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4 February 2014

Volkswagen gave us the first look at the new U.S. Spec Golf 7 models (fresh off the new assembly line in Mexico) at the North American International Auto Show. There were two Golf 7 models and two GTI’s on display at the show. While Volkswagen won’t officially announce trim packages, options and pricing till the New York Auto Show in April, we did learn a few details about the new models that will be offered here.

The short version is that we expect that the Golf 7 models offered here will be very similar in price to the existing Golf 6 but with quite a bit more standard equipment. The TDI will be the exception which should be offered at a lower starting price. GTI models will arrive first at the end of May/beginning of June followed by 1.8TSI Golf models in July and TDI models in August (as 2015 model year cars). The factory in Mexico is slowly getting up to full production speed wanting to ensure quality first and quantity second. As is typical in new factory line setups, it is easier on everyone if the build complexity is limited at the start, so initial cars showing up will have all the basic equipment, but things like optional LED tail lamps and the Performance Pack will come within a few months time. Our understanding is that Volkswagen would like to offer some options that we haven’t previously gotten on the Golf before (like adaptive cruise control, park assist, etc., etc.) but those options will come later. Overall though, we are looking at getting more bang for our buck with this Golf 7 offered in more flavors than any Golf previously – Golf, Golf TDI, GTI, e-Golf, Golf SportWagen and hopefully GTD.

So let’s take a look…

Golf 7 In Mexico

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Golf 7 is extremely important and significant for Volkswagen Group as a whole because it is the first of the MQB models. If you need a refresher on MQB we have a very detailed article you can read HERE, but basically it represents a complete streamlined component architecture for all transverse Volkswagen Group cars. What this means is that everything from the Polo sub-compact to the third-row mid-size SUV can share a common set of components – engines, transmissions, HVAC systems, electrical systems, infotainment systems, etc., etc. These components can be bolted onto virtually any vehicle Volkswagen desires with the only restriction being the front to rear distance between the front wheel hub and firewall/pedal box:
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The great thing is that designers can literally make the front over hang, rear overhang, wheelbase, track, width and more virtually anything they want. Need a sub-compact? No problem. Need an SUV? No problem. Need a mid-engine RWD roadster? No problem. So on top of the car being modular, the assembly systems are also modular and standardized. There are adjustable carriers on the new assembly lines that give VW flexibility to build a Golf followed by a Passat followed by an SUV all on the same line. Right now the Jetta and Beetle are built on the older PQ platform and require their own assembly halls for each model down in Mexico. In the future, those can be combined into more efficient lines that can share models and give VW far more flexibility in the numbers being produced, so when something is popular, volumes can be moved around. In the long-run this is a HUGE step for VW and a major investment (more than $5 billion dollars so far with another $7 billion coming over the next 5 years).

We had an opportunity to visit the factory in Mexico this past January and what we saw was hugely impressive, especially to me who has visited that factory numerous times over the years. Volkswagen essentially tore down most of the older northern half of the factory where Jetta’s were built prior to the Jetta 6. Over the last two years they have been building a state-of-the-art facility that feels very similar to Volkswagen’s award winning Chattanooga factory. In fact, the factory in Mexico was upgraded virtually identically to the Golf 7 Wolfsburg assembly line and even got a few improvements and upgrades since it was built more recently.

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Volkswagen is now using a more open floor plan utilizing a central office area with quick access to all parts of the manufacturing floor. The ceilings are higher, the spaces more expansive with less vertical supports so that upgrades and improvements in the future are easier. The buildings are built utilizing environmentally friendly materials that contain a higher percentage of recycled materials with better insulating properties. There are huge swatches of vertical glass panes that run from floor to ceiling combined with numerous skylights to allow as much daylight in as possible. What is most striking when you enter the new areas is just how bright they are and how clean everything looks.

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Volkswagen even made the huge investment in hot-metal forming stamping technology down in the press areas. Overall, Volkswagen wants MQB to be fully supported and localized (as much as possible) in North America and is making every investment in both Mexico and Chattanooga to ensure that happens. This means VW will be able to build any transverse model here in North America. With Audi building a new MLB (longitudinal engine cars and trucks) component architecture factory not far from Puebla, Mexico, Volkswagen Group could build everything from Polo to Audi A6 in North America. The Audi factory will produce the Q5 in Mexico first and decide what other models after that.

These upgrades to the Puebla Mexico Volkswagen factory also mean it is now the second largest Volkswagen Group factory in the world behind Wolfsburg. This puts enormous pressure and attention on Puebla moving forward and that shows when you visit the facility. Everything from employee training and benefits to the huge upgrades in infrastructure and equipment demonstrate a seriousness in moving forward that I haven’t seen in 15 years of following this company. Even more impressive is the passion of all the workers both from Mexico and from Germany that are employed at Puebla. Volkswagen has done much for the economy of Puebla and the employees come from vast distances to work at the factory. It is one of the highest paying factories in Mexico and the employee retention rate is very high. It is impressive and reassuring to see this level of attention and detail.

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U.S. Spec Golf 7

Like I mentioned earlier, we won’t know the actual trim packages, options and pricing till March at the New York Auto Show, but we do have some ideas of how things will be packaged. Plus we got a look at the U.S. spec cars themselves which we were able to sit in. Overall I’m impressed with what I’ve seen, touched and experienced so far. There is always the fear that Volkswagen might “cheapen” our Golf 7′s built in Mexico. This was one of my first concerns when I walked up to the cars at the Detroit show. After opening and closing virtually every door and hood, sitting in every single model, touching nearly every piece of plastic I couldn’t find anything that seemed to be different than the numerous German-built Golf 7′s I’ve been in. Volkswagen engineers are quick to point out that MQB is so centralized around a common component set that for Volkswagen to dedicate engineering time, money, tooling changes and more just to build the car differently in Mexico would have been pointless. The whole idea around MQB is that one set of components can be mixed and matched around the world minimizing costs, development time, suppliers, tooling and more. So everything feels just as solid as the German models. Materials in the car also feel virtually identical in every way that I can tell. If there is cost cutting, I haven’t seen it yet. We also haven’t driven the Mexico-built Golf 7 so we’ll hold over one final caveat, but what we are hearing and seeing so far looks great.

