion of high-definition colour, and it also follows BMW’s gesture control idea, although in a far simpler format with basic left and right mid-air hand swipes for things like radio station tuning and music browsing. It’s also compatible with Apple Carplay, MirrorLink and Android Auto smartphone pairing and, via onboard wifi hotspot, can be controlled (for some functions) from a tablet or phone from the back seat. The most basic black and white monochrome radio display has been discontinued completely.

The Golf 7.5 also inherits an Active Info Display from its Passat and Tiguan siblings, and, just like with cousin Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, sees a 31.2cm digital display in place of conventional needle-based dash gauges. It’ll be available as an option, and we don’t yet know how much it’ll cost, but assume it’ll be on the pricey side because it’s only available when tethered to navigation – unlike the cheaper non-nav version in the Tiguan.

We also don’t yet know which of VW’s new Assist features will make it to our market, but if the full suite arrives the updated Golf will drive for you at speeds up to 60km/h in heavy traffic, reverse a trailer into a predetermined spot using a steering joystick near the mirror adjustment knob, and parallel or perpendicular park by itself. The pre-facelifted model could already apply brakes automatically if it sensed a collision with another car in front, but now it can stop for pedestrians as well.

There was a clear focus on a new 110kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbo petrol at the media test drive around Mallorca, but we won’t see this engine until the current 1.4 is phased out, possibly next year but maybe even later. The South African range, which will land in May, will include a new 81kW/200Nm 1.0 three-cylinder turbo petrol to replace the current 1.2, and a GTI with a slight power hike to 169kW from 162 with a claimed 0 to 100km/h figure drop from 6.5 to 6.4 seconds. The aforementioned 1.4 turbo petrol will carry on as is for now, along with the existing 81kW/250Nm 2.0 TDI.

The base 1.0 comes with a manual transmission only, and the 1.4 will get a choice of manual or dual-clutch DSG auto. All six-speed DSG boxes have been upgraded to seven-speeds with fuel-saving coasting functions, except for the GTI which keeps its sixer.

But wait, there’s more and it’s big news for fans of high performance diesels. Volkswagen South Africa made the surprise announcement that it will finally introduce the GTD to our market, replacing the 110kW/320Nm 2.0 TDI. I had a short stint at the wheel of this 130kW/380Nm marvel, which is essentially a turbodiesel GTI, and I’m in awe of its torque-rich power delivery and very un-diesel-like exhaust note. Drive is sent to the front wheels through a seven-speed DSG, and it grapples for traction from very low rpm in a way very uncharacteristic of traditional hot hatches.

The GTD will arrive in South Africa, along with an upgraded Golf R with 213kW in July. A new GTI Performance Pack with 180kW is likely to land next year, but timing is unconfirmed at this point.

According to VWSA, pricing is likely to start around the R290 000 to R300 000 mark.

Star Motoring