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Golf SE

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It appears that VW will call the various Golf trim levels S, SE and SEL to bring them in line with other models in the U.S. lineup. This model is an SE trim level. The Golf 7 will integrate the orange reflector in the headlamp unit instead of the bumper itself, so for the first time in a very long time, we won’t have a U.S. specific front bumper. The standard “base” engine in the Golf is the 1.8 TSI turbocharged 4-cylinder. This SE model would be the equivalent of the current Golf 6 2.5 with Convenience Package except now you get 17″ alloy wheels (instead of the current 15″ steel wheels with hub caps), more power, better fuel economy, more interior features and an all-new platform that is far more rigid, quieter and better handling.

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Overall interior trim pieces and materials, fit and finish and more all look and feel more substantial.

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All 1.8TSI models will come with six-speed auto or five-speed manual transmissions. Expect 1.8T Golf models to arrive in dealers around July or so.

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Golf SEL TDI

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This is an example of an SEL trim level car which gets the stylish 18″ Durbin wheel standard. This particular car is a TDI model. You can see it has the optional HID headlamps, 18″ wheels, six-speed DSG or six-speed manual transmission options and the mid-level sport seat (GTI gets top-level sport seat).

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Overall the SEL trim package looks great with a lot of nice touches.

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Golf TDI models should start arriving around August as 2015 models. Expect the base price of the TDI models to drop somewhat with more standard equipment.

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GTI

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Volkswagen had two GTI models on display at the show, one in red and the other in white. Standard wheels are 18″ alloys for the U.S. market. Our understanding is that the car will launch in basic packages first with performance pack models available in a couple months. LED tail lamps will be optional, but delayed introduction as well (couple months).

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We didn’t spot any specific differences in the interior versus the European GTI.

The newest generation EA888 2.0TSI engine in the U.S. spec cars appears to not have MPI (which we expected) but looks to have valve-lift and the higher-pressure fuel pump. That means the Golf 7 GTI 2.0TSI is a different variation of the Mexico built 2.0T than what is currently in the GLI and Beetle. Overall we expect solid performance gains from the aftermarket on this engine. Also of note, there will be an ESP Sport mode on the GTI which allows the Electronic Stability Program to allow a certain amount of slip angle and fun before intervening. This is identical to the German-spec GTI. In my experiences in that car, it is damn near perfect and allows quite a bit of fun without intervening (see this video). Only the Golf R will have the full ESP Race Mode where it can be completely defeated.

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We expect to see GTI models arriving first some time at the end of May/beginning of June. Pricing should be similar to the outgoing model but with more features.

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Golf R

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Volkswagen officially debuted the Golf R in North America at the Detroit Auto Show and while it was a German spec car they had on display, it will look virtually the same except for the orange reflectors in the sides of the headlamps.

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Golf R models aren’t expected here till January of 2015 and will only be available in four-door configuration. Golf R models will initially come out of Germany since the Puebla Factory can’t support AWD (yet). Since the only other Golf model to come out of Germany will be the e-Golf in four-door as well, VW is saving quite a bit of time and money importing just the four-door.

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The good news this time around is that both DSG and manual transmissions will be available. We’ve even heard rumors that the top-level shell seats may be available this time around. We expect pricing to be similar to the current Golf 6 R model. We may also see the Golf 7 R offered over a few model years (instead of just one) but still in fairly limited numbers. There are still lots of details to work out between now and launch next year, but we’re looking forward to it.

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Golf SportWagen

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We are expecting the Jetta SportWagen name to become just SportWagen this time around since the Golf 7 and Jetta don’t look anything like each other. Right now it looks like Golf 7 SportWagens may start arriving at the very end of the year initially in 1.8T and TDI S, SE and SEL trim levels. We photoshopped the orange reflector into the above image as that is largely the only difference between the European version and the U.S. version.

Interestingly there are rumors circulating that all wheel drive may be added to the SportWagen lineup next year. Right now Puebla doesn’t support AWD, but if it does get added to the mix down there it could mean AWD for any MQB product designed for it. On top of that, Volkswagen teased an alltrack concept at the 2012 New York Auto Show with a taller ride height and more aggressive off road-like styling cues. Since there is no wagon version of the U.S. Passat, the Golf 7 SportWagen would be a more likely candidate for such treatment. We’d love to see it (TDI please!) and hope that VW is considering it. Lastly, why not make a SportWagen R model? We can dream right?

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Golf 7 Accessories

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Volkswagen of America’s accessories group is going to hit the ground running on a line of some great accessories. These include a dual R32-like exhaust setup including a new rear valence, larger chrome and blackened exhaust tips, lowering/sport springs and more more. We’ll have a more complete look at what will be available very soon.

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Overall we’re going to see more variations of the Golf 7 than any previous version ever offered here. With better value, VW’s new MQB underpinnings and a wide range of offerings, we’re excited to see what they come up with. More importantly, with MQB fully supported in North America (meaning local production) VW has the ability to build almost anything with a transverse engine in North America which opens the door for a lot of interesting possibilities. We will have more specific details in March when Volkswagen releases actual pricing and trim model information.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images…

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